By Kent Whealy
It has been almost exactly a year since the Seed Savers Exchange purchased Heritage Farm to provide a permanent location for our genetic preservation projects. I knew that it was a gamble for our small but rapidly growing organization to attempt extensive projects at this stage of its growth. But so much genetic diversity is being lost right now that we really had no other choice. Some decisions are beyond reasoning, and you just have to jump in with both feet and give it your best shot. I always think of such episodes as “leaps of faith” and we have taken several together during the last 12 years, but this was by far the largest and most dangerous. Would we succeed in making Heritage Farm a reality, or would SSE be destroyed financially in the process? During this last year the necessary pieces have been falling into place so quickly and so perfectly that it’s spooky. This has definitely been a year of transition in many ways and I want to share with you the excitement of what has transpired.
Heritage Farm was purchased on November 3, 1986 with a $110,000 loan from the C. S. Fund’s endowed Warsh-Mott Legacy. We announced our actions to SSE’s 4,000 members in the 1986 Harvest Edition a year ago, established a Heritage Farm Fund, and requested donations. We weren’t really sure what the response to such large changes would be. As of October 1, 1987, SSE’s members have donated $41,463.34. At this rate the loan for Heritage Farm will be completely paid off in less than three years. We still can’t believe it. You people are too much!
We envision Heritage Farm as a meeting place where several collections of endangered genetic diversity will be maintained and displayed: annual organic Preservation Garden of 1,000 – 1,200 rare vegetable varieties; Historic Apple Orchard of several hundred old-time varieties; rare livestock and poultry. To put these projects into place will cost roughly the same amount as Heritage Farm. This spring I spent more than two months writing grant proposals which were sent to several private foundations. A copy of that proposal is included in this issue, because we feel that it is very important for SSE’s members to know exactly what we are trying to accomplish.
The proposals for Heritage Farm were very well received. Last spring SSE received a $3,500 grant from the Tides Foundation. This summer we also received a grant of $20,000 from the Ruth Mott Fund. And we recently heard that SSE will soon receive a $16,000 grant from the Threshold Foundation specifically earmarked for the Historic Apple Orchard. We are extremely thankful that these foundations believe so strongly in SSE’s genetic preservation projects that they are willing to support our efforts. Their financial support will allow us to immediately start developing meeting facilities and work areas in the barn, purchase several White Park calves, and begin the preliminary research necessary to establish the Historic Apple Orchard. We seem well on the way to our goal of paying off the farm and having all of the projects in place within three years of the purchase date.
Wallace Genetic Foundation’s Challenge Grant
Foundation funding almost always focuses on clearly defined projects that can be accomplished within a year by non-profit, tax-exempt organizations. Most foundations are reluctant to give grants for land acquisition which is a more nebulous investment of their resources. Therefore, our successes in funding will continue to center on Heritage Farm’s projects and we have been concerned that our rather small organization would have trouble paying off the farm itself. SSE has just been given a tremendous vote of confidence by the Wallace Genetic Foundation. They have agreed to donate $15,000 toward paying off Heritage Farm if SSE’s members can match that amount in donations. If you are able to donate more than your annual membership fee, to subscribe as a Supporting Member, to send a Lifetime Subscription or pledge for one, every dollar that you donate will be matched. This is known as a challenge grant and, if we are successful, almost two-thirds of Heritage Farm could be paid off by this Christmas. We are very grateful to the Wallace Genetic Foundation for providing this unique opportunity for SSE to help itself.
Current Activities at Heritage Farm
During the summers of 1985 and 1986, we grew Preservation Gardens of up to five acres and 2,000 rare varieties on rented land near the Pinebluff 4-H Camp. To make that work, we had to drive 14 miles round-trip every day. That meant hauling to the garden all of our seeds, transplants, tools, equipment, gas, and materials. It also meant hauling from the garden loads of rotting tomato pulp, hand-pollinated fruits, countless sacks of beans, and every bit of produce we were saving for seed. Then we washed, dried and processed seed at several different locations, before trying to get it all back into storage. Given all that we had to do, it was maddening to be forced to waste that much time needlessly. You can’t imagine how wonderful it is to walk outside in the morning and go to work in the gardens, to have tools and equipment within easy reach, or to finally have permanent decent facilities for seed processing and storage. It is literally a dream come true.
This spring we broke out our first gardens from sod in what will be their permanent locations here at Heritage Farm. We figured on having problems with grubs and wireworms, and we were right. They really enjoyed the 120 potato varieties that we planted, but they were about the only problems we encountered. In addition to this summer’s gardens, we broke out an additional half an acre between the house and the bluff. Also more than another half-acre was broken out on each side of the stream that flows from the spring-fed pond. All of those areas have been plowed, disked, seeded to winter rye, and dragged. So we now have about two acres ready and waiting for next spring’s gardens. It started freezing here about two weeks ago, so our gardening has come to an end for this season.
Bob Dahse, SSE member and soil scientist from Ettrick, Wisconsin, is helping us with our projects at Heritage Farm. Bob and Lara came down last spring and took soil samples from all of our potential garden and orchard sites. They analyzed those samples, gave us an idea of what we were dealing with for each potential site, and worked out the soil amendments and their prices that each area would require. Those amendments were added to all of the garden sites this fall before we worked them up. Additional testing will be done each season so that we can fine-tune each site. We are very thankful to have Bob and Lara’s help. Bob has written an excellent article on soils which is included in this issue.
This fall we will start working on the inside of the beautiful barn here on Heritage Farm. Some of the barn’s roof beams need to be replaced and the entire structure needs reshingling. It was built during the 1930s and has a rounded roof that is rare in this area. The roof beams are actually homemade “bows” that were built around a jig, nailed and bolted together. But they didn’t use heavy enough wood and some of the bows had started to give way, especially in the center of the structure. The only people I know who have the skills necessary to replace those bows are the Amish who live just north of us in Prosper, Minnesota. I’ve gotten to know a fellow named Dan Zook who runs a sawmill in the Amish community. He and a crew of three other Amishmen will begin replacing the damaged bows this fall. Dan intends to build them in place beside the old bows, instead of constructing them separately and then struggling to move them into place. Next spring Dan and his crew will reshingle the barn with cedar shingles.
We hope to eventually hold three or more weekend gatherings at Heritage Farm each season: a spring Wildflower Festival; our annual Campout Convention in late July; eventually a Cider Pressing Festival; and maybe an annual Work Week. (My friend Kevin Sand suggested that our first work week should focus on the barn and that we should call it a “Barn Again” party.) The barn will provide both a meeting center for these gatherings and work areas for SSE’s projects. We intend to build restrooms and showers downstairs in the barn for the campers and others who attend our gatherings. The ground floor of the barn will have two small holding pens for cattle, and shelves and workbenches for washing and processing seeds will be built all along the inside south wall. On the outside of that south wall, we will build a small greenhouse and some large cold frames. The loft of the barn will be used as a meeting hall during the summer for the various gatherings. During the winter the loft will be used to store hay and straw, and also permanent tomato and pepper cages.
One final thing I’d like to share with you just happened a couple of weeks ago. Howard Bright, a local soil conservation agent, is enthusiastic about our projects here at Heritage Farm. On the hillside just north of the house is a beautiful small woods with some majestic old oak trees. Howard said that woods is actually a burr oak savanna and some of the larger trees are probably 300 years old. Burr oak is a species that grew where the woods met the prairie and survived because they could withstand prairie fires. For the first few years they show almost no growth above ground, but are sending down a deep strong taproot. Then they shoot up and their bark hardens, making them impervious to fire. It is an incredibly beautiful woods and we hope to eventually reestablish the grasses and wildflowers that grew beneath these majestic trees.
Grants for Computer Equipment and Additional Staff
Last summer the Educational Foundation of America made a grant of $36,000 to SSE for four IBM Personal System/2 computers, LaserJet printer, and a whole raft of accessories. The major software includes Dos 3.3, R:base System V, WordPerfect, and Ventura Publisher. The grant also covered computer consulting for data conversion, programming, and training our office staff. This state-of-the-art system will more than satisfy SSE’s computer needs for at least the next decade. It is much more than I ever dreamed SSE would have available to help us accomplish our goals. For nearly two years, we have struggled with inadequate and faulty computer equipment while trying to accomplish vital projects and provide timely publications for our members. Genetic preservation projects are always races against time and at last we finally have the tools to get on with our work. I am grateful to EFA beyond words.
As a perfect complement to the EFA grant, the C. S. Fund made a grant of $20,000 to the Seed Savers Exchange for the next year. Among other things, this has already allowed SSE to add another full-time office worker to our staff. Arland Braaten-Lee, a computer typesetter from Minneapolis whose family had been wanting to return to the Decorah area, joined our staff in July and has been updating The Garden Seed Inventory ever since he started. We hope to have Garden Seed Inventory (Second Edition) to the printer by Christmas, so that everyone can use it next spring to buy up endangered varieties. We are extremely grateful that these two grants are allowing this vital preservation tool to be updated and republished. We are already very concerned about what may have been lost during these last three years, because 51 of the 239 mail order seed companies we inventoried in 1984 are now out of business. I hope that we all did a good job of buying up those endangered commercial varieties.
SSE will probably compile an inventory of nursery catalogs during the summer of 1988. It will be similar to The Garden Seed Inventory and will include all of the fruit, nut and berry varieties currently available by mail order in the U. S. and Canada. With our new computer system and increased staff, we intend to update and republish each of those inventories every other year.
Network of Curators
We also intend to use our increased staff and computer capacity to develop a permanent maintenance program within SSE that we will call our Network of Curators. During our Campout Convention, the idea was discussed at length and that discussion is included in this issue. Briefly, we are concerned about our turnover in Listed Members and the effect that has on SSE’s year-to-year continuity. If a new member offers a new variety through our Winter Yearbook and then drops out, that seed is lost to all of us unless another member has picked it up and reoffers it. We hope to work with 12-18 of our larger members who are currently building up collections of specific vegetables. If those members each took responsibility for their specialty, it would cover 84% of the varieties that flow through SSE. We intend to annually publish lists of our Curators’ collections, so we can all see what is really being maintained and protected. Then the entire membership can funnel varieties to the Curators that are not yet in their collections. This Network of Curators won’t materialize unless we are able to publish lists of their collections annually. We intend to start publishing those lists next spring.
SSE Will Publish Three Issues for 1988 Members
Each year SSE publishes its Winter Yearbook (Jan./Feb.) and also the Harvest Edition (Oct. /Nov.). During the remaining 9-10 months each year, we have no communications with each other, which is not a healthy situation. Also our two publications have more than reached their maximum size. Besides the proposed Network of Curators, there are several other important projects that we would like to address in SSE’s publications, but currently we are limited by the number of pages that we can print in just two issues. SSE will add a Spring Edition (tentatively scheduled for April) to its schedule of publications for 1988, making a total of three issues annually.
Our next Winter Yearbook will probably be too large to print as a stapled book. If that happens, it will have to be printed as a perfect bound (glued) book like The Garden Seed Inventory. That would be substantially more expensive to print and to mail, but it would have advantages such as not being limited to the current length of 256 pages. If that does happen, we might be able to include a list of all the variety names in each member’s collection along with his or her name and address at the front of the Winter Yearbook. Hopefully that would stop the controversy over the book’s new format. We’ll just have to see how it goes.
On February 7-8, David Cavagnaro and I gave our slide shows at the 1987 Ecological Farming Conference held in La Honda, California and sponsored by the Steering Committee for Sustainable Agriculture. There I met a writer and humorist named Will Baker, who has added a bit of his warm humor to this issue. After the conference, I spoke to a group at the University of California at Davis, and Zea Sonnabend showed me around the Student Farm where her Seed Saving Project is located. A transcript of that interesting conversation with Zea is also included in this issue.
On May 27-28 I gave a presentation at the Prairie Festival which is held at the Land Institute in Salina, Kansas on Memorial Day weekend. The Land Institute is a nonprofit research and educational organization devoted to sustainable agriculture and stewardship of the earth. Wes and Dana Jackson always put on a wonderful festival and I enjoy it and them immensely. About a year ago Thom Leonard founded an organization called The Grain Exchange patterned after the Seed Savers Exchange. Wes has given Thom land for his growouts, office space, and computer access at The Land Institute. We toured Thom’s plantings at the Prairie Festival and it is very gratifying to know that someone of Thom’s caliber is working to develop a parallel organization devoted to grains.
SSE’s Campout Convention was held on June 20 and 21. The feeling that this was a year of transition definitely carried over into the Campout. We continued to use the facilities at Pinebluff 4-H Camp for our speeches, slide shows, meals and cabins. But on Sunday a caravan of cars about a mile long journeyed to Heritage Farm for a look at the gardens and the facilities. This year’s program was also somewhat different than in the past. A larger than usual amount of time was devoted to brainstorming sessions which helped to redefine the future path of SSE. Lengthy discussions centered on the proposed Network of Curators, going to a publications schedule of three or four issues a year, and the continuing concern over the format of the Winter Yearbook.
There were many excellent presentations at the Campout, but we only have room to bring you two in this issue. Rollin Woolley joined us from Colonial Williamsburg and described their efforts to include appropriate varieties in their gardens. Chris Norman and his family came all the way from Thunder Bay, Ontario, where he works at Old Fort William with their period garden and historic livestock. Also Keith Crotz, who runs The American Botanist-Booksellers, gave a fascinating slide show of the title pages of many horticultural publications from the 1800s. Due to some technical problems, Keith’s article will be delayed until our new Spring Edition.
In August I traveled to the annual meeting of the North American Fruit Explorers (NAFEX) which was held in Corvallis, Oregon. In my presentation I urged them to attempt an inventory of their members’ holdings similar to SSE’s inventories. They have formed a germplasm committee and a recently retired computer specialist in Illinois has offered his services to the project. During the conference we took several field trips which included tours of the production facilities at Oregon Rootstock, and the Clonal Repository at Corvallis which is maintaining the world pear collection of 1400 varieties and all of the berry collections. My speech and reports on those tours will also probably be included in the Spring Edition.
On September 30 – October 2, I was a resource person at a genetics conference held at Airlie House in Warrenton, Virginia. The keynote speaker was Wendell Berry, with whom I hadn’t spent any time for a year. Other resource people included: Jack Doyle and Mike Clark, Environmental Policy Institute; Libby Henson, American Minor Breeds Conservancy; Wes Jackson, The Land Institute; Pat Mooney and Hope Shand, Rural Advancement Fund International; Nancy Nash, Buddhist Perception of Nature (Hong Kong); Jeremy Rifkin, Foundation of Economic Trends; and Tenzin Tethong, The Office of Tibet. It was an incredibly enlightening and exhaustive three days. I hope to share some of that energy with you through articles in the Spring Edition.
On December 2, I will give a presentation at the Acres U.S.A. Conference in Kansas City. Featured speakers include Wes Jackson and Jeremy Rifkin, and the conference runs from November 30 through December 2. (For more information call 816/737-0064 or write Acres U.S.A., P. O. Box 9547, Kansas City, MO 64133.) Also, on February 28-29, 1988 I will be speaking and giving workshops at the annual meeting of the Ohio Ecological Food and Farming Association in Columbus, Ohio. I’m looking forward to meeting SSE members in both locations.
Grassroots Conservation of Biological Diversity
In 1985 the Office of Technology Assessment (OTA), an analytical arm of the U. S. Congress, began an extensive study of the technologies currently being used to maintain biological diversity. One of the five phases of that study dealt with grassroots conservation efforts here in the U.S. On August 12, 1985, I participated in a technical workgroup in Washington, DC which included: Libby Henson, American Minor Breeds Conservancy (Pittsboro, NC); George Fell, Natural Lands Institute (Rockford, IL); Hans Neuhauser, The Georgia Conservancy (Savannah, GA); Edward Schmitt, Brookfield Zoo (Brookfield IL); and Jonathan Shaw, Bok Tower Gardens (Lake Wales, FL).
In addition to the Grassroots Workshop, OTA commissioned four papers which included Role of Grassroots Activities in the Maintenance of Biological Diversity: Living Plants Collection of North American Genetic Resources, Gary Nabhan and Kevin Dahl (Native Seeds/SEARCH). Now that the OTA study has been published, we are being allowed to include Gary and Kevin’s paper in this SSE issue. I have been patiently waiting for over two years to reprint their paper, because it gives an excellent overall view of grassroots genetic preservation efforts in this country. You will soon see that it was well worth the wait.
Other Articles in this Issue
Recently Nancy Arrowsmith, an SSE member from Austria, stayed with our family here at Heritage Farm and brought us news of many genetic preservation projects currently underway in the German-speaking countries. We just received permission to reprint George Washington Carver’s original manuscript which he published in 1925 when he was doing his work with peanuts at Tuskegee Institute. Also included is a fascinating speech on poultry genetic resources given by Dr. R. D. Crawford at the 1986 annual meeting of the American Minor Breeds Conservancy. And Louise Bastable has written a fond profile of J. J. H. Gregory, Seedsman.
Also my sincere thanks to other SSE members who sent in articles for this issue: Lon Rombough; James Tjepkema; Charles Estep; Maynard Philbeck; Frank and Toby Poe; Wade Roy Wofford; and T. L. Seer’Singh. This is the very first time that our members have contributed a significant number of articles and you can’t imagine how much that helps me.
SSE Slide Show is Available to Members
I recently realized that very few SSE members have seen the slide show that I use as I travel the country. David Cavagnaro has given me a tremendous set of slides to work with, and we are making it available to SSE members who wish to give presentations to local garden clubs and other groups. We are currently having several sets of the slide show duplicated and they should be available by December 1. We will rent it to you for little more than the postage necessary to mail it. Also included will be a transcript of my presentation and however many SSE information letters you request to distribute at your meeting. Many of our members give presentations, especially during the winter, and could really help promote SSE’s efforts. Just write and tell us the date you will need the slide show.
Thanks to All of You
I want to thank all of you, because you are the ones who are making all of this possible. I’m not making this happen; you are. Sure, I pour all of the energy I’ve got into it, but so do many of you. I’m really just a focus for all of your energies. It’s very important that you understand that, and that I never forget it. This past year has been unlike anything I have ever experienced, and I’ve enjoyed sharing a little bit of it with you on these pages. We’ve come a long way together, but I have a feeling that we’re really just getting started. Take care and, as Grandpa Ott used to say, “Be good to each other.”