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California Garden & Portager: Learnings from Janisse Ray’s “The Seed Underground: A Growing Revolution to Save Food”

Reading Time: 3 minutes

“The Seed Underground: A Growing Revolution to Save Food” delves into the world of heirloom seeds and the critical role they play in ensuring food security and biodiversity.

Author Janisse Ray brings readers along a thought-provoking journey through her personal experiences with seed saving and introduces us to a network of passionate gardeners, farmers, and activists who dedicate themselves to preserving rare and endangered crop varieties. She sheds light on the challenges faced by industrial agriculture and emphasizes the need for grassroots efforts to protect our food heritage.

A winner of the American Horticultural Society Book award and is a prestigious Nautilus Book Awards, The Seed Underground is a compelling call to action for everyone, urging us to reconnect with our food sources and support the movement towards seed sovereignty.

“The Seed Underground: A Growing Revolution to Save Food”: an introduction

Key takeaways

  • “Of the thousands of seed varieties available at the turn of the 20th century, 94 percent have been lost – forever.” This does not include open-pollinated varieties – the percentage of lost seeds is likely higher.
  • There are historically significant hotbeds for world plant domestication: Andes, China, South Asia, Southwest Asia (the Fertile Crescent), Mediterranean, Ethiopia and greater Mexico
  • Nikolai Vavilov was an early 1900s Russian breeder who collected seeds of 200,000 plant varieties; he is considered the father of botony
  • “Industrial agriculture is responsible for the loss of two billion tons of topsoil a year. In the nineteenth century…Iowa had fourteen to sixteen inches of topsoil. Today, it has just six to eight inches…”
  • Book recommendation for how to save seed: Suzanne Ashworth’s “Seed to Seed”
  • In 2008 Norway built a global seed bank that is climate-catastrophe proof; seeds stored in watertight and airtight foil packages to last 50-2,000 years

(Select) Recommended Print Publications

Critical Review from Atlanta Journal Constitution:

“Saving seeds isn’t just good science; it’s a subtler war against the loss of our stories, our history, our connections with each other: ‘Where we live and what we live with is who we are.’ Add to that, what we eat. And share. For readers eager to get started, several how-to chapters offer basic seed-saving tips and lessons on hand-pollinating and controlling the purity of certain seeds. The Seed Underground [is] not a seed-saving manual, but Ray recommends several reliable guides in the resource section at the end of the book. The effect she hopes to have on readers, Ray claims, is modest: ‘My goal is simply to plant a seed. In you.’  But a poet knows full well the power of words, and if a rally could be contained in the pages of a book, The Seed Underground is one, its language by turns incantatory, pleading, rabble-rousing, a challenge to rise to the occasion, to ‘man up or lie there and bleed.’  From the stirring call to reclaim our seeds ― ‘developed by our ancestors, grown by them and by us, and collected for use by our citizenry’ ― to their irresistible names, like Little White Lady pea, Speckled Cut Short Cornfield bean, Purple Blossom Brown-Striped Half-runner bean and Blue Java pea, Ray boldly seduces us into joining this critical and much-needed revolution.”

To purchase:

ISBN: 9781603583060

A Conversation with the Author –“Conversations around the Green Fire: Janisse Ray

via Center for Humans and Nature

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