Unprecedented losses in genetic diversity in agriculture are threatening food systems around the world. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimates that, over the last century, 75 percent of diversity in food crops has been lost, with more that 90 percent of once-cultivated varieties leaving farmer’s fields. The FAO also reports that 12 plant species comprise 75 percent of the global food supply, with rice, wheat, and maize composing 60 percent of the global population’s caloric intake. Within these species, there has been a sharp reduction in the number of varieties cultivated. To combat this genetic erosion, organizations around the world are working to protect disappearing plant varieties by promoting seed saving and community stewardship over biodiversity in agriculture.
Jeanette Hart-Mann and Chrissie Orr created New Mexico-based SeedBroadcast to address losses in crop biodiversity. While the project distributes information and raises awareness about the process of saving seeds, its main goal is to preserve the rich oral histories and stories that surround seeds. For many seed savers, saving these stories is just as important as saving the seeds themselves.
To do so, SeedBroadcast attempts to capture the rich culture embedded in the seeds. This approach to seed saving recognizes the complex history and connections between people and seeds. It honors the knowledge passed down through generations, and the connection of all people to seeds and food. According to SeedBroadcast, “[seed stories] are the grassroots voices of courage, desire, memory, and dreams. They speak towards the complex relationships between people, seeds, food, ecology, and agency. They are as diverse as the places that nourish them and the people that breathe life into them. Seed stories are stories of knowledge, ideas, and actions, as well as histories and thoughts toward the future.”
Motivated by the power of these stories, SeedBroadcast travels around the United States in a bread truck-turned-Mobile Seed Story Broadcast Station collecting and sharing the stories of seeds. Along the way, they offer workshops, visit seed libraries, distribute information, and use creative approaches to raise awareness of and animate people’s connections with seeds.
SeedBroadcast also has several offer publications about seeds and seed saving, including instructional guides and the SeedBroadcast agri-Culture Journal, a collection of essays, poetry, drawings, photographs, and thoughts about seeds. SeedBroadcast also joins in collaborative research projects, including a participatory mapping project centered on issues of seed pollution and biodiversity conservation.
This community-based approach highlights Hart-Mann and Orr’s belief that farmers and gardeners have a sophisticated knowledge of place, ignored in contemporary approaches to food and farming and increasingly lost. Preserving and honoring this local knowledge is a necessary part of creating and maintaining sustainable food systems. According to Hart-Mann and Orr, “SeedBroadcast believes everyone in our communities possesses a genius of place that nourishes our sustenance. This is the fluid, dynamic, and innovative knowledge we uncover, in ourselves and the world around us that pollinates our thinking and grows our gardens, as creative forces to be reckoned with. These are our seed stories, voicing a declaration of food for thought, vitality, and our future, while countering the political and economic domination of our current life-blood: our food, seeds, and natural resources.”
To contribute to the work of SeedBroadcast, share your seed story and join the growing movement to save seeds and revive, reimagine, and reinvent our food cultures.