THE HEIRLOOM SEED LIBRARY
author Kimberly Marshall
Preserving our food source from agri-corporations.
Nestled in the Rondout Valley between the Catskills and the Shawangunk Ridge, on a small farm in Accord, New York, lies the Hudson Valley Seed Library – a small business with an enormous mission: to save as many local heirloom varieties of flowers, herbs, and vegetables from extinction as possible.
In recent history, several of the major agricultural corporations (like Monsanto, Cargill and Syngenta) have made a habit of buying up small seed companies while preserving only the profitable seeds and junking the rest. What they don’t seem to consider is that once a seed is lost, the particular plant variety is gone forever. The potential devastation to our biodiversity and food supply is huge, and we’re already seeing an unprecedented loss of plant life both locally and around the globe. These major biotech companies are implementing greater restrictions on what farmers can and can’t do, all while swapping out our natural food selection with the all-too-controversial GMO. One example of the environmental destruction this can lead to is the Roundup-ready patented soybean developed by Monsanto. This herbicide-resistant super-weed is taking root all over the nation and spurring the use of even more pesticides, leading to additional environmental concerns and controversies abound.
Do we really want these companies in charge of producing and regulating the food we grow and consume?
Luckily, there’s hope.
And it’s growing fast, thanks to caring folks like Ken Greene, the founder and owner of the Hudson Valley Seed Library, who has made it his mission to get our seeds “out of the suit pockets of greedy corporations and [back into] the dirty hands of caring growers.”
Greene founded the company in 2004 when he was a librarian at the Gardiner Public Library. While speaking to local farmers about organic farming and sustainability, he realized the importance of seed sharing and what it meant to local communities and the future of food, so he began saving seeds from his own garden but felt it wasn’t enough to limit his efforts to his own backyard. He sought to educate other gardeners on how to save seeds and create a regionally adapted source of locally held seeds for the community. He came up with the idea to add his seeds to the library’s catalog and lend them out like books. The “borrower” would plant the seeds, harvest the fruit, and gather and bring back the seeds they saved at the end of the season for others to borrow and plant.
The experiment proved worthwhile, as it quickly became a full-time, profitable, and personally meaningful business venture for both Greene and his partner, Doug Muller, who now travel around the area to speak about – and host local workshops to teach – the value of saving seeds.
Greene recalls the Library’s humble beginning when he was thrilled to have 60 members, and now the Seed Library reaches tens of thousands through their website, in-person events, retailers that carry their seeds, and their uniquely designed packaging.
Each year, an artist is chosen to represent a new crop by designing a custom “Art Pack” that encases the seeds in tiny, frameable works of art. The packs travel across the nation in the Seed Library’s show titled Art of the Heirloom and is sponsored by Horticulture Magazine and Great Performances. It has been featured at the Horticultural Society of New York, the Philadelphia Flower Show, the National Heirloom Expo, the Chicago Botanic Garden, and several galleries, community centers, and libraries, including Sotheby’s.
In addition to their beauty, the Art Packs each have their own individual call to action, depending on the artists’ interpretation and medium.
For example, Jessica Poser, the artist who designed the Seed Library’s Little Gem Lettuce Mix, used junk food wrappers to create a stained-glass collage meant to spark conversations about, and get people to be more conscious of, the quality of their food choices. Artist, Nancy Blum, who designed the art pack for the Library’s Milkweed seeds, left the monarch butterflies and caterpillar in the drawing colorless to represent how the use of pesticides is damaging the monarchs’ habitat and leading them to extinction.
Other artists include Japanese and American folk art-inspired potter Ayumi Horie, who designed the artwork for the library’s Tiger Paw Aster, and Robert Morris, whose work can be seen at the MOMA, Guggenheim, and museums and collections all over the world.
Be sure to visit their website, sign up for their newsletter, follow them on social media and spread the word! The more gardeners, farmers, and eaters that get involved, the greater the chances are that we can save the seed. As Greene explains, “Seeds have [so much] more value than the economic commodity these large corporations have tried to reduce them to. They are living stories.”
And we owe it to future generations to preserve their tale.