The Seed Savers Exchange has a long history in the realm of heirloom seeds and gardening. From outreach and education to technical support and preservation, this non-profit organization manages one of the most stunning seed collections in the world, full of unique heirloom seed varieties handed down from generations of seed savers and gardeners.
Last weekend, I had the pleasure of attending the 32nd Annual Seed Savers Exchange Conference and Campout at Heritage Farm in Decorah, Iowa. With presentations by John Navazio of the Organic Seed Alliance, Seed Savers Exchange Co-Founder and author of Gathering Diane Ott-Whealy, Edible Landscaping author Rosalind Creasy, and several others, there was much to learn and share all weekend long. The campers witnessed an heirloom seed display, learned about regional seed libraries, dug up an old-fashioned bean hole, toured the display and preservation gardens, and so much more. Below are a few photos of the fun- and education-packed weekend’s events.
One of the lasting traditions of the Seed Savers Exchange conference is the annual seed swap. The tables were bustling with folks sharing seeds from their gardens, discussing the growth habit of one melon versus another, and determining a fair trade for a fistful of seeds of one variety for the next. There was also a presentation about how to host a seed swap as one of the weekend’s events, so people could learn how to host their own local swap.
Several hands-on workshops, such as the corn hand pollination workshop pictured above, helped seed savers attending the conference learn the best way to save genetically pure seed in their home garden.
MOTHER EARTH NEWS and the Seed Savers Exchange collaborated to create a traveling heirloom seed display, which was set out in the barn at Heritage Farm for the duration of the conference. It features gorgeous scans of seeds and fruits from the heirloom plants in the Exchange’s vaults.
One of the keynote speakers, Frances Moore Lappé, talked to the audience about having a positive “ecomind” in order to feel empowered about creating a positive future.
The Ancient White Park Cattle herds, one of few breeding herds in the United States, graze the pastures on the extensive grounds at Heritage Farm.
Ken Greene, co-founder of the Hudson Valley Seed Library, discussed the importance of preserving and propagating regional seed stores. The Hudson Valley Seed Library combines this mission with the curation of regional artists through their unique seed packets.
Ever eaten beans cooked in a traditional bean hole? I hadn’t either until last weekend’s conference! Beans flavored with molasses and pork were buried in a dutch oven, along with coals, and allowed to cook overnight for a spectacular feast for the masses.
The conference definitely was not all work and no play: Attendees were given the opportunity to learn how to make homemade hard cider with heirloom apples from the Seed Savers Exchange orchardist and cider-making specialist Dan Bussey.
If you make it to Heritage Farm, you’ll likely get to tour in style — atop haybales pulled by a tractor, with an expert staff member as your guide.
Photos by Tim Johnson and Jennifer Kongs