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Why is the Act of Saving Seeds So Important?
Saving seeds ensures plant diversity.
In permaculture systems, we depend on plant diversity to create adequate checks and balances in our system. We have written about this in a general way in Building Diversity into your Garden.
Every year, during the later summer months, Dave and I revisit why seed diversity is vital to survival on this planet.
Below, I discuss three reasons why seed saving and diversity go hand-in-hand.
The first reason: If we do not save seeds, we will lose favorable genetic plant traits.
1. To Guard Valued Crops Against Pest and Disease
We love experimenting with different crop varieties in our yard!
It’s a lot of fun to discover different tastes and sizes amongst your produce. Occasionally, we find a particular heirloom variety that is resistant to specific pests.
For instance, when we grow squash in our small yard, we often use an heirloom variety called Tromboncino Rampicante. This variety of zucchini is resistant to squash bugs. Thanks to its preservation by Bakers Creek Heirloom Seeds, we have a seed variety choice of this kind!
We also love the “Big Boston” lettuce variety. It tolerates the frost very well and yields abundantly.
The Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO) states on its website:
“Plant genetic diversity also has the potential to provide traits that can help meet future challenges, such as the need to adapt crops to changing climatic conditions or outbreaks of disease.”
2. To Save Human Lives
A lot of the plants we call weeds are, in fact, medicinal plants.We love discovering how these plants were used to heal throughout the centuries.
Unfortunately, the most sought after plant medicinals are endangered.
The Botanic Gardens for Conservation tells us that “the vast majority of botanical material for medicinal use is still collected from the wild. Few medicinal species are cultivated, and many wild populations are now at risk from overexploitation.”
80% of people who live in sub-Saharan Africa rely mainly on traditional medicines derived almost exclusively from wild plant sources.
If these plants are lost, these people are highly vulnerable to extinction themselves!
3. To Preserve History
I started saving seeds after listening to Seed Stories at the Virginia Biological Farming Conference in 2015.
The speaker, Tor Jansen, was the seed bank collection manager at Seed Savers Exchange (SSE).
People from across the United States send their seeds to the SSE to preserve them. They often do so with a unique story of how they came to have the seed variety in the first place.
For instance, many American mothers in decades past gave their daughters a collection of seeds on their wedding day.
This act was as if to say, “Now you are old enough. Now you can feed your family with this gift.”
Other stories included seed exchanges between Native American Indians such as the Algonquian-speaking Meskwaki tribe (Sauc and Fox) and Amana Colonies (German pietists who fled to America after persecution by their government).
Still, others were of foreigners who would come to the New World, taking a little bit of their country with them, in the form of seeds.
I am witness to this personally because I live two doors down from Aklima, a grandmother who grows seeds she has brought with her from her native Bangladesh.
You can see Aklima's “red spinach” OR “lal sha” growing in her front yard in the photo above.
She speaks no word of English, but we communicate through our plants and by saving seeds for each other. Occasionally, she will put a few of her melon seeds into my hand.
We both understand that the value of this gesture is beyond words. These seeds are a rare treasure.
Plant Diversity Today
We estimate that there are around 30,000 edible plants on the planet.
Throughout history, humans have cultivated around 7,000 of those.
Right now, we grow only around 200 species. And 95% of us include only 10-50 of these plants in our regular diets.
“These include bananas/plantains, beans, cassava, maize, millet, potatoes, rice, sorghum, soybean, sugar cane, sweet potatoes, and wheat.”
According to Bioversity International, "just three (species) - rice, wheat, and maize - provide more than 50% of the world's derived calories."
Diversity is part of abundance. We have a world “brimming over” with plant diversity.
Why are we settling for only a little tiny bit of it?
How Can I Start Saving Seeds?
Watch a Webinar
Thanks to a collaboration with Seed Savers Exchange, Permaculture Gardens has been able to host a free educational webinar on Seed Saving and Diversity in the past.
To learn how exactly to start saving specific kinds of seeds, watch our “Seed Saving for Beginners,” webinar.
Join a Seed Exchange or Seed Swap
- Seed Savers Exchange is a great place to begin.
- Search local seed swaps or even online seed swaps in your area.
Eat Something New!
Diversifying your food is key to a balanced diet. If you eat too much of the same thing (even if what you eat are fruits and vegetables), you will not be able to foster good bugs in your belly. If you are open to diversifying your diet, you will be more likely to acquire the nutrients and minerals you need to thrive, not just survive!
Dig Deeper with these Additional Resources
How to Organize Your Seeds
Heirloom Seeds (What they are exactly and why they are essential)
Botanic Gardens Conservation International
Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations
Seeds & Breeds for 21st Century Agriculture
The first featured infographic in this article is courtesy of Bioversity International.