By Kent Whealy
The Seed Savers Exchange has just purchased its Heritage Farm! For three years we have been searching for the perfect property to showcase the organization’s preservation projects. During that time we have commuted to and gardened on rented land, and the Whealy family and SSE office has been shuffled between a succession of rental properties that has made us wonder at times if we could hold everything together. But now, thanks to a tremendous vote of confidence and generous loan from the C. S. Fund, the SSE is the proud owner of the most beautiful 57-acre farm that I have ever seen. It has a really nice house with a partially finished basement that will be perfect for our office and computer systems. Surrounding the house are five acres of good soil for our heirloom gardens. At that same level is a one-acre spring-fed pond which will ensure that drought can never again hurt our projects. There is a 35 X 70’ picturesque barn that will be used extensively for seed drying and processing, and could even be developed without much effort into a meeting center for our Campout Convention. To the east is a 25-acre upper field that will eventually be developed into orchards of historic apples. An additional two-acre hilltop field lies to the north, the whole place has excellent fences, and there are small streams and limestone bluffs and groves of native white pines. If you think I’m excited about this, you’re right. In the article that follows, I will explain in detail what it will take for us to make this dream come true.
This has been an extremely busy and productive year. Usually this introduction is as brief as possible to save space. But there is so much happening right now that, for a change, I would like to tell you about it in some detail. This introduction and this entire issue are arranged chronologically. On May 5 & 6, I spoke at a conference at National Colonial Farm in Accokeek, Maryland. It was hosted by Dr. David O. Percy, Director of the National Colonial Farm of the Accokeek Foundation, and sponsored by the Wallace Genetic Foundation. Other speakers: Dr. Garrison Wilkes, who flew in from Mexico City where he was spending a one-year sabbatical reorganizing the world corn collection at CIMMYT, gave an inspirational and thought-provoking presentation on genetic erosion; Dr. Allan K. Stoner, Director of the Plant Genetics and Germplasm Institute at Beltsville, MD told about “The National Program for Genetic Preservation”; Robert F. Becker, Associate Professor, Horticultural Sciences, Cornell University, Geneva, NY, described “How to Verify an Heirloom Variety”; Tom Woods, Site Manager for the Oliver H. Kelley Farm in Elk River, MN described their programs involving appropriate varieties, and a survey of seeds and breeds which was recently compiled by the Association of Living Historical Farms and Outdoor Museums; Jim Mowder and Mark Bohning, Program Specialists with the Germplasm Resources Information Network at Beltsville, MD, gave a hands-on demonstration via modem of the GRIN computer system; and Dr. David O. Percy, Project Director and Mary A. Klein, Horticulturist used a series of speeches, seed saving workshops, and garden tours to describe “Developing a Plant Conservation Program and Using it as an Interpretive Tool.” It was a fascinating and educational conference, and the presentations by Garrison Wilkes, Allan Stoner, Robert Becker, and David Percy are included in this issue.
Jeff McCormack met me at the conference and whisked me away to his home in the woods south of Charlottesville, VA. I spent a couple of truly wonderful days with Jeff and his wife Patty Wallens and their son Timothy. Jeff has agreed to join Gary Paul Nabhan, Diane Whealy, and myself as the fourth person on the Board of Directors of the Seed Savers Exchange. Jeff brings a wealth of expertise to the position. He has a doctorate in Botany, specializing in Pollination Ecology and Entomology. He is an expert on solar greenhouses and integrated pest management, and for several years he has been running the greenhouses at the University of Virginia using no chemical insecticides. And he is also fascinated with the folklore — the stories — surrounding heirloom seeds. I trust and value both Jeff’s and Patty’s advice. We are all proud to have Jeff on our Board of Directors. The Seed Savers Exchange is already stronger and better because of his suggestions and involvement.
Jeff was kind enough to drive me around to various meetings. First we went to the Beltsville Agricultural Research Center in Beltsville, MD. There we talked to Mark Bohning and applied for access to the Germplasm Resources Information Network (GRIN). GRIN is a new USDA computer network which catalogs everything being kept at the National Seed Storage Laboratory in Fort Collins, CO and at each of the Plant Introduction Stations. The system contains data on about 400,000 accessions and is designed to provide access to professionals who need material for various breeding projects. There are, I believe, about 250 users around the U. S. who have been approved for access to the system via telephone modems. The SSE’s application was approved, although we haven’t had time yet to use the system. Access to GRIN will allow us to scan the government collections and request seeds of anything that we would like to grow. Eventually, as we multiply part of the SSE’s Central Seed Collection each summer, we hope to enter excess seed into the appropriate government collections. This will provide frozen backup for our efforts which will protect our collection against loss and will improve government collections at the same time. And, by using the GRIN system, we can determine which of our varieties are already in government collections and thus avoid duplication.
On that same trip, Jeff and I stopped by the Plant Variety Protection (PVP) Office which is in the Agricultural Library just across the street from the Beltsville facility. We met with Dr. Kenneth H. Evans and asked him if persons could indeed only apply for protection for plants they had developed. If that wasn’t the case, any individual or corporation, who was willing to pay the initial fees of $2000, could obtain seeds from SSE members and then apply for PVP. Dr. Evans said that the PVP office went through old lists of commercial varieties and historic references such as The Beans of New York in an attempt to determine which varieties had been grown here historically. If printed historical documentation could not be shown, then anyone can apply for PVP certification.
The PVP office has developed lists of descriptors (various plant characteristics) which they use to determine if a variety is unique. If the SSE uses the PVP descriptors when gathering data and describing our varieties and then publishes plant profiles and photographs in our publications, Dr. Evans said that would be sufficient documentation to assure that those plants would remain within the public domain. We are now in the process of developing descriptor lists and photographic techniques which we can all use to take data in our gardens and to describe our plants. This should also help the SSE to become a huge coordinated network of trial gardens with various members testing varieties in different locations and climates and reporting results through our publications. In addition we would also like to publish lists of varieties that PVP has been applied for, so that our members can challenge any unjust certifications during the five-year probationary period. We don’t presently have the room in our publications to print either plant profiles or PVP lists, but could gain it by going to a quarterly publications schedule.
Jeff and I also met with Dr. Elwood Fisher who is a Professor of Biology at James Madison University. Dr. Fisher has spent the last 16 years searching for old fruit varieties — mainly apples and pears — in Virginia and the surrounding states. Much of what he has discovered was originally brought into the Virginia Colonies, so they are actually old European varieties with some dating back into the 1500s. Dr. Fisher is keeping nearly 900 named apple varieties and a total of nearly 2,000 varieties of fruit. And he is growing all of it on less than an acre in his backyard using trellis culture and branch grafts. It is an extremely well organized and well labeled jungle. I’ve heard Jeff humorously say about himself “You know, I was doing just fine until the maniac took over.” Well, I felt a real kinship with Dr. Fisher because he obviously has a bit of the maniac in him, exactly like many of us who are deeply involved in the SSE. He has streetlights installed in his backyard so that he can work after dark. He hasn’t mowed his lawn before sunset in years because that’s too menial a task to waste any daylight on, when he could be grafting. Dr. Fisher had just celebrated his 60th birthday and told Jeff and me that he figures he has 40 more good years left and he knows he’ll need them. Meeting Dr. Fisher was really inspirational and I’m looking forward to a long and fruitful relationship with him.
My hometown is Wellington, Kansas which is a small wheat farming community on the Kansas/Oklahoma border just south of Wichita. My family usually travels there each Memorial Day. Salina, Kansas is about 90 miles to the northwest and this year I finally made it up to the weekend Prairie Festival which is held annually at The Land Institute. Several years ago I had met Wes Jackson briefly when we both were speaking at the same small conference at a college in Leavenworth. Wes is a plant geneticist who founded The Land Institute in 1976, which he directs with his wife Dana. He has a staff of eight doctorate level scientists, and ten graduate student interns who spend at least a year there. They are all working on perennial polycultures –intermingled plantings of perennial grains which may someday eliminate annual replanting and erosion, and replace monocultures such as corn and wheat. I wanted to meet Wes again and get a first-hand look at his work. And I was also anxious to view The Land Institute as a possible model for the SSE’s Heritage Farm.
The Prairie Festival’s theme was Stewardship of Soil, Seeds and Culture, and Wes’ brilliant closing speech is included in this issue. Karen Reichardt and her husband Gary Paul Nabhan, from Native Seeds/SEARCH, were the keynote speakers and gave an evening speech and slideshow entitled Seeds: Genetic Resources and Cultural Treasures. Dr. Orville Bidwell, a retired soil scientist from Kansas State, gave a fascinating presentation entitled The Underground Prairie. He used two excavations, probably 4’ deep and 6’ wide, to show the compaction and damage to the soil under a planting of alfalfa, as opposed to the living vibrant soil beneath some of The Land Institute’s 160 acres of native prairie. The elfish Dr. Francis Hole, another soil scientist from Madison, WI, gave a presentation on soils that was a combination of fiddle playing, singing, and a puppet show for adults. Before he was done, he had all of us singing songs at the tops of our voices about soil. We went on morning walks to view the native prairie plants with graduate student interns as guides. Later the same interns showed us through the plantings where they are experimenting with different densities and mixes of Maximilian Sunflower, Illinois Bundle Flower, Eastern Gamma Grass, and Giant Wild Rye. Joe Paddock from Minnesota read his poetry. Gary and Karen asked me to join them in giving workshops on seed saving and preservation projects. Sally McNall gave a dramatic reading on the life of Willa Cather. There was also: lots of music; delicious meals; camping and campfires; excellent local folksingers; and a wonderful barn dance that lasted into the night.
The whole Prairie Festival seemed sprinkled with Kansas culture. I remembered my roots, felt like a Kansas boy again, and it felt good. On the way home I drove 30 miles west to the group of houses a few miles from Lyons, Kansas which is all that remains of the tiny town of Mitchell. My late grandparents’ house and their church were still standing, but abandoned. I visited their neighbors who knew exactly who I was, although they hadn’t seen me in 30 years. I went back to Wellington, rounded up some old buddies and Aaron, and spent the night setting and running trotlines on Slate Creek (that’s pronounced “crick”). Our family picnicked on the sandbar beside the dam at Drury on the Chicaskee River. We went to the old mill north of Oxford on the Ninnescah. There we bought seven-grain cereal that’s always been sown into cloth bags, and the patterns on the cloth are still the same ones that Diane’s dressers were made from when she was a child. We drove by the old home place near Honeywell. And we stopped at a nearby historic site marker on the Chisholm Trail which said that after the Honeywell Saloon burned down, on one Saturday night that was wilder than most, they collected over 70 pounds of lead from the coals. I took my kids out to ride in a friend’s combine while he was cutting wheat. Our whole family went to the graveyard in Wellington and traced our ancestors back to the parents of my grandfather who was the first white boy born in Sumner County (actually Dalton, Kansas — as in the Dalton brothers). Would I have even slowed down long enough to look back, if I hadn’t been lucky enough to attend Wes and Dana’s Prairie Festival? Probably not. You know, seeds certainly aren’t all that’s being lost right now.
We had a tremendous Preservation Garden this summer, as those of you who attended the Sixth Annual Campout Convention already know. I attribute its tremendous success to three major factors: unlike last summer, we had an almost picture-perfect growing season with enough rain at just the right times; Pioneer Hi-Bred International (Des Moines, IA) made a corporate donation which covered the major share of the project’s cost for the second year in a row; and David Cavagnaro and his family spent the summer in Decorah, Iowa where he worked long days for nearly three months straight in the garden. Laura Demuth, Andy Adelmann, Aaron Whealy, and Pippin Cavagnaro also deserve praise for a job well done.
Many of you know David from his beautiful slideshow at last summer’s Campout. David is a professional photographer from California and also a cinematographer. He filmed the wildlife sequences for the movie called “Never Cry Wolf.” David is a very skilled and knowledgeable gardener with a tremendous energy level that allows him to literally do the work of several people. He sees at a much deeper level in the garden than most of us and we all have much to learn from him. David also developed photography techniques this summer which will allow all of us to photograph our plants using a standard method. I am really in David’s debt, because he took over the Preservation Garden at a time when there were many other things that I had to get done. It is really a joy to be around him and his family, and we can’t wait for them to move to Decorah permanently this next summer.
During that time Arllys Adelmann and I were able to finish up our new book entitled Seed Savers Exchange: The First Ten Years. The 416-page book is a collection of the best articles that have been published in all of the previous issues of the Seed Savers Exchange. One of the most fascinating chapters is “Interviews with Collectors” which talks with: John Withee about his Wanigan Associates bean collection of nearly 1,200 varieties; the late Ernest Strubbe, corn breeder; Robert Lobitz, potatoe worker; the late Ben Quisenberry, then 94-year-old tomato seedsman; the late Burt Berrier, bean collector; Carl Barnes, corn collector; O. J. Lougheed, garden grains; and Ralph Stevenson & Russell Crow, bean collectors. And the chapter on “Saving Garden Seeds” is nearly one hundred pages long and contains more information than most books on the subject. We don’t have the room to reprint that seed saving information in this issue. And that really bothers me, because I know that some of the new people coming into the SSE don’t realize the precautions they have to take to ensure that the cross-pollinated crops — corns, watermelons, cantaloupes, cucumbers, and the four squash species — will remain pure. And it does absolutely no good to locate and make rare seeds available, if they are lost through crossing. If you intend to participate in the SSE but have never read our seed saving guide, please send for a copy of this book. You can order it from the resubscription form in the back of this issue.
This summer’s Campout Convention was a fantastic success. Last summer I felt like the Campout was on the edge of being out of control, partly because attendance had jumped from 60 to around 180. This year about the same number attended, but things went very smoothly. As usual, it takes a short time to adjust when facing increases of several orders of magnitude. The weekend actually started at noon on Friday with an Old Timers Luncheon at the Café Deluxe for those who came to either of the first two campouts and have been coming ever since. The campouts have grown so quickly that some folks were feeling a bit overwhelmed, so sharing that meal together was a nice touch for the original group. Then we all went out to Pinebluff 4-H Camp to help the steady stream of arrivals get settled into the cabins or campsites. That evening we all went in and had supper together at Mabe’s Pizza.
Saturday morning Clarice Cooper and Arllys Adelmann registered everyone as the final folks arrived. We had excellent meals all weekend which were prepared by Diane’s aunt, Lorraine Schrandt, and her neighbor Phyllis Jackson, who cook for a lot of church functions. After dinner I welcomed everyone and introduced Dr. Mike Courtney who was our featured speaker. I had met Mike several years ago when we were both speaking at a conference in Toronto. Mike is a tomato breeder who took over at the Simcoe Research Center in Ontario when Dr. Ernest Kerr, who bred the “Vee” tomatoes — Veepick, Basketvee, Crimsonvee, etc., retired and went to work for Northrup King. Mike is now with the Coastal Research and Education Center in Charleston, SC. Since we met, Mike and I have corresponded concerning the next step in the evolution of the SSE, which has to be the evaluation of our varieties. So Mike’s afternoon talk was on descriptor lists and evaluation. That evening he gave a slideshow and speech entitled “Low Tech Alternatives to High Tech Breeding.” Sunday afternoon he walked with us through the Preservation Garden, showed us what we were doing right and wrong, and taught all of us a tremendous amount. And Sunday night he sat down with Jeff McCormack, John Edgerton, David Cavagnaro, John Meyer and myself and we hassled out a descriptor list that we can all use to take data on our tomatoes. Professionals and gardeners look at plants through different eyes, and it is quite obvious that we will need to sit down with breeders who are working with each specific crop in order to develop our descriptor lists. We have much to learn from Mike and I really appreciate both his interest and his involvement.
We were all very happy that Jan Blum, who runs Seeds Blum in Boise, ID, was able to make it to the Campout again this summer. I really like the way Jan is offering heirloom and regionally adapted varieties through her seed catalog, and also the way she is building up a network of growers who multiply the varieties she offers. Both are essential if a small seed company is to break away from traditional lines of supply and the generalized varieties that wholesalers are offering. Jan gave a speech Saturday afternoon which described the various programs that she has developed for her customers and growers. Saturday evening Jan gave a slideshow which showed the buildings and gardens that she and Karla Prabucki, her partner, have developed. And Sunday morning she gave a demonstration of a hand-powered seed cleaner that she will be selling through her catalog. She had the cleaner and its various-sized screens shipped to the campout and used it to clean some of our peas for her demonstration.
David Cavagnaro gave a Saturday afternoon speech on his work in the Preservation Garden. He described the type of summer we had, our problems and apprehensions, our successes, and then answered questions. That evening David gave another incredible slideshow. He showed pictures of our Preservation Garden, Pippindale which is David and Joannie’s garden and orchard in California, the network of market gardeners and distributers that service gourmet restaurants there, and some indescribably beautiful flower salads. David’s photos always seem to lift all of us up a level. Sunday morning he added greatly to the demonstrations and discussions in the garden. And Sunday afternoon he showed everyone the photo techniques he has developed which will allow all of us to use a common method when photographing our plants.
Other highlights at the Campout included Jeff McCormack’s Saturday afternoon speech on the folklore– the stories — surrounding heirloom seeds. Tom Woods, who is site manager at the Oliver H. Kelley Farm in Elk River, MN, described a survey he had just completed which was an inventory of all the historic seeds and breeds being kept by members of the Association of Living Historical Farms and Outdoor Museums. John Swenson, a self-described allium maniac who is keeping a huge collection of multiplier onions from all over the world, gave a slideshow which showed how to tell the different onion species apart.
There was a lot of activity in the Preservation Garden on Sunday. Glenn Drowns gave some excellent demonstrations on how to hand-pollinate squash and the other cucurbits. Bob Dohse, a soil expert from Wisconsin, described deficiencies that could have been causing some of our insect problems, and how to increase seed vigor through plant nutrition. As I already said, Mike Courtney taught us much about tomato culture, and David Cavagnaro showed us his photo techniques and told us about many things he’d observed in the garden. We were all sorry that Ted Gibbs had been forced at the last minute to remain at work. We had grown nearly 20 okras that we wanted Ted to use to illustrate their differences and to demonstrate his hand-pollination techniques. And all of this was packed into two extremely short days. It was another unforgettable Campout Convention.
In late September I made my second trip to Maine. Last year I was the Keynote Speaker at the Common Ground Country Fair, which is a huge three-day fair in Windsor, Maine that celebrates country living. This year they gave me a small grant to come back and also bring Aaron. They wanted us to do a booth about the Seed Savers Exchange, and Aaron was to take over the booth while I was giving workshops on seed saving. We were right between Will and Molly Bonsall’s booth for Scatterseed Project and John Navazio’s on garlics. We took displays of peppers, eggplants, two Moon & Stars watermelons, a Dinosaur gourd, our display case of 600 beans, and samples of all of our books. It’s a good thing they didn’t check our suitcases at the airport because they would have been amazed. We must have given away a thousand information letters and talked to hundreds of people until we were hoarse. So we may eventually see a large increase in our members from Maine. We had the rare privilege of staying with Will & Molly on the first night they spent in their new house. They are very special people and I really value any time I get to spend with them. And the work that Will is doing with his Scatterseed Project is overwhelming.
The grant from the Fair had more than paid for our plane fares. We had rented a car in Boston and spent a few days after the Fair traveling around the Northeast doing a lot of interviews. First we visited Louise Bastable near Danvers, MA. Louise has been a very active member of the SSE. She directs and coordinates the nationally acclaimed North Shore Community Gardens which includes over 200 plots that are 24’ X 50’. The gardens are located on the land that used to be the J. J. H. Gregory Seed Co., which was one of the largest seed houses in the mid-1800s. Louise has researched the Gregory Seed Co., has been tracking down varieties introduced by Gregory, and is growing them on the original site. For several years Louise has also been doing potato trials for breeders in New England. We have corresponded extensively over the years and it was wonderful to finally meet her.
That same day we had the great privilege of spending the afternoon with Professor and Mrs. Elwyn Meader. Professor Meader is a retired plant breeder from the University of New Hampshire who has bred a large number of well-known berries and vegetables. Just a partial list of his introductions includes: Scarlet Beauty and Royalty beans; Pinnochio, Sweet Chocolate and Permagreen peppers; Baby Butternut, Golden Turban, Sweetnut, Eat-All, Tricky Jack, Redgold and Goldpack squash; Golden Midget, Market Midget and Marketmaster watermelons; Sweet Granite muskmelon and Sungold Casaba melon; Applegreen eggplant; Tiny Dill cucumber; Fireside popcorn and Midnight Snack sweet corn; Envy soybean; Red Chief and Colbaga rutabagas; Fallred, Fallgold, August Red and Prestige raspberries; Meader blueberry; Meader persimmon; and Reliance peach. Walking with Professor Meader through his gardens and orchards was a learning experience I’ll never forget. He appears to be working on just as many projects now as when he was at U of NH twenty years ago. If we had a system like they do in Japan that designates certain individuals as national treasures, Professor Meader would definitely be one of ours. We have much to learn from him and I’ll be going back for another visit as soon as I possibly can.
We spent a few hours one afternoon with Rob Johnston Jr. at Johnny’s Selected Seeds. Rob has a tiger by the tail that’s similar to the ones that many of us are holding onto. He started Johnny’s Selected Seeds 13 years ago and its growth and success have been dramatic. I stopped by and spent an afternoon with him on my trip to Maine a year ago. That left me with a multitude of questions about: the small low-cost greenhouses they are developing for growing tomatoes and other produce in the North; a sluice where they clean tomato seeds; how they make their long windrows of compost; Rob’s squash and pepper breeding projects; tomato trials which included quite a few heirloom varieties; and the inner workings of a seed company the size of Johnny’s. This year it was raining, as it had been most of the summer, so we were able to have a good talk and see all of the seed storage and processing rooms in the barn. It’s always a treat to spend some time with Rob. Maybe one of these summers he will be able to come and speak at the Campout.
Next we visited Robert Becker at the New York State Agricultural Experiment Station in Geneva. Robert scheduled three interviews during the morning we spent there. The first interview was with Dr. Rosario Provvidenti, a plant virologist who is working on Zucchini Yellow Mosaic Virus (ZYMV). ZYMV is sweeping the country and it affects all cucurbits. Dr. Provvidenti has screened thousands of strains to find the few virus-resistant ones which will be used to breed resistance back into commercial varieties. Next we talked with Dr. Roger Way, a well-known apple breeder at the Geneva station who recently retired. During his career, Dr. Way amassed a collection of 1,700 apple varieties. It is the most extensive apple collection in the country and is the main reason that the USDA decided to locate their new clonal repository for apples and grapes in Geneva. Then we met with Phil Forsline who is the curator of the new National Clonal Germplasm Repository for Apples and American Grapes. We talked at length about which varieties they will be able to include in their collection and about the thermotherapy techniques they are using to clean up viruses before each accession is added to their permanent collections. Finally we went out into the Geneva orchards with Robert Becker who was picking heirloom apples to display the following weekend at the Genesee Country Museum Fair. We walked down row after row, and viewed hundreds of varieties of apples. Their beauty was indescribable. It blew me away.
On the way back to Boston, we stopped by Old Sturbridge Village. I had met Andy Baker, lead interpreter for agriculture, when I spoke at an ALHFAM conference that was held at Colonial Williamsburg a couple of years ago. Andy and Bill Reid and Eric White were getting ready for a cider pressing demonstration, but broke away long enough to give us a quick tour of the S. Lothrop Davenport Preservation Orchard which is maintained as a joint project between Old Sturbridge Village and the Worcester County Horticultural Society. Then Christie White, whom I had met at the conference at National Colonial Farm, gave us a tour of all of the different gardens at the Village. Then we drove on into Boston, spent the afternoon with Garrison Wilkes, and our plane took off that evening. This issue contains transcripts of conversations with Professor Meader, Rob Johnston, Phil Forsline, Andy Baker, and a short paper by Dr. Provvidenti on Zucchini Yellow Mosaic Virus. Articles on Louise Bastable, Will Bonsall and Dr. Roger Way will probably appear in later issues.
Gary Nabhan called me shortly before I was to leave for Maine. He wanted me to accompany him on a trip in early October to North Dakota where he was doing some research for a chapter of a new book that he is writing. He was going to Bismarck to interview the grandson of Oscar Will, who was the last one to operate the Oscar Will Seed Co. Gary had also gotten permission to look through their archives in Fargo which contain all of their catalogs. He wanted to document all of the Indian varieties they had carried over the years. George Will co-authored a book in 1917 called Corn Among the Indians of the Upper Missouri which has been reprinted by the University of Nebraska Press and may still be available. Gary wanted to try to locate the descendants of the Indian growers mentioned in that book to see if any of those old crops were still alive. Glenn Drowns and I were able to send Gary some Arikara and Hidatsa and Mandan seeds that we were keeping, so he could distribute them to any Indian gardeners he met who would value them. It would have been a fascinating trip, but we have been working non-stop on this issue since I got back from Maine, and Arllys was transcribing tapes for a month before that. Gary told me that the trip was a goldmine and he has written an article about it to share with all of us.
I did make a quick trip to Fort Collins, CO to speak on October 9 to the semiannual meeting of the National Plant Genetic Resources Board. I described our organization and its goals, and outlined some ways that I feel we can work together for the benefit of all concerned. I have always felt that our projects can work as a supplement to the government programs, because our focus on heirloom varieties doesn’t duplicate their efforts. And I think it’s a very positive sign that the NPGR Board asked me to come and tell them about the SSE. During their two-day board meeting there were several very interesting presentations. I was most impressed by the speech given by Dr. Howard Brooks on the evolution and progress of the USDA’s new system of clonal repositories. Dr. Brooks’ speech and mine are included in this issue. We were all given an extensive tour of the National Seed Storage Laboratory, but it was just too late for us to think about including that into this issue. Maybe I will be able to do an article in a later issue on the work Dr. Phillip Stanwood is doing with cryopreservation — storing seeds in the super-cold vapor above liquid nitrogen that’s held in stainless steel tanks.
Those two days in Fort Collins were extremely informative and I came away wishing that we could somehow raise a collective voice that would help the national system secure additional funding. The National Seed Storage Lab now contains about 215,000 accessions and will completely run out of room this next year. A large modern facility, which would be built beside the old Lab, has been proposed, and plans have been drawn up, but it still hasn’t been funded. Budget cuts are hurting them badly. The national system now contains over 400,000 accessions and nearly 100,000 of those desperately need to be regrown, but the money just isn’t there. The situation may soon reach the point where so much material needs to be grown out that it will be logistically impossible to catch up. If that happens, much could be lost. Genetic preservation projects everywhere are fighting both a lack of time and of money.
I hate to end on a sad note, but during this last year three elderly plant breeders whom many of us knew have passed on. Ernest Strubbe of Alberta, MN had spent 50 years breeding some incredibly beautiful colored dent corns. He was also a photographer and artist with deep interests in wildflowers and birds. I only met him once, although we’ve talked on the phone many times. An article about his work appeared in The 1982 Harvest Edition and was just reprinted in Seed Savers Exchange: The First Ten Years. Ernest was a very special fellow and I wish I could have spent more time with him. And we also just learned that Ben Quisenberry and Edward Lowden both recently passed on. Ben was 99 years old and was a tomato collector who had run a small operation in Ohio called Big Tomato Gardens. (Articles on Ben’s work also appear in the two publications, above.) And Edward Lowden was a well known raspberry breeder from Ontario who ran a small seed company with his wife called Lowden’s Better Plants & Seeds. The Lowdens carried a fine collection of cold weather tomatoes, many of which were bred at the Beaver Lodge Experiment Station.
It was just by chance that I found out about Ernest Strubbe before his auction, but couldn’t go up because of a speaking engagement. Don Stomann, Ernest’s friend and the postmaster in his town of Alberta, successfully bid on his seeds for me and even delivered them to Decorah while he was on vacation. Glenn Drowns will be given half of that seed which he wants to maintain permanently. We will also maintain them here and make the seed available to others. In 1980 Ben Quisenberry had a collection of 32 tomato varieties, but an extended stay in the hospital reduced that to only nine. I published a list of the ones he had lost and SSE members were able to recover every one of them. So all of Ben’s varieties live on in the SSE’s Central Seed Collection. And back in 1981, when I was just starting to work on The Garden Seed Inventory, I purchased every unique variety that the Lowden’s were carrying. And I believe that Alex Caron, who is developing a seed exchange in Canada that parallels the SSE’s efforts, is maintaining all of Edward Lowden’s raspberries. In these three cases we have successfully obtained all of the material that might have been lost. But it doesn’t always happen that way. I hope that each of you will make arrangements to have your seeds sent to me if anything were to happen to you, or if you are dropping out of the Seed Savers Exchange. The torch is being passed and it’s happening very quickly.
— Kent Whealy (11/11/86)