Planting Seeds for a Better Tomorrow
Shortly after moving to the Ozarks, I went to a seed saving workshop at the local public library in Marshall, AR. In addition to lending books, the library lends seeds! That day, I took copious notes from local growers Herb Culver of Bean Mountain Farms and Kate and Jay Murray of Mud Hollow Farms. I was just starting to grow my first large-scale garden, and I wanted to know everything. I asked for books on seed saving for Christmas, and Seed to Seed by Suzanne Ashworth became my new coffee table book.
I went to my first seed swap at the Fred Berry Conservation Center in Yellville, AR on a cold February afternoon in 2013. I didn’t have any seeds to share, as I had never actually saved any. The organization Conserving Arkansas’ Agricultural Heritage, puts on annual seed sharing events all across Arkansas. We had a wonderful potluck lunch, and I learned about varieties of seeds that had been saved in that area of the Ozarks for generations. CAAH uses the slogan, “one for the cutworm, one for the crow, one to share, and one to grow.” Even though I didn’t bring any seeds to swap, CAAH gave me some to grow out, with the understanding that I would save seed to replenish the stock.
I have been growing green beans each season since I moved to Arkansas. Some years, they do great. Other years, I only have a few plants that thrive. In the Ozarks, I grew the Bammie Seaton variety, named after a woman from Searcy County. Now that I’m down in Little Rock, I’ve started growing the Bolita Bean. Both of these seeds have a story, a history, and a relationship to place.
My favorite thing about growing green beans, other than of course eating green beans, is that they allow my garden to fit in with my schedule. Early in the season, when there isn’t a whole lot ready to harvest, I am all about beans. The tiny tender pods are so easy to prepare, and I usually end up eating some as I harvest them. Later in the season, I inevitably fall behind on my garden to-do list, and sexy tomatoes and peppers are more competitive for my time than the workhorse pole bean. That’s okay. I can leave the beans unharvested without feeling guilty. By the time I get around to harvesting the dried out pods, the dried beans are ready to turn into a chili or soup whenever the cold weather rolls around. Plus, whatever I don’t cook up over the coming months becomes my seed for next year’s crop. Each year I plant saved seed gives a competitive advantage to the genetic material most suited to where I’m growing.
You might be asking yourself, “What does this have to do with GMOs?”. The short answer? Pretty much everything. Saving seed is how people have been growing food since we domesticated plants and created agriculture in the first place. Genetically Modified Organisms are copyrighted, patented, and controlled by corporations. It is illegal to save seeds from a GMO plant. You can never benefit from a locally based variety, which has acclimated, literally, to where you’re growing. You also miss out on the food that has been selected over generations for the best flavor when you’re aiming for a plant that can withstand heavy pesticide use, long distance travel, and uniform color, shape and size. Saving seed gives you direct control over your very own food supply. Your harvest might not be the prettiest, and it would probably get passed over on the grocery store shelves, but it will be the best tasting, freshest, and most local food year after year.