By Kent Whealy
Fifth Annual Campout Convention
The fifth Annual Campout Convention of the Seed Savers Exchange was held on July 20-21, 1985 at the Pine Bluff 4-H Camp. The Camp is located six miles northeast of Decorah, Iowa and includes 115 acres of pine-covered bluffs, beautiful trails and a suspension bridge over the Upper Iowa River. This year attendance almost tripled because many of our members wanted a chance to look at the five-acre Preservation Garden containing 2,000 rare varieties which was just over the back fence. The magic of the Campout is that it brings together a diverse group of people who share the common bond of working to preserve our seed heritage. This year’s gathering was so high-powered that it’s going to be really hard to top it next year.
The majority of the gardeners attending the Campout actually rolled in on Friday and by that evening there were tents everywhere and the camp was starting to fill up. It’s becoming a tradition for all of us to go out to Mabe’s Pizza Friday evening and this year there were nearly 100 of us crowded into a noisy basement room. It was so good to see old friends again and to meet new ones. And it was wonderful to see the fellowship that was being displayed before the Campout started. Saturday morning is always reserved for registration, and this year we had nearly 150 people pre-registered. Local newspaper articles had invited interested townspeople to come as well, so, by the time we had finished our noon meal and the speakers were ready to start, an estimated 180 people had gathered.
Dr. Gary Paul Nabhan, an ethnobotanist working out of Tucson, Arizona, was our first speaker. Gary is also the founder of Native Seeds/SEARCH, which is an organization that is working to preserve traditional Indian crops and their wild relatives in the desert Southwest and northwest Sonora. He gave a fascinating speech on native American crops and Indian planting techniques. His lecture really set the tone for the entire conference.
Our next speaker was Jan Blum, who runs a small seed company called Seeds Blum in Boise, Idaho which specializes in heirloom and unique varieties. Jan told us how Seeds Blum got started and described several of the special programs she has created for her customers. (I decided to publish Jan’s speech from the St. Louis conference, which included all of this material and more.) Then Kit Anderson, an editor for the National Gardening Association (formerly “Gardens for All”), told us about the 1985 Seed Conference which she was organizing, its purposes, and the speakers involved. And Glenn Drowns encouraged our members to also start saving biennials for seed and described the work that we have been doing with the Preservation Garden.
After supper that evening, everyone went down to the Preservation Garden and there we split into two groups. The first group went with Glenn Drowns for a hands-on demonstration of the hand-pollination of squash (and also watermelons, muskmelons and cucumbers). The other group went with Dr. Mark Widrlechner, who is the horticulturist at the Plant Introduction Station in Ames, Iowa. Mark consented on the spur of the moment to do a demonstration of the hand-pollination of corn. After about a half hour these groups switched and Mark and Glenn went through their demonstrations again. Several persons told us later that these hands-on demonstrations were the highlight of the Campout, as far as they were concerned.
By that time it was beginning to get dark, so we all gathered back at the shelterhouse. Dr. Mark Widrlechner gave a slideshow describing the Plant Introduction Station at Ames and the work that is being done there. His presentation is included here in its entirety. Then Dr. Jeff McCormack, who runs Southern Exposure Seed Exchange in Virginia, gave a slideshow which described his company’s activities and specialties. The portion of his slide show dealing with “Integrated Pest Management” in greenhouses is included in this section. (The portion describing the company and his work with multiplier onions is included with the speeches at the 1985 Seed Conference.)
The final slide show of the evening was presented by David Cavagnaro. David is a world-renowned freelance photographer and writer. He filmed the wildlife sequences for the movie “Never Cry Wolf,” has published several books, and his photos have appeared in such national publications as Life, National Geographic, Audubon, National and International Wildlife, and Natural History. (David had been brought in by Kit Anderson to photograph the Preservation Garden for an excellent article that appeared in the October issue of the National Gardening Association.) His presentation is included here in its entirety. I just wish that all of you could have seen the incredibly beautiful slides that he shared with us. He is a truly gifted photographer and his presentation provided the perfect climax to an incredible day, lifting us all from the technical to the spiritual.
The next morning was one of the few mornings all summer that the entire riverbottom was covered with a thick blanket of fog. The garden had a unique and eerie early morning beauty and when we got there at 7:00 it was already full of people. A group quickly formed and Glenn did the second half of his demonstration. The people who had taped blossoms shut the evening before got to do their pollinations. More than once we heard people say, “If I’d known it was this easy, I would have tried it long ago.”
After breakfast there was an open forum and about a dozen SSE members described their individual projects in a less formal session. John Edgerton led things off by telling us about his work with regional garden trials and local plant exploration. Carl Barnes talked about his work with CORNS. Steve Neal described his new organization called TUBERS. John Amery discussed his work with soybeans. Ted Gibbs described techniques for keeping okra pure. Thane Earle gave a presentation on his gardening techniques. John Hartman described the progress of the J. M. Hartman and Daughters Seed Company. Bob Dohse discussed soil health and plant nutrition. Michelle Carratu described the work she’s doing in Nashville. Tom Knoche updated his ongoing projects with beans and squash. Barbara Lund described the way she helps elderly gardeners participate in the Seed Savers Exchange. And Edith Haenel discussed using gardening as therapy.
By that time it was late morning and we had a short brainstorming session. These hardcore Seed Savers are exactly the kind of folks that I like to bounce ideas off of and ask for suggestions. We mainly discussed ways to improve the Seed Savers Exchange, how various projects were progressing, and the direction the organization should be taking as it continues to evolve. The session was cut short, mainly because of lack of time. Next year there will have to be more time found for it, because too many excellent ideas were batted around for too short a time. Short excerpts from that session are included at the end of this section.
There are many people that we want to thank for helping make this year’s Campout the best ever. All of the food for the Campout was prepared by Lorraine Schrandt and Phyllis Jackson with help from Helen and Dale Ott. Clarice Cooper and Arllys Adelmann checked people in at registration. Hazel Johnson brought a cake that was decorated with the hands and seeds that are on the cover of our 1985 Winter Yearbook. Beth Fox shared a cake that she had brought for Ian’s birthday. Mary Stinnett provided pans full of sliced tomatoes from Oklahoma which was a real treat for us northerners. Jane Kurtti brought trays of cookies. John Amery prepared his traditional pot of soybeans. Mark Fox, Jerry Johnson, David Cavagnaro and Mike Day recorded the weekend in photographs. Special thanks to Glenn Drowns and Mark Widrlechner for sharing their knowledge through the garden demonstrations. Steve Neal cooked Ozark-type fried chicken again this year for all of us. Laura Demuth baked the delicious rolls we all enjoyed. Sue Knoche, Hazel Johnson and Karen Barnes worked all weekend in the kitchen the way they always do. And Diane Whealy needs to be congratulated for the tremendous job she did in organizing the entire weekend, because it’s not easy putting on a two-day picnic for 150 people.
It’s really hard for me as a writer to try to re-create the Campout for you. There was seed swapping, taste testing, displays and demonstrations. The food was fantastic, as usual, and there was an incredible sense of fellowship. The garden provided a focus and an excitement that was new and unique (and also provided a good deal of the food). We’re considering having the Campout two weeks later next year, so that there will be more to see in the garden. Final plans for next year will be published in The 1986 Winter Yearbook. I just hope this section gives you some sense of the fellowship and learning that went on that weekend. You all may just have to come next year and see for yourself. It was definitely the highlight of my year.