Chelsea Green Publishing

Chelsea Green Blog

“There’s no despair in a seed.”

What’s in a seed?

If you’re paying attention as closely as author and activist Janisse Ray, you might say life itself — and not just the plant life that waits patiently inside — but all life on Earth depends upon how we treat these tiny, potent, irreplaceable seeds.

Ray talked about her new book The Seed Underground, and explained the importance of seeds and biodiversity in a recent radio interview on “Your Call” with Rose Aguilar, and took calls from listeners and weighed in on topics raised by other guests, too.

Of the thousands of seed varieties available at the turn of the 20th century, 94 percent have been lost — forever.  “And the less biodiverse any system is,” says Ray, “the greater the potential for its collapse.”  So how can we save the seeds we have left?  Listen here. Part of what makes The Seed Underground so inspiring are Ray’s visits with fellow seed-saving revolutionaries around the country, coupled with her own lifelong passion for the environment and for seed-saving. In this excerpt on, you can join Janisse as she meets with Sylvia Davatz, a seed-saver and gardener in Vermont. The woman who answered my knock didn’t look like a revolutionary. She was slim, in blue jeans and hyacinth turtleneck. Sporty reading glasses hung from her neck.
“Right on time,” she said. I smiled. “For once.” When I decided to learn as much as I could about seeds, I was directed to a village in central Vermont where a woman lives—a quiet, under-the-radar revolutionary, I was told—who understands some things I’m trying to understand. She invited me inside, into a sparkling and artful kitchen. The walls were red, the stove green, the counters blue. On a woodstove rested a pan filled with seed heads I did not recognize. The woman followed my eyes. “Leeks,” she said. Meet Sylvia Davatz, radical American gardener. Somewhere in her well-kept home in the forested hills of central Vermont is a seed collection of plant varieties salvaged from the dustbins of history. “I’m the Imelda Marcos of seeds,” she laughed. “I have a thousand varieties in my closet!”

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