Articles, Blog

Seed Savers – Farm to Fork Wyoming

(electronic music) – In Sheridan and in Buffalo, there’s a local foods
kind of rumbling. – [Announcer] In the
world of small farming, there’s a movement afoot. – [Female Voice] Without
seed, there is nothing. – [Announcer]
Small-scale farmers around the country
are seeing access to one of their most
vital resources shrinking. – It used to be
that every farmer was saving seed,
and maybe he was trading seed with his neighbors, but in general everyone
was saving seed, and now that’s
just not the case. – [Announcer] In
the last 60 years, a fundamental skill has vanished from the hands of farmers. – Until probably the 1950s, there wouldn’t have been a need to educate farmers
about seed saving, because they were all doing it. But with the growth of
the agricultural industry and the seed industry, particularly after
the Green Revolution, you see that seed was sort of taken out of the farmer’s hands, and put into the
hands of seed business and seed companies. – [Announcer] In our modern, technology-driven
era, food production has become increasingly
specialized, at the cost of
diversity and access. – The farmer, you
have to understand, you needed to pay
for the equipment, and so he bought in to this, ’cause he could grow
more dependable crops. They were disease resistant. They were prolific. They looked beautiful, and they stayed on the
shelf in a grocery store for days and days and days, as opposed to that seed
his grandmother had. – [Announcer] Seed Savers, on this Farm to Fork Wyoming. – [Announcer] Funding
for Farm to Fork Wyoming is provided by Wyoming
Community Bank, your locally-owned
community bank in Riverton and Lander, and on the web at And by viewers like you. Thank you. (electronic music) – Here’s the thing. We wanna feed the world. I mean we wanna feed the world. We wanna make sure
everybody has food. – [Announcer] More
back yard to mid-scale food producers are realizing they play an important
part in our resilience. – [Female Voice] But
what we’ve got is a world of malnourished obesity. – [Announcer] As today’s
industrial food system champions the cause
of feeding the world, local growers are
wondering, at what cost? – There is a lot of focus on, let’s feed the world,
which, by the way, I don’t really agree with. I think people should
feed themselves, and to be let alone to do that, and if they need
help, doing something because they’re going to starve, then people need to be fed. But, that is not something that you have to do all the time because it destroys
the economies in other places if
you provide food from, what? How many thousands of miles does the food go now? – [Announcer] Many argue that increased
production has brought us more food, but less security. – We’re not growing seeds for taste and nutrition. We are growing them for storage, and transportation, and so you’re getting
empty calories. You’re getting less nutrition, but they’re beautiful. You’re getting a
longer store life, a longer storage life,
but they’re beautiful, and we’re getting
disease-resistant, nothing wants it. The bugs do not want it. We shouldn’t either. – [Announcer] So
there’s a growing effort to take food back
into our own hands. – The Campbell County
Master Gardeners opened this seed
library in 2016, to provide a service
to our community. – I think that
there’s been a shift in our culture, and I think it’s been really
interesting to watch in terms of like,
younger people, millennials,
looking to the past, as the way to maybe
find some security. So here you come,
and you can get rid of that risk of buying seeds, because here you can
check out seed for free. And if it doesn’t work, you’re not out any money. – I mean, with the world
that we’re living in, with technology,
all these things, things are very different, and I think that we find an element of security from traditions, from
self sufficiency, things that we’ve kind
of lost over the years. – And we also wanted
to do a small part to play in addressing
food insecurity in our community. With some families in Gillette, like money is tight, and you might not have, you have to choose
between buying groceries or buying
a pack of seeds, you might not choose
to buy a pack of seeds. So you can come here,
check out seeds for free, and give it a go
in your own garden, see if they grow
and work for you. – You see a lot of
women or a lot of people just in general
who are interested in canning, or keeping chickens, or seed saving, or
having a garden, and there’s really,
something’s going on in the culture that is making us look to these sorts of things, and I think that that’s part of the larger sort of, you know, with globalization
and technology, it’s a way to find a little bit of security. – It’s not that I want
big ag to go away. I want there to be
a lot of balance, so that we, people like me, that are very
interested in plants that are natural, not modified, that we save those things. – [Announcer]
Traditional, unpatented, open-pollinated seeds are the starting point for many. – [Female Voice] So then this is the black tomato,
and then we’ve got another sort, I mean just, there’s two drawers. – That there is attention paid to saving those
things, along with whatever’s going on in
conventional agriculture. – No one can do it all,
and the way I look at it is that we need a
diversity of options, as well as a diversity
of varieties, so if we only have one option, and that option is to buy seed from a big agribusiness company, then we’re just limiting
our possibilities. What happens when that business gets bought by another one? And all of a sudden they retire the varieties that worked for Wyoming wheat growers,
or things like that? Then people are
left in the lurch. – [Female Voice] I
know some of these Hopi black beans I’ve donated. These are those ones from that defunct seed company. – I think it’s
important to always have that diversity at every level, even at the business level. – I think that’s
a much better way, and a better way for survival, than it would be to become more of a monoculture in seeds. – [Announcer] So
while seed technology has helped attain more food with less farmers, it
has come at the cost of freedom and
genetic diversity. – They’re really
good at what they do. They’re really good
at what they do, but they don’t do
everything, I think, and I think that that’s
what we need to remember, is that there are other markets that they’re not addressing. There are other growers that they’re not addressing. There are research questions that they’re not even asking. – [Announcer] What
was once shaped in the hands of
many is now guided by only a few. – On many levels
diversity shrivels away, so first of all,
your agribusiness is not interested
in small crops, or crops that are important for very specific regions. – Extreme weather. I mean, we have, yesterday it was
22 in the morning, and it was 74 in the afternoon. – They’re not
interested in crops that are sort of
outside the purview in your Walmarts or your
normal grocery stores. – We grow Frech filet beans, and they’re only
about two inches long. – So, you’re not
gonna be able to find these really interesting
purple carrots, or these really interesting tiny green eggplants. – We do have a lot of varieties. We grow just about anything you possibly can
grown in Wyoming, and we keep trying it anyway. – I have okra seeds. I can grow okra. – So things like that. You know, most big agribusiness is not gonna be
geared toward thinking that those are
interesting crops, whereas farmers
are experimenters. – What we’re working on is kind of winter harvesting. So these we put out, I
think the first of April. And we haven’t done anything, and look at how,
I mean it was down to 18 here, nothing on ’em, but the windows, so we now know that these will be
good cultivators to save seed for. – They love to try new things to see what’s gonna work, what might do better, and eaters are the same way. – Kids, kids are great. Kids love purple peppers. – So, when people
see those kinds of new crops in
commercial markets, or even just at the
farmer’s market, I feel like people get
really excited about it. – So what we do is we’re trying to broaden people’s
brains (laughs). – And that feedback
is really important to making farmers
try new varieties, and say, oh, well, let’s try these different crops, so that’s one way
that having control over your seed is gonna
increase biodiversity. – I don’t think people realize that the whole
entire historical, biological time capsules
in those little guys. – I just think we ought to really educate
ourselves about seeds, about what they mean, about how important they are, and to have a great diversity of plants and seeds
in our environment. – Well, you know, seed is life. A seed is everything
you need for, I mean without seeds
we’d all starve to death. – [Announcer] Seed banks
have been developed in response to the loss
of genetic diversity. – In Svalbard, in Norway,
they have a seed bank that’s called (mumbles), so those seeds are no
longer being renewed. You know, they are purely
just storing the seed. So, you know, I mean
Syria’s been so war torn and their seed bank is now gone, but a lot of the seed
is still in Svalbard, and you know, hopefully
when things calm down, they will be able
to reaccess that, but then there are also other kinds of seed banks, where really what
they’re doing is continuing to regenerate
the seed year after year to ensure that it
doesn’t just die in the seed bank. Of course, the USDA
germ plasm system also stores a lot of seed, but they also do have
a regeneration program, so they’re growing out the seed. Those are really
important resources for preserving germ plasm and genetic diversity
that can be accessed. – You know, we live on about 150 crops, worldwide. That’s it. So, developing many
different varieties, you keep the biodiversity alive. You wanna keep biodiversity, because remember that
Irish potato famine? They grew a potato
that was wonderful. It was great. It was very productive. It was a hearty potato,
and then it got a fungus. Because one seed didn’t make it, thousands of people died or emigrated from their country. – It’s really the
loss of knowledge around how to steward a variety, how to make sure that that variety stays
true, doesn’t decrease in quality, doesn’t
decrease in resilience. That kind of knowledge has also been widely lost. – [Announcer] So today,
there are groups working to restore traditional
plant breeding and seed saving among
small producers, for the public domain. – So, I think the
movement really comes from farmers who
want to exercise their right to save that seed. They know that that’s an input. They know that it’s the
most important piece of what they do. Without the seed,
there is no crop. You know, a lot of
the other inputs you would still get
something, you know? If you suddenly take
away fertilizer, you’re still gonna
be able to grow some kinds of crops. You’re still gonna
be able to get something out of your land, but without seed,
there is nothing. – [Announcer] Now,
there’s a revived interest in traditional seed stewardship. – There are small to
mid-sized seed companies. – There are companies
now that just work with saving seeds and
making seeds available from the little
guy that invented the mortgage lifter
tomato, you know? And crazy named things. – Seed libraries, there
are seed exchanges. There’s the indigenous
seed network. Those folks are
doing a lot of work. – [Announcer] Because
the food security we have today still rests on the genetic diversity
built by farmers through thousands of years of selective seed saving. – Thank God there are
these little farmers saving seeds,
because without them we would have
absolutely nothing, ’cause you have to have
an open-pollinated seed to even play with when
you wanna hybrid it. So, thank goodness
that there are people that have done this
all over the world. – The other people that I think we often forget about,
and we really shouldn’t, are the public universities. Land grant universities
were established for the purpose of
increasing our knowledge about agriculture,
and there are still public universities that have plant breeding programs
that are in danger of losing those programs,
and we need them. That is where so much
of the germ plasm that all of the other folks who are doing breeding
projects comes from, is from those universities. – [Announcer] These
are all efforts to offset a growing trend in restrictive ownership
of genetic diversity through patent overreach. – So this is all
about giving it back to the people, and
we’re basically wanting to democratize seed. – We really believe
in putting seed back in the hands of farmers, making sure that they
are able to exercise their rights, and
their responsibilities to provide and steward seed, and good varieties
for organic systems. We do that through research, so conducting variety trials, doing plant breeding, and
also through education, so teaching people how
to do these practices. so teaching people how
to do these practices. – Here’s our first
seed experiment for this spring. – Teaching workshops
on seed production. – This is just the pea patch, and here’s the deal. They bloom at different times. Some are very early. Some are very
late, so you’re not cross pollinating at all. – Also some technical expertise to make sure that people know how many plants do
you need to keep to maintain a population? How do you do the
selection and grow gain? – Lettuce will
sometimes bolt early, and so you might be
in a rush and like, oh, here, it’s bolting. It’s gonna produce seed, and we’ll just take
seeds for that, don’t. Save seed from your
best, healthiest plants that have the traits
that you want. – What does it look like
to run a variety trial on your farm? How much work is it? How do you take that data and then make it meaningful? – [Announcer] This
restoration of knowledge is key to maintaining
and increasing these shared seed resources. Meanwhile, seed
libraries for the public are cropping up all over. – So we have a
fount of different tomato varieties, and
the important thing to remember about
the seed library is we can only take
open-pollinated varieties, so we can’t take any
seed that’s been patented or that’s GMO seed, because we are sharing
these seeds for free. – So urban gardening,
I mean there’s a lot out there for urban gardening. I mean, grow food. Teach your children
where it comes from, for goodness sake. Everybody can grow food. It’s nothing. It takes nothing. You put a seed in the ground. – And so when we get donations from seed companies,
we do let them know, this seed is gonna
be here for free for the community, so that’s why we only accept open-pollinated varieties. – [Announcer] While
Gillette Seed Library is housed at the local
ag extension office, seed libraries are proliferating in public libraries
across the country. – So this is the seed catalog. This is where all
the seeds live. So they’re kind of organized, so this is vegetables,
and the herbs start here, and flowers. Everything’s organized
alphabetically and then by variety. So if you came in here, and you could say
we’ve got beans. And so this is like a
blue lake pull bean. It’s got all the information, scientific name,
days to maturity, and then this sticker here indicates ease of saving, so green is easy. What’s really important
with libraries is the community, or
the space for that and where a space
that’s open to everyone regardless of class,
regardless of position. I mean, your county
commissioner down to somebody who doesn’t have a home. We’re all in this
space together, and that’s what makes
us really unique, and so we have to really
be conscious of that, and we have to provide
access for everyone, but I feel like the
other part of access is sharing, and the seeds are an extension of that, because they’re knowledge. They’re tools. They’re something
that we all use. We all eat food, and we all consume things, and it’s really just another way to empower people with
knowledge and food. – Guess what? You could harvest some of it. You isolate a plant, or you just pick the
best plant you have, the best tomato, and
then you save that seed. – Like here’s a green tomato, and the thing for us
is our growing seasons are so short, right? So like this one, 85 days
is a long time for us, so we want kind of things. We want to get things
down to the 60 range, usually for tomatoes. – Eventually we’d
like to create seeds that are acclimated and adapted to our climate, so
that when you check out a seed from our seed library, you know it’s gonna
grow well here. Because it’s been saved from a member of our community, brought back to
the seed library, and then you can use it and grow it in your garden. – And so that’s part
of like adapting, and see this one’s better. 77 days, so and then you’ll see with the yellow
sticker that this is, instead of easy it’d
be like intermediate. But it’s still pretty easy. Yeah. – Regional adaptation
is so important, particularly for regions
that are underserved by agribusiness. – We’re such a unique, like we’re a microclimate, and there’s not a
lot of information on like our zones, and how short our
growing season is, and so there’s some
unique challenges to seed saving here,
and gardening here. – Most of the farmers
that we work with are not in the corn belt, so they’re not really
being thought of in terms of what kinds of crops should be grown. – Now these all
survive very nicely when it was about
24 degrees down here in the (mumbles) shed. – [Announcer] It is
this simple process in the hands of many, through the previous
11,000 years that has created
the vast majority of crop adaptations enjoyed around the world today. – We saved a lot of these seeds, but all of them are
definitely heirlooms, open-pollinated,
some are heirlooms. – There were some winter peas that a gentleman saved, that survived that
40 below cold snap we had last winter, so now we have, and he’s like I don’t know how they
lived, but they lived, and so, you know, that’s how we’re getting these adaptations. That’s how these
things are happening, and so now we have
those available in the seed library, you know? So, maybe it’s not
an impossible dream to grow in winter (laughs). – [Announcer] Plants
have a variety of life strategies
that make some easier to save seed
from than others. – So we have 27
different gardens, and we have it spread
out quite a ways. We do seed saving in a
couple of different ways. One of them is we rotate, so when something is in bloom, the other one isn’t. So if you’re growing
two kinds of beans, one comes to bloom first,
and then the other, so you can save the
seed from the first one, ’cause you don’t want
cross pollination. The other thing too is like we can plant something
this far away, and I have a chart
that tells you how far away you could plant for seed saving, you know. Or if you’ll only
plant one cultivator, like one kind of pea, then that seed’s fine. – Some of the things like
with cross pollination and stuff like that, that’s a little more advanced, you aren’t necessarily
thinking about squash and pumpkins
cross pollinate, and so I save those seeds and the next year I
didn’t know what I had. – So if you do wanna save seeds from squash, you have
to isolate the blossoms, and you preferably will
self pollinate those, with like a cotton
swab or something. You isolate that blossom, so then you know
that you’re getting a true to type seed
from that plant. – There are crops that are mostly
self pollinating, and then there are crops that are mostly crossing, and then there’s sort of
everything in between, so mostly self pollinating crops would be things like lettuce, and peas, and
mostly out crossing would be brassicas. – Brassicas are the hardest. That would be cauliflower,
brussel sprouts, those things. – And corn, for example. And then in between
there are things like tomatoes and cucumbers, and all of those things. So, you know, these
two groups of plants have different life strategies. In corn, if you self
pollinate corn all the time, we see really severe
inbreeding depression. The plants get shorter. The yield gets to be less. That doesn’t happen in plants like peas. The more you inbreed
them, you know, we don’t see that
kind of change. – And the easiest seeds to save, this is what we tell people, are peas, beans,
lettuce, tomatoes, and peppers, so if you’re
new to seed saving, those are the five varieties to start with first. – For plants that are mostly self pollinating,
you have to have a perfect flower,
so you have to have the stigma and the anthers on the same flower, and very often what
you’ll find is that that flower has those
things enclosed together, so peas very often will have the stigma and the
anther closed together. For other crops like corn, that are highly
encouraging crossing, you’ll find temporal
or spatial differences in flowers, so corn, you
have the male flower, which is the tassel, on the top, and you have the female flower, which is the silk, on
the bottom of the plant. And that spatial separation helps encourage pollination from neighboring plants, so very often
you’ll have the wind blow pollen from your neighbor onto the silk of the
plant next to it. – [Announcer] This ease
of cross pollination is cause for much
concern in regards to GMO corn crops
spreading their DNA among non-GMO varieties. – In corn, it’s a
huge possibility. I mean, most conventional corn, it is genetically modified, so for growers who
are trying to grow organic corn seed,
it’s a huge challenge to ensure that they
are not getting that cross
pollination happening. – I feel like that’s a lot of institutional knowledge that goes along with just with seed
saving in general, and so I kind of
wanted to extract that knowledge out
of the community that we already
have, have it housed in a place where
everybody can access that. – In seed vaults,
they serve a purpose in that they’re
preserving the seed for long term, but
we want the seed out in the community,
and in people’s hands. So that they’re
comfortable with seed. They’re growing the seed, and they’re saving seed, and they’re bringing it
back to the seed library, so somebody that
you’ve never met can then check out
seed that you donated and grow it in their garden, and then it just
continues the cycle. So, part of our
mission statement is to create a
culture of sharing, and that’s really
what we’re trying to foster here. – Yeah, and well this
belongs to the community. This is for the community. That’s why it belongs
in the library. – [Announcer] And heirloom
seeds are a favorite among these community
collections. – A regular heirloom seed
is just defined really as open pollinated. It’s just pollinated by nature, one way or another,
and it’s been like that for who knows how long? – [Announcer] Producers
like Prairiana and Lower Piney
also steward seeds for their community. It’s really nice when
somebody does come up with some pepper seeds,
or tomato seeds, and says, here, try these. We like ’em. And so we try ’em, and they’re ones
that they’ve had for a long time. – Well and everything
has a story, and that’s also another
interesting thing, like we have a form
that when people donate seeds, we ask
them to fill out, and then at the very bottom, like, is there anything
that you would like us to know about these seeds? Is there anything
you would like us to include in terms of like an anecdote or a story? Because I feel like
that’s just as important as the seeds themselves, ’cause that’s part
of our history. – That’s what’s so
neat about heirlooms is because people come
to the farmer’s market, and go, this just tastes exactly like my grandmother’s
green beans, you know, so that’s very rewarding. – There was one where
a gentleman was, he had saved seeds while
he was in World War II, and he brought them back, and then his daughter had them, and then his granddaughter, and so that’s something
that we’ve seen. We’ve also had
people being like, I remember my grandmother
germinating these seeds in tea towels on the counter. – You know, some
people will have this old family bean, that
they’ve grown for years, and they say, you
know, we live in town. I don’t have a
place to keep ’em. – Some seeds that were donated, they were like we, you know, the woman who donated them said, they were saved by this family who had passed away,
and so we decided to name the variety
after the family. – Another lady who is
quite ill, fighting cancer, and she has this corn
that she wants preserved. – People do still
have ’em out there. We just don’t know it. They don’t know that
people want their seeds. – Well and interestingly too, seeds and by default
food can be political, and so that’s really interesting how those two things
are, you know, you don’t necessarily
think about what you’re eating
and, you know, the scarcity or the abundance. – That biodiversity is a cultural diversity thing. – A friend of mine who
grew peppers from Aleppo and so those are very rare, and so you didn’t
think, it never really occurred to her that
to grow these peppers is political, and it’s
an act of kind of, it’s a conscious act
of saving these foods. (electronic music) – People are really wonderful and giving us seeds
to try to keep going. – I think being more seed aware can only mean good for
our local communities. – Keep growing
’em, and you know, keep adapting them
to new environments. Who knows how well a seed from a hundred years
ago would do today? The climate has changed. Our management
practices have changed. We need varieties
that are growing with our systems, and growing with our changing climate. – [Announcer] This episode of Farm to Fork
Wyoming is available for 25 dollars. Order online at To learn more and watch Wyoming
PBS programs online, visit us at This program was
produced by Wyoming PBS, which is solely responsible
for its content.


  1. IceManLikeGervin Author

    With all of the corporate farmers being forced to use GMO seeds the citizenry needs to keep the natural seeds (which is becoming against the law in many places) for the natural food that was created on this planet for us to eat… Just say no to GMOs!!!

  2. walt spears Author

    Farmer of today has many hats . although more rewarding than ever .there is no better way to generate wealth than successful farming .husbandry is micro-managing . with many rewards


Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *