Save a Seed to Save Yourself: The Importance of Seed Saving in 2020

Sue Senger
Dec 31, 2019 · 6 min read

Food for tomorrow comes from seeds we save today

Photo by Joshua Lanzarini on Unsplash

Fundamentally Human

Food. Water. Air. Shelter. These are the fundamental things each of us needs to survive. And we had better add in “Company” to that list as well. We need each other and our animal companions to really thrive in this world and live healthy lives.

It’s easy to minimize these things, spend as little time thinking about them as possible, unless we personally face a shortage of one of them. For most of us, our high-tech information-age lifestyles mean much of what we need comes at the touch of a button. Nearly anything can now be delivered right to your door.

It’s easy to forget that the natural world doesn’t work that way.

There is no downloadable patch, quick fix, or 3D printed substitute for plant seeds. Most of our food is still grown by planting seeds into the soil somewhere on the planet.

With each passing decade, fewer and fewer people know how to grow their own food. And yet seeding, growing, harvesting, storing and preparing plants as food are fundamental tasks that show us what it means to be human.

Our history with seed saving and growing crops dates back 12,000 years or more, and such practices were developed in most cultures around the world. And yet, never in the history of humans on the planet has our individual knowledge of food production been so low.

We Need Plant Diversity to Survive

The last hundred years of “modern” agriculture has marked the worst decline in our food plant biodiversity ever recorded. Although the details vary depending on the source of information you tap, somewhere between 90 and 94% of food plant varieties have vanished. They are gone forever. Extinct.

Heirloom tomatoes show what diversity remains (Photo by Vince Lee on Unsplash)

According to a post on the website Regeneration International from 2016: “90 percent of the crop varieties grown 100 years ago are already gone. The Millennium Seed Bank Partnership estimates that 60,000 to 100,000 plant species are in danger of extinction.”

We know from studying the natural world and the fossil records, that as biodiversity declines, the chance of extinction increases. It is pretty easy to see why. Everything depends on everything else. When you start knocking holes in the ecosystem web, eventually the whole thing collapses and many species disappear.

Our food system is not independent of the natural rules that govern this planet.

We need natural variation in our food plants in order to select the ones that are more heat tolerant, or drought tolerant, or disease resistant, and so on. If all the plants are the same, there is nothing to work with.

This crisis in our food system pre-dates the climate change crisis. It is a crisis borne of corporate greed and our willingness to let someone else feed us. The problem is that the main purpose of corporations is to make money, not to worry after your health or the diversity of plants. It is a mis-match of epic proportions put corporations in charge of the food supply. And the climate change crisis just layers in on top of an already crumbling ecosystem food web on which we stand.

Make 2020 The Year You Save a Seed

Contrary to what you might think, saving seeds from food plants is astonishingly simple. People have done it for thousands of years without the benefit of university degrees and complicated protocols. There are any number of simple plants from which you can start collecting seeds including lettuce, kale, radish, sunflowers, and pumpkins to name only a few.

The steps are easy. You grow your plants. You let some of them go to seed (that is, allow them to mature, flower and then let the seeds ripen). And then you collect some seed. Keep the seed safe and dry until the following season, when you can begin the cycle again by planting your own seeds to grow your own food.

You don’t need to do anything special, other than let the plants grow.

Lettuce and radish plants will send up big stocks with flowers on them. Of course for the sunflower, the flower head produces the seeds we like to eat. And anyone who has carved a Halloween pumpkin knows the seeds are all inside. To save seeds from any of these plants, you just collect up the seeds, lay them out on a paper towel until they are dry, and store them in a paper bag, jar, or envelop in a cool dry place. Next year, plant these seeds to grow more food.

Lettuce seed heads opening up (Photo credit: Rose Hill Farm)

But what about all the rules? Aren’t there rules about which plants cross with each other and what you should or should not plant? Anyone who has considered seed savings has surely read all the rules about annuals, perennials, open pollinated plants, hybrids, and so on, and had their eyes glaze over. Yes, you can make seed saving as complicated as you like.

But, here’s the thing: The sky won’t fall if you do it wrong, end up with a pumpkin-squash mix, or discover your lettuce seed grows a different color than what you planted last year.

Honestly. You are not responsible for saving the exact genetic copy of Buttercrunch lettuce. And who knows, you might be the one to discover the next amazing lettuce variation or pumpkin-squash mix that has never been seen before.

You can learn the rules at some point. Or you can discover the wonders of nature by ignoring all the rules entirely. It’s up to you. What matters is that you save seeds. What matters is that you learn something about where your food comes from.

Now is a great time to start.

There are dozens of reasons to start saving seeds right now. Here are a few to consider:

Saving seeds can connect you to your own evolutionary history as a hunter-gatherer-grower of food. It can reconnect you to the natural world in ways few other activities can.

Saving seeds is a political statement against the corporate control of food. It puts you in charge of your own food.

Savings seeds is an act of mindfulness — a way to center your thoughts on the natural world and act positively to maintain the cycle of growth. More and more studies are linking time in nature, time around plants, as a method to reduce stress and improve our quality of life.

Saving seeds is a direct action to protect plant biodiversity, and help with the regional adaptation of food plants. New variations will only be found by people who save seeds. It is the only source of natural variation available to us, and you can be part of that work.

Saving seeds is a way to generate free food. You could in fact grow a free lunch by saving and growing your own seeds.

Sunflowers produce large amounts of nutritious seeds to eat raw, toasted or sprouted (Photo by Devi Puspita Amartha Yahya on Unsplash)

Save a Seed to Save Yourself

As we move into this new decade, there will be dozens of tips for how to make it the best decade ever. Savings seeds is a small action that can have long term benefits for you, your health, and the health of the planet.

We all must eat. Never has the act of growing and saving seeds ever been more needed or more revolutionary than it is today at the dawn of 2020.

Each small step moves us forward. If we all take that first step together, and become engaged in our food supply, care for the plants that feed us, the results would be unprecedented in modern times.

Let us know what seeds you are going to start saving in the comments below. Make 2020 and extraordinary year by saving seeds.

Age of Awareness

Stories providing creative, innovative, and sustainable changes to the education system

Sue Senger

Written by

PhD (Biology), MSc (Plant Science), Landscape ecologist, Freelance Writer, visit: https://writer.me/sue-senger/; Small-scale farmer, visit: www.rosehillfarm.ca

Age of Awareness

Stories providing creative, innovative, and sustainable changes to the education system

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