The Importance of Seed Saving
Despite the various practices of seed saving being a hot topic in social media, seed saving itself is in no way a new practice or idea. Prior to the industrial revolution (1760 to 1840), seed saving was the common practice of all farmers and home gardeners. At this point in global history, seed companies were not the mainstay on the North American and European market, and farmers depended on themselves or others in the community for viable seed for the next years crops. It was not until the 1960's with the introduction of the green revolution (a global movement to end world hunger which instead caused a calamity of loss in developing countries) that corporate farming was born and farmers began to rely on sources of seed from larger entities, thus leading to a devastating loss in native seed varieties around the globe.
Of course the question of "why does this matter?" begs to be asked. After-all, our markets are full of foods, we have access to herbal medicines, things look pretty good for the majority of the world, right? This unfortunately is not the case, but rather the surface image of a problem that is causing genetic devastation to our food supply, and denying many the basic rights to food and medicine.
In the article below we will briefly touch on the importance of seed saving and how it positively impacts our genetic diversity in nutritious food and herbal medicine. We will also share a bit of information on what HWB is doing to help ensure that generational techniques of seed saving, seed access, and threatened/endangered plant varieties are not lost in the shuffle of large scale corporate farming and seed patenting.
There is an exercise that I ask many of my students to do on their second day of class. I think its a great exercise for anyone when we are talking about visualizing the loss of plant diversity.
Step 1: Close your eyes and think of an apple. What color is it? What shape? What does it taste like? What size is it?
Step 2: Gently open your eyes after envisioning your apple. Get a piece of paper and begin to write down as many apple varieties as you can think of. What can you find at the grocery store? What can you find at the farmers market?
Step 3: How many did you write down before you ran out of names, was it 5 types of apples? Was it 10 or 20? How many apples are enough to maintain diversity?
With the incorporation of farming practices at the beginning of the 20th century, farmers started focusing more on growing crops that traveled well and had a high yield. This practice became the agricultural standard, and also introduced the concept of monocropping which is the most common type of corporate farming practice to date. Monocropping is the growth of one type of crop over a vast amount of land. The results of this leads to degradation in the health of the soil web, the need for chemical based inputs, the destruction of ecosystems, and the endangerment of a variety of pollinators ( since the singular crop only blooms once per year which is not enough to feed pollinators) - imagine only getting to eat for a short time each year, you would starve!
With the intense use of monocropping agriculture based on yield and the ability for a crop to transport to other locations, came the mass extinction of heritage varieties. In this case, since we are talking about apples, at the turn of the 20th century (1900) over 7,000 varieties of apples were grown by farmers in North America, now over 90% of these species are extinct.
Unfortunately the practice of corporate farming and monocropping did not simply stick to North America. With the introduction of the green revolution, other countries were impacted as well.
These are only a very small sample of the loss of genetic diversity since the turn of the century. When we lose genetic diversity of food and medicinal plants, we lose sovereignty over our food and medicinal plant safety nets.
In the graphic below you can see further degradation of agricultural seed varieties in North America:
The Most Important Thing of All? Genetic Diversity!
As human beings we already know that genetic diversity is exceedingly important. In our own species, without healthy genetic diversity within our populations, the potential for genetic based disease passed down from one generation to another becomes a higher probability. It is the same for all plant life. Genetic diversity leads to healthy plants, healthy plant structures, and healthy plant populations. Also, plants are at the base of our food system, whether you are vegan, vegetarian, or an omnivore, you are getting all of your nutritional base nutrients from the plants that you ate, or the plants that your food ate.
Did you know that the base nutrients that plants need to grow and thrive are the exact same that human beings need to do the same?
Nutrients such as Nitrogen, Phosphorus, Sulfur, Calcium, Magnesium, Potassium, Sodium, Manganese, Zinc, Iron, Copper, Molybdenum, and Selenium.
When chronic soil degradation caused by destructive modern farming practices, and the decrease of genetic diversity are paired, we see an immediate influence on human health. This dangerous combination has caused a tremendous downfall in the nutritional properties of the foods that we currently eat, even our organic produce is impacted. The vegetables that you eat today are drastically decreasing in nutrition and increasing in salts and fats. We can see this in a modern agricultural study called the Nutritional Comparison Profile that was conducted between 1962 and 2002. The example given here is that of a simple garden tomato in comparing the nutritional profiles from each span of time. The study showed the following:
When we look at this simple study can begin to see the immediate health implications that lack of diversity and harmful farming practices can have on the average consumer. After all, dietary deficiencies have a direct tie with many diseases.
HWB Seed Saving
Now that you have a broader understanding of the importance of genetic diversity in plants, its perhaps time to hear about what HWB does to help in the conservation of heirloom, non GMO, and indigenous agricultural and medicinal seeds.
Herbalists Without Borders is passionate about saving and sustaining our native medicinals and wants to teach others how to preserve seeds and propagate medicinal plants. There are a number of organizations that focus on saving seeds for food production, but seed saving for medicinal plants is not common. While we believe that food is a primary source of medicine, HWB also wants to promote Seed Saving models that include medicinal plants.
HWB works to support Chapters globally who want to save seeds and get gardens growing. We also have an HWB US Seed Bank that grows and saves seeds from our own gardens.
HWB US has a Seed Grant kit program that works to get healthy food and medicinal herbs to HWB groups to grow gardens in their communities. HWB groups not only grow medicinals, but food, as food justice is health justice, and healthy food makes communities healthier. Many HWB Chapters grow gardens that are used for education, and that grow food to donate to local people - such as growing food for the food pantry, providing fresh produce to take as you need at free clinics or community events, and to use to make and educate on the use of foods, spices, and herbs for wellness.
Currently most of our seed grants are limited to the US, however, we are expanding into having a seed base in Canada as well, so please stay with us to hear about this up and coming news!
A Seed Saving Crusader!
Who is doing all of the seed saving? Certainly our global chapters and volunteers are greatly contributing, and we could not to the work that we have been doing without our seed donors as well. However, at the heart of it all is a one woman seed coordinating crusader named Denise Cusack. Denise is also the Executive Director of HWB, but beyond that she holds an intense love for plants and plant medicine and is fiercely driven to protect our heirloom and endangered medicinals. I was lucky enough to get a small interview from Denise between meeting schedules, here is what I learned about her efforts:
Tell me about your property:
Lunar Hollow Farm is a 2 acre homestead dedicated to the growing of agricultural and medicinal plants. We are registered as a Botanical Sanctuary with United Plant Savers Network, and grow many threatened and endangered varieties for propagation, conservation, and seed sharing for other communities as well. We of course grow seeds for our HWB garden(s), but also seek to be good stewards for endangered indigenous varieties so we can offer these traditional medicines so indigenous groups and others that may not have access to seeds from their lands and bioregions.
We are lucky in that our acres have a variety of areas. We have a woodland where we grow such things as uva ursi and ground ivy, we have a prairie where we can grow milkweed, goldenrod, and wild lupine, and we also have a native area where plants native to our bioregion can grow freely such as blue vervain, violets, and cramp bark. In addition to this we have a green house where plants that need multiple years to properly cultivate can be offered the leg up that they need, including herbs like Goldenseal and False Unicorn horn.
What got you interested in seed saving?
After starting the seed saving program with HWB we got a lot of really beautiful heirloom agricultural seeds, but I soon noticed that there were no large scale suppliers of medicinal seeds in North America that were able to donate at the rates we needed to support HWB gardens. I felt it was prudent to instead share resources with other smaller scale growers and work together at creating a much larger supply that could be made available in our seed grants or to communities and chapters who needed the medicinal seeds to get our gardens growing.
What are the top 5 plants your are proud to have grown?
What was your proudest moment since starting the HWB Seed Saving project?
Last year I was able to place seeds from Lunar Hollow Farm in seed grants from HWB to various chapters and groups throughout the US.
Our Top Seed Donors:
None of this could be made possible without the help from our main seed donors, and so in offering this Feature Friday, we would like to share who they are. These are seed companies and suppliers that share HWB's vision of health justice and are committed to the good workings of heirloom, non gmo, agricultural, and medicinal seed varieties.
Our Top Seed Donors for 2021 Gardens:
Botanical Interests - https://www.botanicalinterests.com/
Seed Savers Exchange - https://www.seedsavers.org/
Bakers Creek Heirloom Seeds - https://www.rareseeds.com/
Sow True Seeds - https://sowtrueseed.com/
West Coast Seeds (Canada for Canadian Chapters) - https://www.westcoastseeds.com/
To visit who has donated seeds in previous growing seasons, visit www.hwbglobal.org/donors--sponsors.html
Thank you so much for sharing and supporting our vision, we could not do this without you!
In closing out our first Feature Friday, none of this could be made possible without our volunteers and those interested in saving the diversity of our agricultural and medicinal seeds. If this article has inspired you to join, donate, or get involved, please don't let the moment pass you by! Reach out to us at www.hwbglobal.org for more information on who we are and what we do!
Want to get involved with seed saving or joining, click here! https://www.hwbglobal.org/become-a-memberjoin-today.html
Want to make a monetary donation to help our efforts, click here! https://www.hwbglobal.org/donate.html
Want to donate seeds to us in the US or Canada, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org Subject: Seed Saving
We hope you've enjoyed our first feature Friday and look forward to seeing you at our blog again soon!
In Health, Wellness, and Solidarity,
Petra Sovcov - CHT, HWB Chapter Coordinator for Vancouver BC
Center for Food Safety: www.centerforfoodsafety.org
The End of Food - How the Food Industry is Destroying Our Food Supply, and What you can do about it: by Thomas Pawlick
Staying Healthy With Nutrition - The Complete Guide to Diet and Nutritional Medicine: by Elson M Haas MD
HWB Member Blog Contributor
Petra is a faculty member at the Institute of Holistic Nutrition Nutrition, a new member on the HWB Board of Directors, and has been a member of HWB since 2014. She currently runs the HWB Mahonia Chapter for the greater Vancouver BC area and coordinates the community free clinic. She is also the owner of Healing House Natural Wellness Centre, a multi-modality center located in BC Canada. For more info please visit the site, or follow her on Instagram @healinghouseherbal
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