It’s hard to imagine more than 40 years back when saving seeds was something only misers and old folks did, and heirlooms were special serving platters and diamond jewelry, not tomatoes and peppers. But it was in 1975 that Diane Ott Whealy and Kent Whealy founded Seed Savers Exchange with two types of heirloom seeds passed on to Diane by her grandfather.
Today Seed Savers Exchange maintains a 890-acre heritage farm and warehouses more than 25,000 varieties of potentially endangered vegetable varieties. It also sits at the center of a movement to preserve and plant vegetables that might otherwise be lost, resulting in a narrower, less diverse food supply.
While on my way to a Garden Writers Association meeting in the Quad Cities in Iowa Thursday, I took the scenic route through northeastern Iowa and visited the Seed Savers farm outside of Decorah. I was surprised how much the farm is set up for visitors, and what a fun place it was to stop. It has several display gardens to test the heirloom seeds, barns full of heritage chickens and cattle, an orchard of heirloom fruit, a specialty library, as well as hiking trails, a gift shop with a nice selection of books, hundreds of seeds and lots of knick-knacks. There is a play area for children, picnic spots, and peaceful views of the rolling Iowa countryside.
In mid-July, Seed Savers will be celebrating its 35th anniversary with a 3-day conference filled with speakers, workshops on cooking and gardening, and an heirloom seed swap for home gardeners who save seed.