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Non-Profit Exchange Helps Gardeners Save Seeds of Rare Plants


I'm Faith Lapidus with the VOA Special English Agriculture Report.

In nineteen seventy-five, a young husband and wife in the United States began an organization to save seeds from rare plants. Diane and Kent Whealy established the Seed Savers Exchange. They still work there, though they are no longer married.

The Seed Savers Exchange operates Heritage Farm in Decorah Iowa, in the Midwest. The farm has grown to three hundred fifty-six hectares.

Before Diane Whealy's grandfather died, he gave her a few seeds from three plants he loved. The plants had been brought from northern Germany in the late eighteen hundreds. One grew pink tomatoes that tasted sweet. Another was a climbing bean. The third grew a morning glory flower with a red star.

When immigrants left Europe for America, many brought their best seeds with them. Many of those seeds were lost now. The seeds from Diane Whealy's grandfather gave the Whealys the idea to start the Seed Savers Exchange.

The organization describes its farm as a living museum of heirloom plants. It defines heirlooms as any garden plant passed down over time within a family, just like a piece of jewelry.

More than twenty-four thousand kinds of rare vegetables are in the permanent collection at Heritage Farm. These include four thousand traditional kinds from Eastern Europe and Russia. About ten percent of each crop is grown every summer, to produce fresh seeds.

Also, there are thousands of vegetables, fruits, grains, flowers and herbs that members of the exchange can buy from each other. These are listed each year in a yearbook. People who are not members can order from seed catalogs also published by the organization.

Big seed companies sell mostly hybrid seeds that cannot reproduce themselves. So people must buy new seeds each year.

Seed Savers calls itself an organized link for gardeners who want to protect the food supply through biodiversity. The idea is to grow many kinds of plants so one disease cannot harm them all.

The group says current best sellers include German extra hardy garlic and the Mexican sour gherkin cucumber. They also include Russian giant garlic and Georgian crystal garlic. In fact, there are lots of kinds of garlic, because the exchange ships garlic in September and October.

The non-profit organization is on the Web at And Internet users can find our Agriculture Report programs each week at I'm Faith Lapidus.