Save Those Seeds!

In a plywood bookcase stocked with  a motley collection of re-used jars, the Berkeley Seed Interchange Library (BASIL) stores acres of riches, the largest collection of organic open-pollinated seeds in the East Bay. A part of the seed-savers’ movement, whose members swap and sell heirloom and non-hybrid varieties, BASIL is housed inconspicuously at the Berkeley Ecology Center. Dozens of varieties of legumes and other vegetables, herbs, flowers, cover crops, grasses, and even trees are catalogued in jars and packets labeled with common and scientific names, varieties, the dates and places the seeds were harvested.
The seed library is maintained by volunteers, and the seeds are free to anyone who will promise to bring back a portion of the seed they harvest, cleaned and prepared for storage. Beck Cowles of BASIL explains, “We encourage volunteers to process the seed at home. When they have questions, they can contact a BASIL member to walk them through processing.”
Seed-savers can also check out books or take free instructional pamphlets or a class from the Ecology Center, or join the annual fall seed-processing party as well as the spring seed swap. (See page 35 for date and time.) BASIL offers seed-saving magazines and copies of Suzanne Ashworth’s Seed to Seed and Carol Deppe’s Breed Your Own Vegetable Varieties for loan.
BASIL was founded by a small group of local seed-savers who wanted to share their bounty more widely. Most of the seeds  on the market today are produced for transnational corporations like Monsanto and Novartis. Cowles says that such large businesses “are replacing carefully bred strains of vegetables and flowers with their own hybrids and patented varieties.  Hybrids don’t produce viable seed, and  the seed from patented varieties cannot legally be collected and used.”
Each year, farmers who use these seeds must buy them again; the homogeneous seeds are ill-adapted to local climate and pest conditions and require more fertilizers and pesticides. Nevertheless they are replacing local varieties and steadily reducing the biodiversity of the planet’s farms.
“BASIL is an attempt to bring together a wide variety of gardeners to lay the foundation for a local seed growers’ network that can take responsibility for developing crops and adapting them to our bioregion,” explains Cowles. Though only a few may still have traditional knowledge of seed saving and plant propagation, those few are spreading that knowledge through the seed-swapping movement.

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