Why We Should Save Our Seeds
When I glance out my window, a display of surprising color catches my eye: leaves suffused with red and yellow have already drifted gently to the ground in my yard, despite the hurried sensation that summer had only just begun seemingly moments before. Mabon — the Fall Equinox — will be shortly upon us, however, thus instilling within me a delicate reminder that the wheel of the year continues to spin, whether I am paying attention or not.
Right now, one might hope that gardeners everywhere are busy collecting and preserving seeds from their heartily-stewarded veggie plots from this summer, diligently maintaining their capacity to foster a self-perpetuating garden for next year. One might hope that gardeners, right now, are selecting the biggest, juiciest, most tender, most flavorful plants from this year’s harvest from which to save seed, ensuring improved flavor, resilience and adaptation for the future harvests to come.
One might hope.
Unfortunately, we live in a society not at all conducive to seed saving. We no longer live in the world where this type of common knowledge was a necessity for survival, a basic human right, a crossroads of community and sharing and kinship. We no longer live in a world where we honor things like ancestral connection, being in tune with nature’s cycles, or communion with the seeds themselves — tiny beacons of life, their potential to sustain us a magical, monumental feat. Such immense power in so small a thing, reduced to an oppressive business transaction.
In our strange world, saving seeds is a rebellious act, often contextualized in dissent (that sounds like a plot to some weird sci-fi post-apocalyptic movie, but alas, this is the reality we are presently, astonishingly, faced with today.) The consolidation within corporate agriculture is by design. The systems have been deliberately engineered to control us, manipulate us into dependency, to strip us of our rights, our individual and community autonomy, and our personal connections to our earth. It’s the long con, folks.
Control oil and you control nations; control food and you control the people.
And that’s why we absolutely need to be saving our seeds, even if it’s just one or two types of veggies from our garden every year.
From the seeds sewn into buckskin linings of garments along the Trail of Tears, to the grandfather squash seeds who awakened after an 800 year long nap to fulfill the duties to sustain the people. The seeds tell the story of our human experience; one of change, adaptation, joy, loss, celebration, transformation and sustenance.
-Rowan White, Seed Keeper from the Mohawk community of Akwesasne & Director of Sierra Seeds
There are many reasons to learn how to save seeds.
These are just a few of them:
We can get straight to the point regarding one of the biggest incentives for people anywhere do to do anything: dolla dolla bills. For the home gardener, saving seeds will for sure save you money in the long run. And although I get just as excited about flipping through the annual seed catalogues as the next person (so much potential! Such a morale boost during dark winter months!), I feel less excited about the money I must yield every year to seed companies when I place my orders. Save seeds = save money. (To be sure, there are some very socially-conscientious, wonderful seed companies and cooperatives out there to choose from; this doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing type of situation.)
Adapt plants to your specific region
It’s totally baffling to me that we, as a society, have been conditioned to just find it totally normal to order seeds developed by third parties in Oregon when we plan on sowing those seeds in New England (or any number of similar scenarios). Why wouldn’t we want to plant seeds that have specifically adapted to the same terroir where we hope to grow them? Saving your own seeds will allow your varieties to adapt to your climate over time, thus developing more robust coping mechanisms for dealing with the *relevant* challenges of your home and your land.
Preserve family heirlooms + biodiversity
Consolidation within corporate agriculture comes with the whittling down of biodiversity. With financial interests focalizing hybrids and GMO’s designed for machine-oriented harvesting practices and monocropping, the diversity of available varieties of fruits and vegetables has been rapidly diminishing (didn’t anyone learn about biodiversity in high school biology?!)
Hybrids and GMOs are usually patented, sterile varieties. By design, you cannot perpetuate them, because companies want to force consumers to pay for these seeds every year. To combat this, we can work to preserve the seeds of open-pollinated and heirloom plants. Open pollinated, heirloom vegetables are generally more vigorous, more diverse, and more flavorful. If you hope to practice seed saving, be sure that you don’t by hybrid seeds!
Learning this ancient skill is one of empowering self-reliance, giving us the option of distancing ourselves from the ferocious (and tightening) grip of enforced consumerism — it’s the very type of slyly violent oppression that capitalists favor. You don’t have to be a prepper, off-the-gridder, conspiracy theorist or a hippie to appreciate the extent of this very intentional dilemma we find ourselves in today regarding our manufactured dependency on multinational corporations. Saving seeds and growing our own food is just one small way we can fight back.
Deepen your connection with nature
Gardening is itself an engaging dance with our nonhuman kin — a process of reciprocity in which we mutually benefit one another, growing, learning, thriving — or suffering — together. It is an exploration of sustenance, magic, potential, myth, life, and death. Learning to follow a plant through the entirety of its life process, observing it from sowing to harvesting to seed, tuning into its cycles in relation to ourselves and the world around us, establishes a level of unparalleled intimacy with the forces of our world.
Other ways to engage.
Other people save seeds to connect with their heritage, toreclaim aspects of their ancestry or to deepen a spiritual practice.
But we know that it’s not always totally practical for all gardeners to save all of their seeds. They might be limited by space, knowledge, time, or other barriers preventing them from saving their own seeds. Some potential alternative routes of action include:
- Starting a seed library (or participating in one that’s already established)
- Starting out by just saving the seeds of one type of vegetable — it’s okay to take baby steps! You can learn a little more with every passing year.
- Choosing to patronize seed companies with ethical business models (such as regional cooperatives)