Seeds. For much of our history, seeds were considered to be some of the most valuable possessions. If asked what they would take from their home in an evacuation, most of our ancestors would say the seed bank, as their livelihood was contained within those tiny capsules. Many cultures considered seeds to be sacred, with the seeds as much a part of their ancestry as the people.
In modern times, however, seeds are seldom regarded as valuable. People cut away and throw out seeds when cooking, regarding them as a nuisance and waste.
Seeds have also largely lost their position as the common property of all life. Genetic engineering and modern copyright law has made seed saving illegal in many cases [ref], leaving farmers completely dependent on huge multi-national corporations.
Saving seed is a crucial component of ensuring both community autonomy and resilience to climate change.
When communities grow food locally and save the seeds from one year to the next, it gives them more control over their food supply and thus more autonomy as a community. Communities that grow food and save seed are less dependent on imports and, in the event of a catastrophe like the failure of industrial agriculture, have the resources to distribute seeds and ramp up food production.
Saving seed also helps create resilience to climate change. As greenhouse gas levels increase and global climate shifts, weather will change locally. Some areas will get hotter and others colder; some will wetter and others will get drier; seasonal variations will differ from one region to the next. Growing plants locally allows them to experience these regional variations and produce adaptations to them. Particular traits that are beneficial in eastern PA might be a death sentence in Maryland or Main. If seeds are produced only on an industrial scale in only one location, they will be completely lacking the adaptations needed in the different regions where they are grown. If, on the other hand, they are grown locally and seeds are saved and replanted in subsequent years, the plants have the opportunity to accumulate adaptations that make them more suitable for the particular climate of that region, thus giving them more resilience to changes in climate.
Seed saving also offers greater genetic diversity and thus greater disease resistance. Seeds grown industrially and distributed throughout the country are all of the same genetic stock, and any disease that infects one is likely to infect them all. This leaves the entire population highly vulnerable. Saving seed locally creates greater genetic diversity, which means different populations will have different traits that make them more or less susceptible to different diseases.
For example, a new strain of powdery mildew could arise that affects a particular crop, say, soybeans. If all of the countries soybeans are essentially genetic clones (as is mostly the case now), this mildew could spread and destroy the entire countries crop. However, if communities save seed, chances are certain local populations are resistant to it, so there are likely to be many pockets that are unaffected. These regions can then share their resistant seed with their neighbors, who can cross-breed it with their local populations to offer disease resistance and local adaptations.
Saving seed also gives you a deeper sense of connection to the plants you grow, the food you eat, and the world in which you live, enriching your life and providing a sense of spiritual connection to all life.
The Southside Permaculture Park is a strong advocate of saving seed, and we want to make it as easy as possible for everyone to do. That’s why we include procedures for saving seed on each of our Plant Profiles, and are in the process of setting up a Community Seed Bank in the park!