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Saving Seeds

12/06/04 12:00AM By Ron Krupp
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(HOST) Now that the harvest is over and the garden has been put to bed for the winter, commentator Ron Krupp is once again thinking about seeds.


(KRUPP) There is a real concern in our time about the loss of plant diversity and seed varieties. It's only in the last hundred years that thousands of plants and seeds have become rare and extinct. Once they're gone, their special characteristics such as flavor, vigor and medicinal value will be lost forever.

The Shakers at the turn of the nineteenth century were the first farmers and entrepreneurs to develop the seed packet in America. You can still see the rectangular wooden boxes with sliding compartments filled with paper seed packets at Canterbury Shaker Village in Canterbury, New Hampshire.

Before the Shakers, generations of farmers without advanced degrees grew their own seed and developed the foods we eat today? There weren't any garden catalogs to peruse on a cold winters night and all seeds in those days were open-pollinated. We've come a long way from the days of the Shakers and Johnny "Appleseed" Chapman of Leominster, Massachusetts or have we? During pioneer times, heirloom seeds were passed on from one generation to the next. Today, many seeds are hybrids and the coming wave of seeds are those which have been genetically modified, a subject very controversial in nature.

This weekend, an important seed conference will be held in Brattleboro at the campus of The School for International Training and the Experiment in International Living. The conference is sponsored by the University of Vermont's Northeast Sustainable Agricultural Research Education Project. The theme is "Restoring Our Seed." The purpose is to strengthen the knowledge and skill of organic seed production and to build local seed networks with farmers, extension agents, and seed companies.

Rowen White of Massachusetts will lead a workshop on Native American crop conservation and indigenous knowledge. Dr. Raoul Robinson will talk about breeding for resistance to pests and diseases. He is the author of Return to Resistance. Dr. Mark Hatton of the Cooperative Extension Service in Maine will lead a workshop on local vegetable seed production.

According to one workshop leader, Brett Grohsgal, a farmer from Maryland, this is practical science that anyone can understand. As he puts it, "If you're a farmer surviving in this competitive, corporate era, you've got more than enough braincells to manage your own crop genetics very well. Most importantly, seed-saving and crop improvements can be readily integrated into the seasonal operation of most market farms."

The future of our seed banks for both home gardeners and farmers lies in a conferences like this. Today as well, consumers need to know where their food comes from and it all begins with the seed.

This is Ron Krupp, the northern gardener.

Ron Krupp is a gardener and author who lives near Lake Champlain on Shelburne Bay.
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