Sunday, August 3, 2014

Filling My Hands and Heart with Seeds

My Visit to Heritage Farm in Pictures
The few precious days I spent recently at Seed Savers Exchange's (SSE) Heritage Farm in Decorah Iowa will stay with me for a long time.  If you're interested in true heirloom and heritage edibles then a visit here is a must.  And even better, go during SSE's annual conference and campout held in July, and get an in depth tour of the operations on member's day.

Holly Hocks in co-founder Diane Whealy's garden
I'm so impressed by the incredible effort of this organization and their staff- they are all truly dedicated and enthusiastic about their sacred mission to preserve agricultural biodiversity, and along with it, the stories imbedded in seeds that are our cultural histories. 

I was also energized by meeting my fellow seed saving gardeners and farmers. We shared mealtimes and camaraderie, and I look forward to keeping in touch. 

Members were treated to special in depth tours with SSE staff
SSE staff member Tor Janson demonstrated seed cleaning equipment

The Dedicated Effort of Seed Stewardship
There is so much for a gardener to see at Heritage Farm: test gardens, the historic apple orchard, facilities for seed processing, storage, and even the machine that fills seed packets sold through the SSE catalog (yes, it's only one machine, below!). 

SSE's seed packaging machine

Saving seeds on this scale is a multifaceted effort that involves trial gardens, growing under isolation to ensure pure seed, evaluation of growth and culinary uses and characteristics, research and verification of origins, and long term storage, to name a few!

Strikingly beautiful Blue Podded Peas
Crimson Flowered Fava available through the members exchange
Geneva apples in the Heritage Orchard

The Seeds of Inspiration
Besides tours of the grounds and facilities there were several interesting talks and workshops, including one by Chris Schmidt of Native Seeds/SEARCH, another non-profit seed conservation effort. Their focus is on traditional native american varieties and those adapted to arid climates of the southwest. With the impacts of climate change these varieties are becoming especially important (just ask Californians currently in year three of a recording making drought).

As Chris put it
"No part of the country is self-reliant with respect to biodiversity."
We need to share and help each other, especially in the challenging times ahead for agriculture.

Chris Schmidt (right) Interim Executive Director of Native Seeds/SEARCH

When I was considering whether to attend the conference I was trying to weigh the pros and cons of flying out to Iowa from California- the expense of flying and renting a car, driving out to the farm, finding lodging, and all of this on my own. Was it extremely self-indulgent of me, just for a conference on seeds? 

The wildlife-rich restored meadow near our camping area on the farm

I can say without hesitation that at no time did I feel that I shouldn't have made the trip.  Every minute was meaningful, rich, and memorable. I returned home with renewed determination and a deepened understanding of the task at hand.
                             Saving seeds fills my hands as well as my heart.

Photos: Patricia Larenas, Urban Artichoke

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Saving Seeds with Our Hands and Our Hearts

"Institutions do not save seeds- humans with hearts do."
- Dr. Gary Paul Nabhan, 2013 Annual Conference and Campout, Seed Savers Exchange

Recently I re-read the transcripts of speeches given by some of the keynote speakers from the 2013 Seed Savers Exchange Annual Conference. I admit to getting particularly misty-eyed by Dr. Gary Paul Nabhan's speech.  It hit home how important it is to sow our seeds, save them, and pass them on to our family, friends, and neighbors, and to keep them safe for the next generation.  As he explained, it's not some retro, quaint activity and a hanging on to the past, saving seeds is about the future. And beyond the seeds themselves it's about our connections to our culture and our links as a community, and to the earth. 

Why We Should Care
The loss of biodiversity of many types is a hot topic these days, and it certainly applies to seeds from our favorite edibles. As for me, I'm not willing to depend solely on seed companies as a source for the edibles I've come to love and count on and look forward to each season. And more urgently, our changing climate and other environmental pressures demand that we keep a pool of diverse food sources ready to meet changing growing conditions.

We don't have to settle for less, and we do have the ability to shape our futures.

The strikingly colored Christmas Lima, available from SSE

Seed Savers Exchange 34th Annual Conference and Campout
Pumped with these energizing thoughts, I'm really excited that I'm finally going to make the trip out to Iowa this year for the Seed Savers Exchange 34th Annual Conference and Campout in Decorah, Iowa.  The conference is July 18 to 20th, with a members only day on Friday. I can't wait to see the test gardens and the seed saving operations at Heritage Farm after reading about them for several years!

Maybe the best part is that I'll be spending hours and days with my people: like minded gardeners, farmers, and dedicated seed conservationists. No chance of boring anyone with lengthy conversations about seeds and their stories, or the nuances of various bean varieties, or the ideal isolation distances for lettuce, etc.

Flower: Little Lady Bird Cosmos; bean: Rattlesnake, a pole bean

We Can do Nothing or We Can do What We Can
Check out this nice graphic from National Geographic. It's sobering and even frightening. It illustrates the findings from a study done in 1983 that found a 93% loss of crop varieties since 1903 (of 66 crop types). 

They became extinct.

Photos: Patricia Larenas, Urban Artichoke

Thursday, July 10, 2014

8th Annual Edible Landscaping Tour

is coming right up! 
Saturday, July 19th, 2014 10 am -4pm
Palo Alto, CA

If you enjoy touring gardens or need clever ideas for your garden, then you don't want to miss this annual event! 

This is a critical fundraiser for my friends at Common Ground, a 501(c)3 nonprofit project of Ecology Action. Enjoy a memorable and educational day and show your support too!

Besides visiting ten beautiful gardens all with an edible landscape theme, you'll also see how these suburban residents practice organic and sustainable methods. 
For descriptions of the gardens on this year's tour go here

Veggies and flowers thrive together in this edible landscape

Tour Highlights
  • Water saving and efficiency techniques, including "Laundry to Landscape" (gray water system) 
  • Fruit trees, raised beds, and lots of vegetables
  • Chickens & coops, bees and beehives
  • Herb, flower & California native plantings, 
  • Composting 
  • Examples of edible front yard gardens
  • Tour the Common Ground education garden

Common Ground's Patricia Becker (right) with a garden tour host

This year the Edible Landscaping Tour is featuring lots of front yard edible gardens.  Gone are the days when vegetable gardens were considered inappropriate for the front yard. Come see a variety of gardens demonstrating that growing food is not just practical, but beautiful!

Veggie harvest, complete with fresh artichokes

Photos: Patricia Larenas, Urban Artichoke