|Seed Savers Exchange test garden, July 2013|
Thursday, July 25, 2013
Decorah, Iowa, July 19-21, 2013: Member Beth Purcell reports on this month's Seed Savers Exchange and Campout:
Seed Savers Exchange (SSE) is a nonprofit organization devoted to enhancing genetic diversity by preserving seeds of heirloom varieties of fruits, flowers, and vegetables. SSE collects heirloom seeds, and facilitates members’ exchange of seeds. It maintains the largest non-government seed bank in the US. SSE has test gardens and meeting facilities at Heritage Farm in Decorah, Iowa (northeast Iowa). Each year they grow-out hundreds of heirloom varieties at the farm, and enlist members’ help to test heirloom seeds in gardens around the country.
SSE offers seeds for hundreds of vegetables and annual and perennial flowers. You can see many varieties growing in the test gardens. Red Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata), 5-feet tall, hardy to Zone 4, would complement the white milkweeds available on Capitol Hill. Ground cherry (Phusalis pruinosa, Aunt Molly’s OG) is an attractive pest-resistant plant with fruits similar to a tomatillo, and great in pies and preserves; it matures in 70 days and needs full sun. They use cocoa mulch in the test gardens because it’s excellent for weed suppression, however it tends to block water, and dogs sometimes eat it.
Every July SSE holds a conference, offering seed-sharing exchanges, workshops on seed-saving, gardening ideas, and expert speakers on garden-related topics. One speaker covered the challenges of plant patents to farmers and gardeners: “Bag tags” on patented corn and soybean seeds are a license prohibiting the farmer from keeping seed from this year’s harvest to replant the following year. If the farmer opens the bag, he or she agrees to be bound by the license. As a result, the farmer must buy seed year after year from the seed company. Seed companies have successfully sued farmers to enforce this license. While plant patents and bag tags are now an issue for farmers, gardeners may soon be affected - Monsanto has developed a tomato with the same restrictive license. A concern is that seed companies may begin to modify garden seeds from the public domain, obtain patents, and sell seeds with restrictive licenses. However, open-source unrestricted plant breeding programs and seed-sharing organizations like SSE might survive using licenses similar to Linus Torvald’s Linux open-source software, where the license requires unrestricted use for all users.
A trip to SSE Heritage Farm in Decorah, Iowa might be part of an enjoyable family vacation. The farm is almost 1,000 acres, with test gardens, a herd of heritage cattle, and flocks of heritage poultry. There is a lot to see at the farm, and nearby. The town of Decorah is very charming, with restaurants, parks, and a bike trail circling the town. The Mississippi River is not far. Heritage Farm offers camping during the conference, or you can stay in a dorm room at Luther College in Decorah (room was comfortable, sheets and towels provided, and A/C worked great). You can fly to Waterloo, Iowa, rent a car and drive to Decorah. The scenery is beautiful – gently rolling hills becoming hillier in the northeast (and no billboards anywhere). The roads are well-maintained, not crowded, and drivers are calm (a nice change from DC).
For more information on the conference, saving heirloom seeds, seeds available for purchase, see www.seedsavers.org.
--post and photos by Beth Purcell