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Video: Nigel Walker, “Saving Seed”

By WorldLink Staff | July 6, 2011 | Leave a Comment

For thousands of years, farmers have saved and shared seeds to preserve flavorful, unique, and resilient varieties of fruits and vegetables. Organic farmer Nigel Walker explains the process of saving heirloom seed on Eatwell Farm. What heirloom foods do you enjoy?

Seeds of Change

Heirloom fruits, vegetables, grains, and herbs have been selected by farmers and gardeners for specific genetic traits, such as resistance to diseases and pests, high yield, unique appearance, or delicious taste.

What makes an heirloom an heirloom? Heirlooms are open-pollinated, which means that they reproduce with the aid of insects, wind, and other natural means. Their offspring will be true-to-type, meaning that they will closely resemble their parents. This allows farmers to save seeds to plant the following season. Growers who save seed are working with nature to cultivate varieties over generations to thrive well within their particular region and growing conditions.

Hybrid seeds, on the other hand, are inbred varieties that must have highly controlled pollination to produce predictable true-to-type offspring. Hybridization narrows the gene pool and requires farmers to purchase new seeds each time they plant.

It is estimated that, from 1903 to 1983, we lost 93 percent of the crop varieties that were once available in U.S. seed houses. As the gene pool gets smaller, crops are more susceptible to extreme weather conditions, pests, and diseases, as in the case of the Irish Potato Famine of the mid-nineteenth century. In the age of global warming, farmers must adapt to changing weather conditions, such as extreme heat, droughts, and floods. Seed banks (repositories for seed saving and storage) and seed-saving networks like Navadanya preserve cultural foods and genetic diversity, which will help farmers meet the challenges brought on by climate change.

In a market that is increasingly dominated by industrial seed companies selling hybrid seed and genetically modified organisms (GMOs), the cultivation of heirloom varieties through seed saving offers farmers more freedom over the crops they grow, which helps ensure a stable food supply for future generations.

Preserve Biodiversity

Learn what fruits and vegetable varieties grow well in your area, and support local farmers who save seed and cultivate heirloom varieties. When growing your own fruits and vegetables, choose heirloom, open-pollinated, non-GMO seeds. Save and exchange seeds with your neighbors. Learn more about the differences between heirloom varieties and why they’re worth saving in Nourish Perspectives.

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