By Kent Whealy
Seed Banks Serving People Workshop
I recently had the pleasure of being part of a unique workshop that was held in Tucson on October 13 and 14. I would be surprised if there is ever another that even closely resembles it. I came away riding a warm wave of friendship and enthusiasm like I have never felt before. It was so incredible that I was even a little down just because it was over.
I met people that I have been wanting to meet for a long time, some with whom I’d been corresponding for up to five years. These included: John Withee whose Wanigan Associates built up a collection of over 1,200 heirloom bean varieties; Dr. George Larke who directs the Family Gardening Council which is a group of tomato experimenters; Cary Fowler of the National Sharecroppers Fund who has campaigned vigorously in behalf of genetic diversity; Karen Reichardt who Diane and I really enjoyed finally meeting; Forest Roth-Shomer who directs the Abundant Life Seed Foundation which is working to preserve the plants native to the North Pacific Rim; Rob Johnston, Jr., a fine young seedsman who runs Johnny’s Selected Seeds in Maine; Dr. Bruce Bugbee who has written articles for the SSE on home storage of seeds; Carl and Karen Barnes – Carl is an SSE Member who has started an organization called CORNS to preserve as many open-pollinated corns as possible; Craig and Sue Dremann who run The Redwood City Seed Company; Jan and Rick Blum – SSE members from Idaho; Phil and Polly Germaine – SSE members from New Mexico; Steve Spangler who runs Exotica Seed Co. and has done a lot of plant exploration in Ecuador, Mexico and Hawaii; Steve Facciola – SSE member who is working with Steve Spangler on a sub-tropical rare fruit nursery; Skip Kauffman and Peggy Hass from the Organic Gardening & Farming Research Center; Jack Doyle from the Environmental Policy Center; Carolyn Jabs – a garden writer whose excellent articles have done much to spread the message of the SSE; Kit Anderson – garden writer with Gardens For All; Dr. Eric Roos – Plant Physiologist with the National Seed Storage Laboratory; Dr. Howard Scott Gentry – retired USDA plant explorer presently working with NEWCAST at Arizona State Univ.; Dr. Richard Felger – Ethnobotanist and Senior Research Scientist at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum; and Dr. Robert Bye – Ethnobotanist currently working in Mexico. I met so many people so quickly that I know I’m leaving some out and I hope they will forgive me.
I’m saving the best for the last – the staff of the Meals for Millions/Freedom From Hunger Foundation/Southwest Program: Gary Nabhan – Project Manager; Cynthia Anson – SW Program Director; Mahina Drees – Conservancy Garden Coordinator; Susie Terrence – Urban Community Gardens Project Manager; Jane Nyhuis – MFM Horticulturalist; and Mary Wolken – Coordinator. Their organization should be very proud of the incredible job they did organizing and putting on the Workshop. They are some of the most dedicated, hard-working, caring people I have ever met. I’m holding them personally responsible for all of the good that came out of the Workshop. The effects of what happened there in those two days will be felt for years to come. I just want to take this opportunity to thank all of them. What a crew!
I transcribed the following from over 7 hours of tapes which I recorded at the Workshop. The panelists and people giving demonstrations only had time to give a tantalizingly short taste of what they were doing. I have concentrated on the speakers I thought you would like to hear and the ones we can learn the most from. This is only about a third of the speakers and less than half of what each of them said. If there are mistakes in the following, just assume that the mistake was in my transcribing and typing, not in what was said…..The first morning started with Cynthia Anson, SW Program Director of Meals for Millions, welcoming all of us —
“We are excited and optimistic at having so many people here who are interested in preserving plant diversity, in the whole matter of genetic conservation, and in learning more about the practical skills that will allow that to really happen. We have people here from as far away as Maine, Washington state, Idaho, and Mexico City. Some of the people here have wanted to meet each other in person for a long time and it seems like this may be a unique opportunity for people to get together for the first time and really talk about something that many people have been working with, some for their whole lives…..”
“Cary Fowler will be the first speaker. Many of you know Cary already. He has been active for a number of years as an advocate for the cause of genetic conservation. He is presently program director of the National Sharecroppers Fund. He operates a small farm himself in North Carolina. He is a co-author of the book Food First which many of you are familiar with and he’s presently working on a popular book on genetic resources. He has also in the past several years served as a consultant to the U. N. Centre on Transnational Corporations. Cary will attempt to set the content of the Workshop in the context of the whole problem of genetic conservation and the different perspectives which many people have to offer…..”