"Traveling about the country to introduce us to some of her devoted fellow seed savers, Janisse Ray teaches us more than we thought we needed to know about seeds: how remarkable they are, why they need saving, how to save them, and how many of them—each holding the future of some particular plant—have been lost and are being lost to our indifference. But in a world where everything we love—including seeds—seems to be under threat, Ray ultimately offers us hope. 'Everything the seed has needed to know is encoded within it,' she assures us, 'and as the world changes, so it will discover everything it yet needs to know.' A poetic, and always hopeful, book."
—Joan Gussow, author of Growing, Older and This Organic Life
"If you haven’t heard what’s happening with seeds, let me tell you. They’re disappearing, about like every damn thing else. . . . But I’m not going to talk about anything that’s going to make us feel hopeless, or despairing, because there’s no despair in a seed." — from The Seed Underground
Gold Award of Achievement for Best Book Writing from the Garden Writers Association
Santa Monica Public Library: 2013 Green Prize for Sustainable Literature in Agriculture
American Society of Journalists and Authors Arlene Eisenberg Award for Writing that Makes a Difference
American Horticultural Society Book Award
Silver Award of Achievement from the Garden Writers Association
Across the country, a renaissance of local food, farming, and place-based culinary traditions is taking hold. And yet something small, critically important, and profoundly at risk is being overlooked in this local food resurgence: seeds. We are losing our seeds. Of the thousands of seed varieties available at the turn of the 20th century, 94 percent have been lost — forever.
With a signature lyricism that once prompted a New York Times writer to proclaim her the Rachel Carson of the south, Ray (Ecology of a Cracker Childhood) brings us the inspiring stories of ordinary gardeners whose aim is to save time-honored open-pollinated varieties like Old Time Tennessee muskmelon and Long County Longhorn okra—varieties that will be lost if people don’t grow, save, and swap the seeds.
From rural Maine to Oregon’s Palouse, Ray introduces readers to dozens of seed savers like the eccentric sociology professor she dubs “Tomato Man” and Maine farmer Will Bonsall, the “Noah” of seed saving who juggles hundreds of seeds, many grown by him, and him alone. And Ray tells her own story—of watching her grandmamma save squash seed; of her own first tiny garden at the edge of a junkyard; of falling in love with heirloom and local varieties as a young woman; and the one seed—Conch cowpea—that got away from her.
With a quiet urgency The Seed Underground reminds us that while our underlying health, food security, and sovereignty may be at stake as seeds disappear, so, too, are the stories, heritage, and history that passes between people as seeds are passed from hand to hand.
About the Author
Writer, naturalist, and activist Janisse Ray is a seed-saver, seed-exchanger, and seed-banker, and has gardened for twenty-five years. She is the author of several books, including Pinhook and Ecology of a Cracker Childhood, a New York Times Notable Book. Ray is on the faculty of Chatham University's low-residency MFA program, and is a Woodrow Wilson Visiting Fellow. She has won a Southern Booksellers Award for Poetry, a Southeastern Booksellers Award for Nonfiction, an American Book Award, the Southern Environmental Law Center Award for Outstanding Writing, and a Southern Book Critics Circle Award. She attempts to live a simple, sustainable life ...