Fun Club travelers wandered through “Diane’s Garden” at Heritage Farm on a 2015 Mystery Tour. The garden featured some of the favorite heirloom plants of the founder of Seed Savers.

Does it seem like everyone is planting a garden this year?

This past month I’ve had conversations with friends who were looking for certain seeds or were concerned that the nursery was sold out of the vegetable seedlings they wanted. All this talk about gardens made me think of a unique stop the Fun Club experienced during a past Mystery Trip.

Five years ago, I fell in love with a place called Seed Savers which is located in the northeast corner of Iowa near Decorah. I don’t plant a vegetable garden myself, but I really admired what they were doing on this 900 acre farm. Seed Savers was started back in 1975 by a couple who were entrusted with the seeds of their family’s treasured tomato and flower varieties brought from Bavaria when their great-grandparents immigrated to Iowa in 1884.

The couple created Seed Savers and went on to form a network of gardeners interested in preserving heirloom varieties and sharing seeds. Today they have a network of thousands of members and over 20,000 different varieties of heirloom and open-pollinated plants.

Heirloom plants are defined as old-fashioned vegetables and flowers that have been passed down through the generations. They are old-time favorites that produce plants with the same traits from one generation to the next. This differs from hybrids and GMO’s whose offspring do not produce identical traits of the parent plant.

Why would someone want to grow heirloom seeds when hybrid and GMO seeds grow plants with selected traits? Seed Savers argue that an heirloom plant has better taste and flavor. Perhaps they are more nutritious and they are certainly less expensive. And, an even more important reason for growing heirloom seeds might be to preserve the genetic diversity of plants.

We heard incredible stories of the thousands of varieties of apples, tomatoes and other fruits and vegetables that are known and grown throughout the world. Of these, only a small number are grown commercially and made available to the consumer.

Today, Seed Savers Exchange focuses on stewarding and sharing the large collection of heirloom varieties the organization has amassed. Forty-five years after its humble beginning, Seed Savers is the nation’s largest non-governmental seed bank of its kind. Each year, they grow select varieties in gardens at Heritage Farm to keep their seed supply healthy and viable. They place these newly grown seeds into their seed bank and into the hands of gardeners around the nation.

Their evaluation team grows other varieties and keeps accurate records of each variety’s traits. Their seed historians research the story of the heirloom plants, documenting their history and the lives of the people who brought that variety into the collection.

Extra seeds are sent to the Fort Collins Seed Bank in Colorado and the Svalbard Global Seed Vault in Norway. The scope of Seed Savers amazed me. But then again, I’m often amazed at the things I learn on our Fun Club travels.

A reminder

During the coronavirus pandemic, Dave and I continue to work from home. You may reach me at 402-366-9648 or Dave at 402-366-4322.

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