Giraffe Hero Award Given to Kent and Diane Whealy

Article from The Wichita Eagle, October 13, 1989

The Seed of Hope

Kent Whealy, 43, also followed an idea all the way. A gardener extraordin­aire in Decorah, Iowa, Whealy’s passion is seeds – heirloom seeds, the ones that would become extinct unless someone kept them growing.

He can’t put his finger on the reasons for his devotion. But he remembers the spark: the gift of several rare seeds from his wife’s grandfather, seeds that had come from Bavaria four generations be­fore and had been passed down.

The first step was to find others with endangered seeds and to exchange them. He wrote to land and gardening maga­zines; several readers wrote back. In 1975, he founded Seed Savers Exchange; by the end of that year, there were six people saving seeds.

His wife Diane, 39, was definitely wary. “I guess you could say that Kent was on to this idea well before I was,” she says. “I really wasn’t sure that this was important, that there could be na­tionwide interest.”

When letters began to arrive in groups of 25, she began to be convinced. But it was only when Kent decided in 1981 to quit his job as a printer to devote his efforts full time to seeds that Seed Savers began to feel like a real enterprise. It also seemed a leap of faith.

“The 1980 earnings from it were $3,000,” he says. “Somehow that didn’t deter us from thinking we could make a living. I guess I’m the eternal optimist.”

His mother, Edna, only vaguely aware of what her son was doing, was nonetheless stunned when he quit his job to garden full time. The Whealys had three children then – they have five now – and “I was scared,” says Edna. “Plus, I thought his journalism degree was completely down the drain.”

Now her son is making a living for his family and gets to use his college de­gree by writing publications and year­books for Seed Savers members. Both mother and wife are surprised at how much the enterprise has grown: 57-acre Heritage Farm now contains 6,000 forms of rare vegetables, including 2,400 different beans, 1,600 tomatoes, 300 peppers. 200 lettuces. Using com­puters, Kent also keeps track of the seed inventories of 900 members, 230 com­panies and 248 nursery catalogs.

It’s a strange task, and you have to be one of the committed to do it. Most people would find it hard to believe, as Whealy does, that one’s life work could be esoteric seeds. More practical farmers also might find it odd to spend time growing things that don’t go to market.

That may explain why it’s so tough for the family to describe what Kent does. Son Aaron, 17, tells the kids at school his dad is a garden writer. Mom Edna is relieved when friends already know – because she has no idea how to tell them.

Neighbors in Decorah seem to un­derstand and approve. But as Kent has noticed, some still drive past the farm slowly and stare.

You would think none had ever seen a Giraffe.

More Writing by Kent Whealy

The Bean Men

April 7, 1981

1981 Harvest Tucson Intro

April 7, 1981

Fall Harvest Introduction

October 1, 1981

Whatever Happened to the Vegetable Variety Inventory? or The “Apple” of my Bloodshot Eye

October 1, 1981

Seed Savers Exchange Grant Proposal

October 3, 1981

1981 Harvest Tucson

October 7, 1981

Introduction to The Garden Seed Inventory

October 1, 1984

Harvest Campout Introduction 1985

July 22, 1985

Keynote Speech at Common Ground County Fair

September 21, 1985

The Preservation Garden

October 5, 1985

Seed Conference Speech

October 6, 1985

Closing from the Intro to the 1986 Winter Yearbook

February 11, 1986

1986 Speech to the NPGRB Fort Collins

October 9, 1986

Heritage Farm Excerpts

October 16, 1986

1986 Harvest Introduction

November 11, 1986

1987 Harvest Introduction

October 20, 1987

Heritage Farm – an Exemplary Model

November 8, 1987

1988 Campout Speech

July 28, 1988

A Letter to SSE’s Members

April 11, 1989

Caretakers of Wonder

July 25, 1989

Giraffe Hero Award Given to Kent and Diane Whealy

October 13, 1989

Rescuing Traditional Food Crops in Eastern Europe and the Former Soviet Union

July 29, 1993

Exploration and Collection of Vegetable, Forage and Other Crop Seeds in the Ukraine

September 26, 1996

Plant Collecting Expeditions in Eastern Europe and the Former Soviet Union Sponsored by Seed Savers International

January 14, 1997

Lettuce Growout at Heritage Farm

June 26, 1997

Comparative Growouts, and Identifying the True Heirlooms in Heritage Farm’s Collections

July 26, 1997

The Documenting of Heritage Apples

September 26, 2010

The Story of How Seed Savers Exchange Seeds Ended up at Svalbard

September 26, 2010

The Illustrated History of Apples in the United States and Canada – Preface by Kent Whealy

September 16, 2016

Early Inspiration – 5 stories, drafts, 2017

March 16, 2017
More documents will be added as available...