Thursday, January 17, 2013

On My GREEN Nightstand...The Seed Underground - A Growing Revolution to Save Food

Although I don't plan to put in a big garden this year since I won't be home to maintain it for a while, I can't help but do the same thing my fellow gardeners are all doing right now.... reading seed catalogs and gardening books!  (I'm aware that there's a big question mark out there as to whether or not I'll return to the garden after finding snakes in my garden last summer.  I know they're not a bad thing to have, but my irrational fear of them led me to abandon the garden for a while.)

It used to be that I didn't give all that much thought to the seeds I choose, but I knew they had to be either: organic or not genetically-modified, and that they be appropriate for my microclimate.  Unless I'm growing from seed, I can't always know for sure that the plants I buy from my local nurseries meet these criteria... especially the GMO part.  Actually, unless I know where those seeds are coming from, I still don't know if they're GMOs.  (After seeing the documentary Food Inc. I spent more time researching this.) Every once in a while I Google "companies owned by Monsanto" and read the lists that come up, and use that as a guide.  I also appreciate the statements in the seed catalogs on their stances on GMOs. 

Last week I picked up a book which I am enjoying so much I felt the need to share it with you.  It's by author and naturalist Janisse Ray, called The Seed Underground - A Growing Revolution to Save Food.  The book goes in a few directions - some parts are very educational, some are political, some philosophical, and throughout there are charming stories & anecdotes, and at points it's like reading poetry.  Definitely one of the more interesting gardening books I've ever read!  (Also I really enjoyed Prince Charles's The Elements of Organic Gardening.  Say what you will, I'm a fan of a prince who gardens!)

While it does cover, briefly, the art of seed-saving, it does list many helpful resources, and explains why you can't just plant the seeds you kept from the food you buy at Stop & Shop and expect the same plants to grow from them.  Janisse even goes into hand-pollination, and shares stories of pollination contamination struggles of innocent, hard-working farmers sued by corporate giants like Monsanto.  She writes of seed banking, of saving bio-diversity, of corporate agriculture, of varieties of so many plants that I've never heard of but might want to try.  For example she wrote about this exquisite French heirloom pumpkin called Musquée de Provence (which she won by guessing the number of Hershey Kisses in a jar!) and the next day I found the seeds in a catalog and was terribly excited over it.  The book also taught me more about heirlooms, which I hadn't give much thought to in the past.  Now I think I'm more likely to choose those.

A small pumpkin in my garden
My favorite chapters are probably the personal stories of the meeting gardeners & seed-savers, or how the author couldn't help but harvest some seeds from the hollyhocks growing near the tombstone of Emile Zola in a Paris cemetery.  The Realtor in me loved the story of how she and her family finally found the perfect farm they'd be dreaming of for years.  (I LOVE getting to experience that with my clients - that moment when you see the realization strike that THIS is home! That might be the best part of my job - my "raison d'être" for being in real estate.)

What I'm gaining from this read is that the seed is a powerful thing.  It is life.  I've said it before, it is important to me, at least, to know how to grow my own food, and to pass that knowledge on to my children, as my parents passed it down to me.  It also gives me a certain level of comfort knowing that there are people out there who are looking out for biodiversity and helping to save seed culture.  I am happy to do a small part by supporting those farmers & seed growers, and maybe in turn help save some of those seeds and pass them on to others who may do the same.

Scarlet Runner beans add color to my little garden
Artichoke grown at the Florence Griswold Museum garden

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