Heritage Farm – an Exemplary Model

By Kent Whealy

Address: Seed Savers Exchange
Rural Route 3, Box 239
Decorah, Iowa 52101

Contact: Kent Whealy, Director
Phone 319/382-3949

Total Project Budget: $223,005

Project Time Frame: 1987 – 1989


I. Proposal Summary

II. Defining the Problems
A. The Value of Genetic Diversity
B. Epidemics Caused by Lack of Genetic Diversity
C. Specific Problem Areas (Current Losses)
Heirloom Vegetable Varieties Are Facing Extinction
Commercial Varieties Are Dropped During Takeovers
Apple Collections Are Being Abandoned & Destroyed
Budget Cuts Put USDA Seed Collections in Danger

III. Effecting Solutions
A. History of the Seed Savers Exchange (SSE)
B. SSE’s Past Projects & Present Efforts
C. Heritage Farm: An Exemplary Model
Project #1 – Preservation Garden
Project #2 – Historic Apple Orchard
Project #3 – Minor Livestock Breeds
Project #4 – Endangered Poultry
Non-Toxic Alternatives to Synthetic Chemicals

IV. Final Summary

V. Supporting Material
A. Heritage Farm Budget (Total Project)
B. Key Personnel & Board of Directors


This grant proposal will examine the following problems and their solutions:

1. Counteracting current trends that are destroying the genetic diversity of our food crops, and how gardeners and farmers working together can rescue and maintain what remains of these irreplaceable biological resources.
2. Developing an exemplary model farm project which will act as a catalyst to quickly effect the changes that are described in this proposal.
3. Demonstrating alternative crops, and workable organic techniques that will stop gardeners and farmers from using chemical sprays and fertilizers.

Seed Savers Exchange requests a general support grant for our Heritage Farm – a unique model project which will:

1. Maintain and display endangered collections of biological diversity
a. Heirloom vegetables and non-available commercial varieties
b. Antique apple varieties (cider, historic, or commercial potential)
c. Minor livestock breeds (White Park Cattle)
d. Endangered poultry (dual-purpose breeds)

2. Demonstrate and teach non-toxic alternatives to synthetic chemicals
a. Organic preservation garden of 1,000 – 1,200 varieties annually
b. Organic orchard (500 endangered apple varieties)
c. Healing the soil (garden or field conditions)
d. Integrated pest management (garden, greenhouse, orchard and field)

Heritage Farm is an exemplary model that will effect widespread changes by:

1. Presenting projects and solutions that will move people quickly to action.
2. Providing the initial model for a whole network of Heritage Farms, each keeping a collection of food crops appropriate to its specific climate.
3. Demonstrating effective alternatives (crops and non-toxic growing techniques) that are immediately useable by gardeners and farmers.
4. Inspiring people so that they will gladly join SSE’s efforts and help reverse the destructive trends that concern all of us so deeply.


A. The Value of Genetic Diversity

Food plants that are native to North America include sunflowers, wild rice, Jerusalem artichokes, cranberries, blueberries, grapes, pecans and black walnuts. All of the other food crops that we grow today originated elsewhere and were brought to America by immigrants and plant explorers. Countless varieties of vegetables, fruits, nuts and grains are the result of thousands of years of adaptation and domestication in diverse ecological niches around the world. Each is genetically unique, and many have developed natural resistances to the pests and diseases with which they evolved. Plant breeders use the old varieties to breed these resistances into our modern food crops as new pests and diseases attack them. Without these infusions of genetic diversity, modern agriculture is at risk from potential infestations and epidemics.

B. Epidemics Resulting from a Lack of Genetic Diversity

A lack of genetic diversity caused the Irish potato famine of 1845-1851. The potato originated in the Andes Mountains of South America where Indian farmers grow over 3,000 different varieties of potatoes. In the mid-1500s only one or two of those varieties were brought to Europe, and by the 1700s European diets were dependent on potatoes. Freed from hunger, Ireland’s population rapidly increased to over 8 million, twice the island’s present population. Spores of a South American potato fungus — Phytophthora infestations, commonly known as the black rot — reached Ireland in the summer of 1845. The genetically uniform Irish potatoes lacked resistance to the blight and rotted in the fields. Six years of famine resulted in more than a million deaths and caused over a million Irish to immigrate to North America. Today potato breeders around the world still depend on wild potatoes collected in the Andes when they need to incorporate genetic resistances to diseases and pests.

Epidemics are occurring more frequently as modern agriculture increases its dependence on monoculture plantings grown on ever larger farms. In 1970 the Southern Corn Blight destroyed 15% of the U.S. corn crop. Losses exceeded 50% in southern states where the blight found favorable weather conditions. Most farmers were growing new hybrid varieties which were genetically similar and none contained the necessary blight resistance. Just six varieties of corn had accounted for 71% of the acreage planted, according to Genetic Vulnerability of Major Crops published by the National Academy of Sciences in 1972 which warned of similarly narrow genetic bases in all major American agricultural crops. The late Dr. Ralph Singleton, a geneticist at the University of Virginia working with several old-time corn varieties, was contacted by commercial seed companies after the Southern Corn Blight struck. He was still maintaining Virginia Gourdseed corn, an old variety once common in the southern colonies, which was resistant to the blight. Virginia Gourdseed was used to breed blight resistance into some of the modern corns.

Examining any major food crop will reveal potential epidemics awaiting the right mix of circumstances. A hypothetical — thus far — example is stringless green beans grown in the gardens of 40 million U.S. households. A single gene produces stringlessness in green beans. If a fungus mutation were to attack that gene, plant breeders could search for disease resistance among the 2,200 old-time bean varieties being kept by the Seed Savers Exchange. Epidemics occur when weather is favorable, a crop is genetically vulnerable, and an insect pest of disease is present. Agronomists have no control over the weather or the appearance of new pests or “pathogens” (disease-causing micro-organisms). They do have a storehouse of genetic material available and can exert considerable control over the genetic makeup of our food crops. However, much of this irreplaceable genetic diversity is being lost and food crops are becoming increasingly more uniform and vulnerable.

Dr. Paul Ehrlich, Professor of Biology at Stanford University, has described the current conditions by saying, “Here we are doing just the opposite of what we should. We are refining our food crops down to just a few monocultures. We are losing the genetic variability of our food supply at the very time our plants’ enemies are developing increasing resistance to pesticides, and we are entering an age of rapidly changing climate. Man, that is dangerous!”

C Specific Problem Areas (Current Losses)

Many important food varieties are currently being lost. Four specific areas which have received little attention are the extinction of heirloom vegetable and fruit varieties, widespread losses of commercially available food plants, the rapid destruction of apple collections across the U.S., and the possible loss of large portions of the USDA seed collections.

Heirloom Vegetable Varieties Are Facing Extinction

The goal of Seed Savers Exchange is to locate and maintain as many “heirloom” (handed down from generation to generation) vegetable and fruit varieties as possible, and to distribute this previously unavailable genetic material to gardeners, fruit growers, plant breeders and government collections. Gardeners have always brought along their best seeds when they immigrated to the U.S. Many heirloom varieties are still being kept in rural areas, often grown on the same farm for 100-150 years by descendants of that family. Plants grown for that length of time in a particular region become uniquely adapted to that area’s climate and usually build up natural resistances to local diseases and insects. Today many of these valuable varieties are in danger of being lost, because most young families move every few years and elderly gardeners often have no one to whom they can pass on and entrust their seeds. Dr. Garrison Wilkes, Professor of Biology at the University of Massachusetts warns, “The genetic diversity of our food crops is a national wealth which the varied racial and ethnic members of our nation have brought from their homelands. It is unthinkable not to preserve and maintain these and other reserves of genetic diversity that still exist for future plant breeding needs.”

Commercial Varieties Are Dropped During Takeovers

Recently more than 60 North American seed companies have been taken over. Agrichemical companies are buying out small family-owned seed companies, dropping their regionally-adapted collections of non-hybrid vegetables and substituting generalized hybrid varieties which are more profitable. The agrichemical firms already manufacture pesticides, herbicides and chemical fertilizers. With their newly purchased seed companies, they can give farmers and commercial gardeners a package deal — seeds that grow well with their chemicals. Some even produce pelleted seeds, wrapped in small capsules of pesticides and fertilizers. Monsanto invested $150 million in a gene-splicing laboratory for the stated goal of producing new kinds of seeds resistant to attack from plant pests. Instead some of their first work produced genetically-engineered plants that could withstand increased applications of Monsanto’s Round-Up herbicide. Breeding programs at state universities, which once produced food crops resistant to a multitude of diseases and pests, are being gutted by budget cuts. It is doubtful that corporations whose sales depend on pesticides and herbicides will spend time or money developing pest-resistant crops.

Apple Collections Are Being Abandoned and Destroyed

Until recently each state university and its agricultural experiment station had a fruit breeding program. Those breeders often assembled unique varieties from around the world which were used to breed fruits suited for that state. These invaluable collections are rapidly being abandoned and destroyed because of state and federal budget cuts, breeders retiring and not being replaced, and the decline of vegetable and fruit breeding programs at state universities. When a fruit breeder’s collection is bulldozed to make room for more student parking, unique and invaluable genetic characteristics are often lost. Dr. Elwood Fisher, who is maintaining 900 apple varieties, observed three varieties that blossomed late. Japanese breeders used them as the parents of hardy new apples now being grown in areas of Japan that were previously considered too cold. Incorporating similar genetic characteristics could have averted the wholesale destruction of the Baldwin apple orchards in New York and adjacent areas during the extremely cold winter of 1933.

Budget Cuts Put USDA Seed Collections in Danger

Genetic preservation programs in the U.S. have historically been underfunded and understaffed. USDA has not had a full-time plant explorer since 1970, and only $40,000 per year is allocated to collect rapidly vanishing genetic resources. The Director of the National Seed Storage Laboratory (NSSL) in Fort Collins, Colorado, has stated that NSSL will be completely full before the end of 1987, but plans for a new facility have not been funded. In October 1986 the Director of the National Plant Germplasm System (NPGS), warned that 100,000 of their 400,000 seed samples are already at dangerously low levels of “germination” (ability to sprout). But budget cuts are hurting NPGS badly and the growouts needed to replenish those seeds lack sufficient funds. The amount of material needing to be regrown will soon be so large that it may be logistically impossible to catch up. If that happens, much could be lost.

Dr. Jack Harlan, Prof. of Plant Genetics at the Univ. of Illinois, predicted this situation a decade ago when he warned, “If you are willing to entrust the fate of mankind to these collections, you are living in a fool’s paradise….. These resources stand between us and catastrophic starvation on a scale we cannot imagine. In a very real sense, the future of the human race rides on these materials ….. The line between abundance and disaster is becoming thinner and thinner, and the public is unaware and unconcerned. Must we wait for disaster to be real before we are heard? Will people listen only after it is too late?”


Seed Savers Exchange is a grassroots network of gardeners working together to rescue and maintain food crops that are in danger of extinction. SSE distributes various educational publications through which our members offer and track down endangered varieties, teach correct seed saving and storage techniques, state problems and offer solutions, recruit interested gardeners to multiply their seeds and promote public awareness of genetic preservation. And SSE is effecting solutions to problems involving genetic erosion by developing ongoing seed exchanges, growers networks, preservation gardens, and low-tech basement seed banks.

A. History of Seed Savers Exchange (A Grassroots Approach)

SSE was founded in 1975 after Diane Whealy’s grandfather entrusted her and her husband, Kent Whealy, with the seeds of three garden plants that her ancestors brought from Bavaria four generations earlier. The elderly man died the following winter and the young couple knew the survival of his seeds was up to them. After reading articles by Dr. Garrison Wilkes and Dr. Jack Harlan about the dangers of genetic erosion, they wondered how prevalent heirloom varieties might be. Hoping to increase the amount of genetic diversity available to gardeners and fruit growers, they started trying to locate families who were also keeping varieties that had been passed down within their families.

During the past 12 years the Whealys have discovered that heirloom varieties are not common, but are not extremely rare. When immigrating to the U.S., gardeners invariably brought along seeds which provided a link to their past and ensured continued enjoyment of foods from the old country. Many families in isolated rural areas and ethnic communities are still keeping varieties of vegetables and fruits that are family heirlooms, and so are traditional peoples such as Indians, Mennonites and Amish. There has never been a systematic search for heirloom plant material in the U.S. The varieties already uncovered by SSE members are causing great interest. They can be used for plant breeding, nutritional studies, genetic research, and for the enjoyment of gardeners and fruit growers who focus on beauty or flavor or uniqueness.

B. SSE’s Past Projects & Present Efforts

Annual Seed Exchange

The Whealys continue to locate other gardeners who are keeping heirloom varieties, and have organized them into an annual seed exchange. Since it was founded in 1975, SSE’s members have distributed enough seed samples to make an estimated 300,000 plantings of garden seeds not in commercial catalogs and in many cases on the verge of extinction. The network has expanded from six members offering a few dozen varieties through a six-page newsletter sent to 30 gardeners in 1975, to 630 members offering a combined collection of 4,000 varieties through a 256-page book sent to 5,000 subscribers during 1987.

SSE Publications

The Winter Yearbook, a 256-page book published each January, contains the addresses of SSE’s 630 “Listed Members”, lists of the vegetable and fruit varieties each has to offer, and lists of varieties they are trying to locate. These “Listed Members” (gardeners offering varieties through that yearbook) can obtain seeds just for postage. “Non-Listed Members” (subscribers who receive the yearbook, but are not yet listed in it) send $1.00 for each sample of seeds requested. SSE’s annual membership includes The Winter Yearbook and The Harvest Edition (described below).

The Harvest Edition, a 200-250 page book published each November, contains: “Seed Saving Guide” that teaches readers how to save all of their own seeds and keep them pure; “Plant Finder Service” which has helped hundreds of gardeners locate specific vegetable or fruit varieties; “Interviews” with plant collectors, alternative seedsmen, and vegetable and fruit breeders; “Hodgepodge” of correspondence from readers and breeders, and articles about other genetic preservation projects working with flowers and wildflowers, traditional Indian crops, rare poultry, and endangered livestock breeds. The Harvest Edition focuses on our members and their projects, and examines all areas and issues relating to the genetic preservation of our food crops.

The Garden Seed Inventory (GSI), a 448-page book, is an inventory of 239 mail-order seed catalogs in the U.S. and Canada. GSI took three years to compile and lists all of the non-hybrid vegetable varieties still being offered, including: variety name; days to maturity; the plant’s description; and all its known sources. In 1984 those 239 seed catalogs still carried nearly 6,000 non-hybrid varieties, but 48% were only being offered by one random catalog out of those 239 possible sources. USDA published a similar inventory in 1903 which has been compared to printouts of the varieties in their National Seed Storage Laboratory (NSSL). Only 3% of everything available commercially in 1903 survives today in that collection. GSI was developed as a genetic preservation tool to show which varieties are in the most danger before they are dropped completely. SSE is using GSI’s profits to buy up these endangered commercial varieties which are then permanently maintained by SSE’s members. Since January 1985, 7,500 copies have been sold.

Seed Savers Exchange: The First Ten Years, a 416-page book, is a collection of the best articles from all previous SSE publications which teach technical know-how geared to seed saving and storage by the backyard gardener. The chapter on “Saving Garden Seeds” is nearly 100 pages long and contains more information than any previous book on the subject. SSE is constantly researching and publishing the information necessary for genetic preservation to take place at a grassroots level. Since September 1986, 1,500 copies have been sold.

Central Seed Collection

SSE is maintaining a Central Seed Collection of nearly 5,000 rare vegetable varieties (2,200 beans, 600 tomatoes, 400 squash, 200 corns, 200 peppers, 100 muskmelons, 100 watermelons, and smaller amounts of other food plants) in Decorah, Iowa. About 65% are heirloom varieties that members have sent. The rest are endangered commercial varieties that The Garden Seed Inventory showed were about to be dropped completely. All the seeds in the collection must be regrown at least every four years to keep them from dying out.

Preservation Garden

Using completely organic methods, SSE grew out about a third of the Central Seed Collection on rented land during each of the last two summers (2,000 varieties on 5 acres in 1985, and larger amounts of 1,200 varieties in 1986). All of the corns and all of the “cucurbits” (squash, watermelons, muskmelons and cucumbers) were hand-pollinated to keep different varieties of each from crossing. SSE developed a “caging technique” (cages of thin cloth-like material over wire frames) to keep sweat bees from crossing varieties of peppers. Each new problem is quickly solved and the solutions are shared with 5,000 eager subscribers. SSE is literally writing the book on seed saving techniques and it is allowing genetic preservation projects to take place at a grassroots level. And the Preservation Garden is a superb educational tool for teaching outdoor workshops to numerous tours of gardeners.

Annual Meeting

On a weekend in July, members gather for SSE’s annual Campout Convention. Attendance has grown from 12 in 1981 to 180 in 1986. In 1986 there were 11 speeches or slideshows focused on various genetic preservation projects. Brainstorming sessions that plot the future course of SSE last into the night. In 1985 and 1986 educational workshops in the Preservation Gardens taught seed saving and hand-pollination techniques, and organic strategies. SSE’s Campout Convention is a unique educational experience and a weekend of camaraderie with dedicated seed savers and fruit growers. Attendance in 1987 may take another jump as members come to visit Heritage Farm for the first time.

Low-Tech Basement Seed Banks

In 1981 SSE considered developing a central facility to provide frozen storage for the seeds of SSE’s members. Instead SSE has developed and is teaching techniques for drying and storage that allow members to do a quality job of processing seeds in their own homes using equipment and materials costing under $50. Seeds remain viable for 5-10 times longer than normal when dried to the correct moisture content, heat-sealed into foil packets, and frozen. Because SSE chose this grassroots approach, small low-tech seed banks are springing up in basements across the U.S. SSE knows that the techniques work, because seeds we processed are now being grown out and germinate perfectly.

Outreach Activities

SSE’s outreach activities have increased dramatically during the past two years. During 1986 Kent Whealy traveled for nearly two months while giving 14 speeches and slideshows for college audiences, organic grower and sustainable agriculture conferences, horticultural societies, garden clubs and government genetic resources programs. About a dozen radio interviews were given during 1986. Informational brochures were sent to 6,000 newspapers (mainly rural weeklies) in the spring of 1987 to locate heirloom varieties and educate the public. Three years ago there was almost no public awareness or concern about genetic erosion. Today nearly every U.S. gardening magazine contains articles on heirloom varieties and loss of genetic diversity. Several major non-garden magazines (including Reader’s Digest and People) have just published articles that will carry SSE’s message into more than 25 million homes.

Organizations That Have Used SSE As Their Model

SSE is being studied and used as a model for similar preservation projects. SSE helped organize a parallel organization in Ontario through the Canadian Organic Growers. A SSE member in Sweden started a seed saving group named Sesam that now has 165 members. And two young Frenchmen recently visited SSE to obtain advice about starting a movement in France. Specialized exchanges modeled after SSE include: The Grain Exchange, Native Seeds/SEARCH, CORNS, The Olde Thyme Flower & Herbal Seed Exchange, TUBERS, and a scionwood exchange for North American Fruit Explorers. Several alternative seed companies, started by SSE members, are distributing heirlooms and regionally adapted collections: Seeds Blum, Good Seed Co., John Hartman & Daughters Seed Co., Butterbrooke Farm, Southern Exposure Seed Exchange, Long Island Seed & Plant, Johnson Seed Co. and Turtle Enterprises. And SSE members have started regional seed exchanges that are raising local awareness: Blue Ridge Seed Savers, Scatterseed Project, Pumas Seed Savers and the Seed Saving Project.


The genetic diversity of our food crops is being destroyed mainly by economic consolidation, corporate farming practices and nationwide food distribution systems. These trends are also causing widespread losses and serious problems in many other areas. New apple orchards are being planted almost exclusively to tasteless Red and Yellow Delicious. Dairy farmers concerned only with production are switching entirely to Holsteins. Poultry meat production is dominated by Cornish-Rocks that grow so quickly and are so genetically weak that they often cannot stand. Farmers seem unable to break free of corn and soybean monocultures that do not even return the costs of their inputs. Fruits and vegetables, that could be grown locally using organic methods, are doused with synthetic chemicals and shipped across the country. Americans consume an average of three pounds of food additives and pesticide residues each year, and toxic agricultural chemicals poison the water we drink.

What exemplary model project can we develop that will reverse these trends? We envision a Heritage Farm where we will maintain and display genetic diversity in vegetables, apples, berries, poultry and beef cattle. We will demonstrate non-toxic growing techniques for use in gardens, greenhouses, orchards and on farms. Attention will be focused on the superior qualities of heirloom vegetables and fruits such as flavor, tenderness, long harvest, high nutrition, storage ability, regional adaptation, natural resistances and non-dependence on chemical culture. And we will display alternative crops, especially apples and potatoes, that are of value to farmers right now.

Heritage Farm will be a conference center and a living museum of historic varieties. Visitors will attend events designed to inspire and motivate them — harvest festivals, garden tours, taste tests and cider pressings. Our Preservation Garden and Historic Apple Orchard will become classrooms for visitors and those same teachings will be presented through SSE publications. We will construct special greenhouses/screenhouses, large underground root cellars and areas for seed processing and frozen storage. There we will grow out our huge collection of seeds and evaluate newly discovered heirlooms.

SSE intends to establish an apprenticeship program, so that young bright college-aged students can spend the summer at Heritage Farm. They will build several cabins in the woods (summer housing for apprentices), work in the Preservation Garden and the Historic Apple Orchard, and even help with SSE’s publications. Heritage Farm has much to teach, and so do other exemplary organizations. SSE has been approached by Meadowcreek Project (Fox, Arkansas) and the C. S. Fund (Freestone, California) to participate in a revolving apprenticeship program. SSE will inspire and permanently change young lives as we train the next generation that will take over SSE’s projects.

In the spring of 1986 we described our vision of Heritage Farm to the C. S. Fund, even though they had never funded capital ventures. They were fascinated with its potential. Late that summer their Board of Directors agreed to make a loan of $110,000 (10 years at 7% with pre-payment privileges) to SSE as a program-related investment of their endowed Warsh-Mott Legacy. This would allow SSE to buy a farm outright and to control the land and the projects on it, with Warsh-Mott Legacy holding the mortgage. Because Heritage Farm would be a tax-exempt project owned by SSE, an unbroken string of caretakers would always protect and maintain its collections of genetic diversity for posterity.

On November 3, 1986, SSE purchased a 57-acre farm five miles north of Decorah, Iowa. All of the buildings and improvements are in excellent repair. The basement of the large two-story farmhouse has ample room for SSE’s office and computer systems, and space to build a walk-in freezer. The barn (35 x 70’) is well suited for many uses: livestock shelter and hay storage; work areas for drying, cleaning and processing seeds; large meeting hall for the Campout Convention; and an attached chicken house. Over 35 acres are well fenced and suited for permanent pasture. A one-acre spring–fed pond flows so strongly that it never freezes, so livestock can be watered from its overflow all winter. And the pond could be easily used for irrigation during periods of drought. Deep silt-loam soil covers the garden and orchard sites. It is the perfect property to showcase SSE’s present and proposed projects.

A network of Heritage Farms will be needed to quickly rescue and permanently maintain all of the vegetable and fruit varieties currently in danger. Our initial model must be so obviously emulatable and so inspiring that it will cause this network to spring up — exactly the same way that regional and specialized seed exchanges are now springing up using SSE as a model. A network of farms is absolutely essential, because valuable genetic characteristics can easily be lost when seeds are multiplied in inappropriate climates. (When a corn is grown 300 miles north or south of where it was developed, noticeable changes occur.) Each Heritage Farm will maintain a collection of food plants suited for its specific climate. These regional collections will be evaluated during growouts and that data will be shared with the other farms via computer. Together these farms will maintain the total collection.

SSE recently began to develop a Network of Curators, each specializing in a certain crop. Some of these SSE members are maintaining collections of 2,000 varieties. By working together, they hope to maintain everything that has been offered through SSE’s publications. It quickly became apparent that this Network of Curators is the first step towards forming the network of Heritage Farms. SSE has the computer capacity to coordinate these networks and collections. The Heritage Farm network is already starting to materialize.

Project #1 – The Preservation Garden

In 1960 Iowa was 68% food self-sufficient, but today that figure is under 20%. Just across the Mississippi River in Wisconsin are extensive potato growing areas and apple orchards. There is no logical reason for Iowa farmers to continue growing only cash grain crops that are not even worth the cost of their inputs. The State of Iowa is making low-interest loans (4% below treasury bill rates) to farmers who will diversify and try alternative crops. Heritage Farm can have an immediate large-scale effect by using its Preservation Garden and Historic Apple Orchard to demonstrate alternative crops and non-toxic growing techniques to farmers who are trying to break free of corn and soybean monocultures.

SSE’s efforts gained momentum and attracted national attention when the organization’s work was moved out onto the land in the 1985 and 1986 Preservation Gardens. Their beautiful displays of genetic variation have inspired and raised the awareness of many people who walked through them. They start looking and cannot stop. In that setting they immediately reach a level of understanding that is hard to achieve with the printed word. For 12 years SSE’s staff has published books and given speeches trying to warn the public about the loss of genetic diversity, but most people fail to recognize genetic erosion as a threat. However, when those people tour the Preservation Garden, see valuable genetic characteristics displayed by 2,000 endangered vegetables, and learn that hundreds of those varieties would be extinct except for the efforts of gardeners like themselves — then they understand. To motivate gardeners to work towards reversing genetic erosion, SSE must show them displays of genetic diversity that will inspire and move them quickly to action.

That example also contains the keys to successful teaching, to quick motivation, to the ability to cause abrupt change, and to long-term involvement. Hand-pollination techniques are simple, once you see them demonstrated. Grafting fruit trees just takes practice, after someone shows you how. Alternative crops are worth the risk, if farmers can see that they will work. Organic growing techniques must be demonstrated and widely used, considering the true consequences of using synthetic chemicals. Focusing our educational efforts with such visual displays and hands-on demonstrations will always produce the strongest results. These are the reasons SSE is developing Heritage Farm and also the reasons that its Preservation Garden and other projects will succeed.

Project #2 – Historic Apple Orchard

At the turn of the century there were about 7,000 named varieties of apples in the U.S. About 5,000 are now extinct and those that remain are steadily dying out. Kent Whealy, Director of the SSE, recently visited the curators of the three largest apple collections in the U.S. They agreed to provide scionwood of historic varieties for the Historic Apple Orchard at Heritage Farm:

1) Prof. Elwood Fisher, James Madison University in Virginia, spent 16 years searching out fruit varieties originally brought into the Virginia Colonies. He is growing nearly 900 apple varieties on less than an acre using trellis culture and branch grafts with several varieties on each tree. It is the largest private collection of apples in the U.S., but the density of the planting makes it vulnerable to losses from disease.

2) Dr. Roger Way, curator of the USDA Apple Collection in Geneva, NY, was maintaining two full-size trees of 1,700 apple varieties. When he retired last year, most of his collection was grafted onto trellis culture and the original orchard was cut down due to budget reductions. It is feared that his collection may eventually be screened for disease resistance or genetic characteristics of current economic value and the rest will be destroyed.

3) Phil Forsline, curator of the National Clonal Germplasm Repository, is compiling an inventory of all U.S. apple collections. He has access to a nursery of 1,100 imported foreign apples that have come through quarantine at Glendale, MD over the years and dozens of apple collections at state experimental stations which are gradually being abandoned.

SSE wants to develop an orchard of old-time apples: cider varieties that have fallen out of use; apples with well-known histories; varieties with commercial potential for gardeners, orchardists and farmers. Heritage Farm will maintain two trees of about 500 apple varieties. One semi-dwarf tree of each will be located in a five-acre production orchard. To ensure against loss, another tree on dwarf rootstock will be grown closely spaced in hedge-like rows and the new growth from those trees will be used for a nationwide scionwood exchange.

By selecting apples of historic significance, we can provide scionwood of appropriate varieties to members of ALHFAM (Association of Living Historical Farms and Agricultural Museums) for use in their 200 period and/or ethnic gardens. Their plantings will provide educational displays at sites across the U.S., local distribution of scionwood, and a living back-up for our orchards.

Americans consume large amounts of pesticides on the skins of commercially produced fruits. In SSE’s books and at our Historic Apple Orchard, we can publish and demonstrate techniques for growing fruits organically. This knowledge already exists, but is being used in very few orchards. Heritage Farm’s key personnel include two entomologists and others with backgrounds in organic orcharding and gardening, integrated pest management and natural soil science. This project can effect widespread changes in fruit growing techniques by demonstrating non-toxic alternatives to synthetic sprays and fertilizers.

There are large commercial apple orchards just across the Mississippi River around Gays Mills, WI. This northeast corner of Iowa was also an apple growing region around the turn of the century, but is now devoted largely to corn monoculture. A new Agricultural Stabilization and Conservation Service program is paying farmers to set aside their erodible acres for 10 years and many of those hillside tracts are well suited for orchards. It takes up to 10 years for full-sized apple trees to reach maximum production. Encouraging farmers to plant fruit trees now could result in permanent erosion control and a producing organic orchard by the time their land was again eligible for production. Our timely efforts could help farmers take that critical first step away from corn and soybean monocultures and away from chemical growing techniques, and demonstrate a valuable alternative farm crop.

Project #3 – Minor Livestock Breeds

Heritage Farm plans to maintain a small herd of endangered beef cattle to complete the model farm we envision and to demonstrate our support for the fine work of the American Minor Breeds Conservancy (AMBC). Preliminary research has focused our attention on White Park cattle, an extremely rare breed with several traits of potential value to farmers and cattlemen.

White Park cattle were introduced to the British Isles around 1900 B.C. and later used by the Druids for sacrificial rituals at Stonehenge. Roman Legions occupied the British Isles in 55 B.C., but withdrew after 400 years. During the ensuing chaos, some of the cattle escaped and were hunted as wild animals for over 700 years. In the 12th and 13th centuries, various kings awarded huge forest estates, called parks, to members of their courts. Behind the high stone walls of these preserves, White Park cattle roamed wild and were hunted by the monarchs along with deer and other game animals. There is a herd of these large white lyre-horned cattle in Chillingham Park that has roamed wild within its present enclosure since 1270 A.D. No outside blood has been introduced for over 700 years, making the Chillingham herd a unique potential source of genes for cattle breeders.

Fearing a Nazi invasion that would destroy their national heritage, Britain shipped a group of White Park cattle to the Bronx Zoo in 1940. But the zoo lacked proper facilities, so two pairs of the cattle were shipped to the King Ranch in Texas in 1942. In 1981 John and Marilyn Moeckly from Iowa purchased the King’s Ranch White Park herd. Recently they imported a White Park bull descended from the ancient Cadzow herd in Scotland. The Cadzow bull has been bred to the 15 remaining 10-year-old cows. Their calves will be born from April-June of 1987 and will be for sale five or six months later. Heritage Farm hopes to purchase several female calves late in 1987. By artificially inseminating them in 1988 and again in 1989 to two separate bloodlines from Europe, we hope to eventually maintain a small herd of 10 or 12 White Park cows.

There were about 100 White Park cattle in England in 1978. They are known for longevity, disease resistance, hardiness, fertility, feed efficiency, strong maternal instincts and lean carcasses. Many White Park cows will easily breed into their 20th year. And White Park bulls are proving their value as sires of fast-growing calves with a high yield of lean meat. The Charolais breed, now popular in the U.S. and promoted as fast-growing, attains only 50.4% of its mature weight at 400 days compared to 52.3% for White Park. Charolais also have a high percentage of difficult births and calf mortality, while White Park calves are born without difficulty and are active from birth.

A small herd of White Park cattle at Heritage Farm would give farmers the unique opportunity of crossing an extremely rare breed with their beef cattle. Farmers are constantly experimenting with the synergistic effect that causes crossed offspring to be more productive than either parent. Farmers would be eager to use a strong bloodline that is different than anything currently available. Heritage Farm could supply White Park bulls to farmers and cattle breeders, and work with the American Minor Breeds Conservancy to establish other registered herds. No other endangered breed of beef cattle offers such historical significance, genetic uniqueness and commercial potential.

Project #4 – Endangered Poultry

Dr. Roy Crawford, poultry specialist at the University of Saskatchewan, recently gave a speech which defined the four recognized types of poultry: Indigenous Stocks – such as wild turkeys and Muscovy ducks; Commercial Production Strains – nine companies breed layers, nine breed broilers and four breed turkeys for the entire world; Fancy Breeds – similar to hybridizing flowers, has an active following; and Middle Level Production Breeds – left behind by big commercial companies, but still sold by some regional hatcheries.

The middle level production breeds are in the most immediate danger and also have the greatest value. SSE intends to work with Dr. Crawford to develop a small poultry project focused on endangered dual-purpose (meat and eggs) breeds that have value for families as well as for farm production.

Non-Toxic Alternatives for Farmers

The prolonged farm crisis in Iowa and the rest of the Midwest Farm Belt is providing unique opportunities for change. The current economic situation is finally forcing farmers to examine the paths they have taken and desperately search for alternatives. In an effort to become more food self-sufficient, the State of Iowa is providing low-interest loans to farmers who will diversify and try alternative crops. Input costs for chemicals and hybrid seeds have become so high that, for the first time, it is economically feasible for farmers to consider returning to non-chemical growing techniques and home-saved seeds. Quickly developing an alternative and exemplary model farm located in the middle of this situation could result in a change of direction on a national scale.

Northeast Iowa is ripe for an anti-chemical revolt. Decorah is in the heart of the Corn Belt surrounded by a hybrid corn monoculture that requires heavy use of herbicides and pesticides. This corner of Iowa and adjoining areas in Minnesota and Wisconsin are called The Driftless Area. The glaciers which flattened these prairie states split and flowed around this area of wooded valleys, limestone bluffs, clear springs and streams and rivers. They left a region of karst topography underlaid with porous fractured limestone, sinkholes and caves, and underground streams and rivers. The rains wash agricultural chemicals directly into the water table with deadly consequences.

The local people value their unique water resources highly and there is great alarm about nitrate poisoning and rapidly deteriorating water quality. Forums on water quality in tiny local towns have been attended by hundreds of highly vocal participants. Farmers are being advised that, if they even bothered to test their land’s nitrogen levels before applying chemical fertilizers, they could cut their application in half and save over $100,000,000 statewide. Water quality legislation is finally being attempted at a state level with taxes on agricultural and household chemicals being proposed to raise funds for cleanup.

Farmers in our area have a high awareness of the true costs and consequences of agrichemical use. They are desperately seeking low-cost alternatives, if only for financial reasons. We should remember that chemical use in field applications was not common 35 years ago. Therefore, some farmers who are still on the land (or retired parents who still influence their children’s use of the land) have the knowledge of pre-chemical farming techniques that could turn the present situation around. Efforts at this time to demonstrate non-toxic alternatives could help farmers finally break away from their use of synthetic chemical fertilizers and herbicides.

IV. Final Summary

Heritage Farm is worthy of support just for its value as a genetic preservation project, even if that were all it was hoping to accomplish. But its true value is: its ability to inspire and to teach and to move people quickly to action; as an exemplary multifaceted model that can be imitated on any scale; and its potential for widespread applications in gardens and in orchards and on farms. By quickly providing the initial model, an entire network of Heritage Farms may spring up in different regions, exactly the same way that regional and specialized seed exchanges are now springing up in the U.S. and in foreign countries using the Seed Savers Exchange as their model.

Measuring the success of SSE’s preservation projects, such as the Preservation Garden and the Historic Apple Orchard, will be relatively easy as our inventories reveal which varieties would be extinct without our efforts. Evaluating less tangible effects of Heritage Farm will be hard to measure quantitatively, but within a few years significant changes in the areas being addressed will become readily apparent. SSE hopes to rapidly develop the model it envisions, because many of the unique opportunities presenting themselves at this time will quickly fade. As Heritage Farm matures, it will eventually become self-supporting from the incidental revenues generated by its genetic preservation projects: vegetable produce, apples and registered livestock.

Heritage Farm is not just a paper solution to the problems it is addressing. This model farm project is located right where it should be — in the middle of the Farm Belt. From that location, it can effectively demonstrate agricultural alternatives at a time when they will be seriously considered. This may be the best chance we will ever have to help farmers break free from synthetic chemical culture and try alternative crops that may help their farm operations become profitable once again. We must move quickly to demonstrate and promote these alternatives, because we are dealing with a rapidly changing set of opportunities that may not come our way again.

This is a turbulent and stormy period in our country’s history, but the possibilities for effecting the necessary changes have never been greater. People everywhere are standing at crossroads in their lives and seriously examining alternative paths that they have never previously considered. All we have to do is show them obviously workable solutions, unique possibilities and alternatives, and the incredible beauty of what is about to be lost — and they will gladly help reverse the situations that concern us so deeply.


A. Heritage Farm Budget
1987 1988 1989

Land Payments (Nov. 3) 34,000 36,500 39,500
(7% interest on balance) 7,700 5,320 2,765

Preservation Garden
a. Deer & rabbit fences 1,000 1,000
b. Bulldoze garden sites 1,500
c. Irrigation system 5,000
d. Garden of perennials 1,500 1,500
e. Soil amendments 1,000

Historic Apple Orchard
a. Soil amendments 1,000 1,000
b. Deer & rabbit fence 10,000
c. Rootstock 1,000
d. Scionwood 1,500
e. Transplanting 1,000

White Park Cattle
a. Six female calves 6,000
b. Import semen 500 500

Modify & Repair Barn
a. Repair roof beams 6,000
b. Seed processing areas 2,000
c. Paint exterior 1,000
d. Cedar shingles 6,000

Construction Projects
a. Walk-in freezer 3,500
b. Poultry & facilities 1,500
c. Permanent greenhouse 4,000
d. Fruit/root cellar 5,000

Salaries & Labor
a. Garden Manager 8,000 8,000
b. Orchard Manager 8,000
c. Garden Workers 3,000 3,000 3,000

ANNUAL PROJECT EXPENSES 71,800 76,820 74,385

TOTAL — $223,005

D. Key Personnel & Board of Directors

Kent Whealy – President and co-founder of SSE; background in journalism; edits SSE’s annual publications and books; curator of Central Seed Collection of 5,000 varieties; plans and supervises SSE’s Preservation Garden; skilled networker who has over 1,000 gardeners participating in grassroots genetic preservation projects; his family will be the first generation of caretakers at Heritage Farm, which he envisioned and is coordinating.

Diane Whealy – Treasurer and co-founder of SSE; deals with SSE’s huge load of correspondence; manages the organization’s financial affairs, valued advisor whose level-headed perspectives have guided and stabilized SSE for 12 years.

Gary Paul Nabhan, Ph.D. – Vice-president of SSE; ethnobotanist with doctorate in arid land resources; Assistant Director of Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix, AZ; author of The Desert Smells Like Rain and Gathering the Desert; co-founder of Native Seeds/SEARCH, a nonprofit organization which maintains seed banks of indigenous Southwestern plants; one of four scientists currently rewriting a study on Genetic Vulnerability of Crops for the National Academy of Sciences; valued telephone advisor who makes an annual trip to Decorah.

Jeff McCormack, Ph.D. – Secretary of SSE; doctorate in botany, specializing in pollination ecology and natural products chemistry; managed the greenhouse complex at the University of Virginia using integrated pest management techniques relying heavily on biological control with minimal use of biodegradable pest controls; keeping a large collection of rare multiplier onions; valued telephone advisor who makes an annual trip with his family to Decorah.

David Cavagnaro – Background in entomology; freelance photographer featured in Life, National Geographic, Audubon, National Wildlife, Natural History and several Time-Life books; author and/or photographer of: Living Water, This Living Earth, Almost Home, Pumpkin People and Feathers; taught photography at several universities in California; cinematographer for wildlife sequences in the movie “Never Cry Wolf”; accomplished organic gardener and horticultural photographer; managed SSE’s 1986 Preservation Garden; his family is moving to Decorah in July 1987; David will be Garden Manager at Heritage Farm in 1988.

Arllys Adelmann – Office manager; background in secretarial science; adept at typing, shorthand and data entry; responsible for SSE’s subscriber data and the mailing of all SSE publications; supervises part-time office workers.

Bob Dahse – Self-educated soil scientist; heavily influenced by the writings of Louis Kevran, Rudolf Steiner, Ehrenfried Pfeiffer, William Albrecht, C. J. Fenzau, Phillip Callahan; has sampled the soils at Heritage Farm and recommended organic additives; lives 70 miles from Decorah in Ettrick, Wisconsin.

Michael Maltas – Background in organic fruit culture; spent three years researching organic orcharding methods in Missouri; currently developing a large organic demonstration garden for a major vineyard in California; Rodale’s “Organic Gardener of the Year” in 1986; valued telephone advisor living in Hopland, California.

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 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...