Save the Seeds!

In this book, Bill Best celebrates the practice of saving heirloom seeds, emphasizing the superior taste and genetic diversity of these varieties of corn, tomatoes, squash, beans, and more.


| June 2016



Bowls of different seeds

Heirloom seeds are those that have been handed down for generations in a particular region, many of which would be lost forever if not for their careful collection by small farmers.

Photo by Fotolia/aboikis

As small seed companies have been gradually overtaken by food conglomerates, hundreds of varieties of plants have been lost in favor of only a few hardy varieties of daily vegetables. In the meantime, heirloom seed savers have worked tireless to preserve the genetic diversity of different crops. These collectors provide a much-needed alternative to corporate agriculture. This book is a tribute to the hard work and forward thinking of those people who know such diversity is worth maintaining, and Bill Best makes a case for why it’s important to keep these crops in circulation.

Best has been farming and collecting seeds from across Appalachia since the 1960s, and in Saving Seeds, Preserving Taste: Heirloom Seed Savers in Appalachia (Ohio University Press, 2013), he has created a history of seed saving and the people who preserve both the unique flavors and the Appalachian culture associated with them. As Best shares anecdotes about his grandmother, tells humorous stories about seed savers and the seeds themselves, and features photos of his extended family at work, we learn of the rich community bonds that are established through seed saving.

Corn

One of my earliest memories is going with my father to the mill to have corn ground into cornmeal. The mill was several miles downstream from our house after several creeks had run together to make a stream large enough to turn the overshot wheel and grind corn. The elevation of the land at that point was suitable to locate the mill: the raceway where the water ran lost altitude quickly and thus did not have to be too long before the water turned the overshot wheel.

We would take enough corn to last us two or three weeks, and the mill owner would take his pay by keeping a portion of the meal produced. He would then sell it to other people who did not bring their own corn to be ground. No money was ever exchanged.

We always grew white corn to be ground into meal, for we, like most of the other people in our community, preferred to have corn bread made from white instead of yellow cornmeal. At that time, most of the corn grown locally was white open-pollinated corn because hybrid, mostly yellow, corn varieties had not come to our community.

When hybrid corn varieties did become available, my father was the first in the community to try them. I was in the Future Farmers of America (FFA) club at that time and in the 4-H club as well. My FFA projects were animal related, while my 4-H projects were field crops, specifically corn.





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