The Heritage Seed Program

At the turn of the century, a scientist compiled a list of 8,000 apple varieties available in the United States. When a new list was prepared in 1981, only 1,000 of those varieties could be found. This story can be repeated with the rest of our food crops. How is it that we have lost so much of the rich agricultural heritage bequeathed to us by our ancestors?

A serious situation is occurring around the world because people are no longer growing the old varieties of crops that have been grown for generations. Instead, they are growing the new hybrids offered by the seed companies. When the old varieties are no longer grown they become extinct and we suffer a loss in the genetic diversity of our food crops.

The safety of our future food supply depends on maintaining this genetic diversity. If we have problems with disease or climate changes, we must have on hand varieties that carry a resistance to these problems and which can be used to breed resistance into our commercial varieties. Already, scientists are looking for varieties which show tolerance to acid rain and high ozone levels, as these conditions are causing billions of dollars worth of damage to crops in North America each year.

The Heritage Seed Program was started by the Canadian Organic Growers to help preserve our agricultural heritage. The Program consists of a network of growers dedicated to growing and exchanging the seeds of endangered varieties of vegetables, fruits, grains, herbs, and flowers. It is different from a seed company because when members adopt a variety, they take responsibility for growing, maintaining, multiplying it and saving seed to share with others. In this way, the survival of these endangered varieties is assured.

Fortunately, herbs have fared better than vegetables, fruits and flowers. I would still like to make them an important part of our Program. Over the years we have the potential for building up a rich collection of different species and varieties of herbs. We can share information on their properties and the best conditions for their growth. We can seek out rare and unusual varieties, and try to obtain seeds and cuttings of some of the old strains from long established herb gardens in North America and possibly Europe. If you are interested in helping this come about, I would invite you to become involved.

To become a part of the Program, people pay a yearly membership fee and can become members even if they do not want to be growers. Our December publication will contain a list of the varieties being offered by our members, as well as information on seed saving techniques and the efforts being made by various people and organizations to preserve our genetic heritage

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