Janisse Ray on saving seeds

Book cover image courtesy of Chelsea Green Publishing

The public radio show Marketplace recently featured an interview with environmentalist and author Janisse Ray on seeds and seed saving in the modern era:

Ray explains that it’s only in the last hundred years that farmers have shifted from caretakers to “renters” of genetic material in the form of high-tech seeds.

“With the advent of patenting laws and the ability to patent life, basically, a patent supercedes the rights of a farmer to save his own seeds,” says Ray. Seeds have always had value, but the legal right to plant is a new phenomenon — thanks to “G.M.” or genetically-modified seeds.

Her new book on the topic, The Seed Underground: A Growing Revolution to Save Food, is receiving strong reviews. As Kirkus Reviews describes, Ray

unabashedly proclaims that seeds are “miracles in tiny packages.” Through accounts of her own journey in saving them, as well as facts and anecdotes, she urges readers to consider the practice, in order to avoid genetic erosion, to improve health, to work against a system that determines and limits availability, and more. Without stridence, Ray forthrightly presents her case, advocating for small organic farmers and less corporate dependence. In her most persuasive chapters, she recounts her travels in Georgia, Vermont, Iowa and North Carolina to meet others involved in saving specific varieties. She emphasizes the importance of diversity and also the ways in which preservation becomes a cultural resource….

And as the starred review from Publishers Weekly suggests,

avid gardeners will relish recognizing their idiosyncratic, revolutionary sides in its pages, and it’s likely to strike a spark in gardening novices. Even couch potatoes will be enthralled by Ray’s intimate, poetically conversational stories of her encounters with the “lovely, whimsical, and soulful things [that] happen in a garden, leaving a gardener giddy.”

Head here for a brief excerpt on how to save tomato seeds, which includes steps like “milk the pulp, meaning the gelatinous matrix that suspends the seeds like frog eggs, into the jar.” Then, track down a copy of the book to enjoy yourself!


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