Last February, just before the onset of the Covid-19 epidemic, Librarian Mary Stamper established our Jamestown “Seed Library”. Seed repositories play an important part in protecting the world’s food supply. Did you know that vegetable gardening has enjoyed a resurgence in popularity such that many popular seed varieties are in short supply?
What would happen to agriculture if a regional or global crisis threatened our food supply? There are many seed banks worldwide dedicated to genetically preserving the worlds’ plant varieties. Probably the ultimate repository, likened to a computer backup drive or a “safe deposit box” for seeds, is the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, located above the Arctic Circle on the Island of Spitsbergen, Norway. The vault is actually a mine driven deep into the permafrost. Seeds from all over the world are deposited here for long-term protection and preservation of plant species. To see a brief video overview of the seed vault and its location in the mountain just outside the town of Longyearbyen, Norway, click here. This past February, the Cherokee Nation became the first North American indigenous people to deposit its heirloom seed varieties in the seed vault. All of the seed varieties represent plant species of cultural importance. Their cultivation of some of these species pre-date the arrival of Columbus, and all of them have play a significant part in telling the Cherokee story.
Back home in Jamestown, Mary reached out to a U.S. based organization for help in starting our seed library.
She contacted Seed Savers Exchange of Decorah, Iowa. Their stated mission is to “Steward America’s culturally diverse and endangered food crop legacy for future generations. We educate and connect people through collecting, regenerating, and sharing heirloom plants, seeds and stories.” Just what is an “heirloom” seed? According to Seed Savers, an heirloom variety is a seed with a specific, documented heritage of being passed down within a family or community.
With the help of a starter collection from Seed Savers, Jamestown library began giving out seed packets to interested patrons just days before the library closed for 6 weeks due to the onset of Covid-19. This coincided roughly with the planting season, and by the time we re-opened, it was getting a little late for planting…
Nevertheless, Mary planted some heirloom seeds on her own, choosing sorghum from the collection. Sorghum is widely grown in the South and has been cultivated in Africa for nearly 4000 years. It is drought resistant. A member of the grass family, sorghum grows tall. Flatbreads and syrups are popularly made from the plant.
While it is still cold and rainy out there, it will not be long before warmer weather and planting season returns. Would you like to try your hand at growing an heirloom variety this spring? Ask a librarian, or look in our seed library cabinet when you visit.