Chelsea Green Publishing

The Seed Underground

Pages:240 pages
Size: 6 x 9 inch
Publisher:Chelsea Green Publishing
Paperback: 9781603583060
Pub. Date July 06, 2012
eBook: 9781603583077
Pub. Date July 06, 2012

The Seed Underground

A Growing Revolution to Save Food

Availability: In Stock


Available Date:
July 06, 2012


Availability: In Stock


Available Date:
July 06, 2012

$17.95 $14.36

There is no despair in a seed. There's only life, waiting for the right conditions-sun and water, warmth and soil-to be set free. Everyday, millions upon millions of seeds lift their two green wings.

At no time in our history have Americans been more obsessed with food. Options- including those for local, sustainable, and organic food-seem limitless. And yet, our food supply is profoundly at risk. Farmers and gardeners a century ago had five times the possibilities of what to plant than farmers and gardeners do today; we are losing untold numbers of plant varieties to genetically modified industrial monocultures. In her latest work of literary nonfiction, award-winning author and activist Janisse Ray argues that if we are to secure the future of food, we first must understand where it all begins: the seed.

The Seed Underground is a journey to the frontier of seed-saving. It is driven by stories, both the author's own and those from people who are waging a lush and quiet revolution in thousands of gardens across America to preserve our traditional cornucopia of food by simply growing old varieties and eating them. The Seed Underground pays tribute to time-honored and threatened varieties, deconstructs the politics and genetics of seeds, and reveals the astonishing characters who grow, study, and save them.


Foreword Reviews-

At the center of most of the world’s most enduring epics, myths, and legends are spellbinding tales of plants that offer immortality, grasses and flowers that offer sustenance for humans and other animals, fruit that contains the knowledge of good and evil, and seeds that when sown across a barren land flower into apple trees. As environmental activist and poet Ray reminds us in her own mesmerizing tale, the history of civilization is the history of seeds, and she fiercely and lovingly gathers the stories of individuals committed to saving seeds, not only to preserve the legacy of certain plants but also to ensure plant biodiversity in an agricultural environment where large corporations encourage monoculture.


As a young child, Ray delightfully learned the value of saving seeds, watching the stunning plants that grew from those she sowed. She warmly recalls her grandmother giving her some Jack bean seeds one summer, and from that moment “I got crazy about seeds because I was crazy about plants because long ago I realized that the safest place I could be was in the plant kingdom—where things made sense … where nothing was going to eat you.” Throughout high school—when other girls were dating or playing sports—Ray was ordering seeds, planting, watching, and exhorting them to grow.

Because of her love of seeds and her practices of saving and planting them to keep crops alive for future generations, Ray discovers organizations and scores of other individuals devoted to saving our food in the same way. With her typically forceful passion, Ray points to the ways in which the system is broken: our food is going extinct (by 2005, 75 percent of the world’s garden vegetables had been lost), and it is hazardous to our health, harming the earth, annihilating pollinators, and nutritionally impotent.

Ray tells the stories of these many men and women making a difference in their own corners of America, such as Will Bonsall, a “Noah” who’s juggling several hundred varieties of potatoes, peas, and radishes as he saves their seeds, or Sylvia Davatz, who is trying to develop a supply of locally grown seeds as the underpinning of a regional food supply. Encouraged by the overwhelming commitment to the seed revolution, Ray fervently proclaims that we can protect what’s left of our seeds and in our revolutionary gardens, develop the heirlooms of the future. She urges us to begin now.

Never content simply to weave charming and compelling stories, Janisse Ray offers a long list of what each of us can do—eat real food, buy organic, grow a garden, try to grow as much food as you consume, save your own seeds—to develop a sustainable lifestyle that fosters biodiversity and a richer and more fruitful relationship between humans and nature. Ray provides a helpful list of organizations and resources to help her readers get started.

“Saving seeds isn’t just good science; it’s a subtler war against the loss of our stories, our history, our connections with each other: ‘Where we live and what we live with is who we are.’ Add to that, what we eat. And share. For readers eager to get started, several how-to chapters offer basic seed-saving tips and lessons on hand-pollinating and controlling the purity of certain seeds. The Seed Underground [is] not a seed-saving manual, but Ray recommends several reliable guides in the resource section at the end of the book. The effect she hopes to have on readers, Ray claims, is modest: ‘My goal is simply to plant a seed. In you.’  But a poet knows full well the power of words, and if a rally could be contained in the pages of a book, The Seed Underground is one, its language by turns incantatory, pleading, rabble-rousing, a challenge to rise to the occasion, to ‘man up or lie there and bleed.’  From the stirring call to reclaim our seeds — ‘developed by our ancestors, grown by them and by us, and collected for use by our citizenry’ — to their irresistible names, like Little White Lady pea, Speckled Cut Short Cornfield bean, Purple Blossom Brown-Striped Half-runner bean and Blue Java pea, Ray boldly seduces us into joining this critical and much-needed revolution.”--Atlanta Journal Constitution

"What a dream of a book-my favorite poet writing about my favorite topic (seeds) and the remarkable underground network of growers who are keeping diversity alive on the face of this earth while putting delicious food on our tables! If books can move you to love, this one does."--Gary Paul Nabhan, author of Chasing Chiles and Restoring America's Food Traditions

"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

"This is an important book that should be required reading for everyone who eats. Big biotech companies are patenting and privatizing seeds, making it illegal for farmers to retain their own crops for replanting. In a series of engaging and lyrical profiles, Ray shows that by the simple and pleasurable act of saving seeds we can wrest our food system from corporate control."--Barry Estabrook author of Tomatoland: How Modern Industrial Agriculture Destroyed Our Most Alluring Fruit

"If I get to feeling a little blue about our prospects, I'm liable to reach down one of Janisse Ray's books just so I can hear her calm, wise, strong voice. This one's my new favorite; a world with her in it is going to do the right thing, I think."--Bill McKibben, founder of

"This is an unmatched treasure trove of information... The Seed Underground is an excellent choice for readers seeking a depiction of the current critical situation in farming all in one, easy-to-read book."--Gene Logsdon, author of A Sanctuary of Trees and Holy Shit

Midwest Book Review-
The Seed Underground: A Growing Revolution to Save Food offers stories of ordinary gardeners who try to save open-pollinated varieties of old-time seeds, and blends their stories with that of Janisse Ray, who watched her grandmother save squash seed and who herself cultivated a garden rich in heirloom varieties and local strengths. It's a story of not just gardening, but harvesting and preserving vintage varieties of food, and will appeal to gardening and culinary collections alike with its powerful account of saving seeds and old varieties on the verge of vanishing.

Nature writer and advocate Ray continues her thoughtful exploration of rural life with this timely look at heirloom seeds. After sharing some startling statistics (in the last 100 years, 94 percent of seed varieties available in America have been lost), she delves into why and how we have become so dependent upon such a small group of seeds and why this lack of diversity poses such a threat. Ray wisely buttresses facts with personal experiences, recounting the development of her own seed-saving habits, then introducing farmers and gardeners across the country who share their often generations-spanning histories of seed preservation. These personal perspectives of homespun habits stand in stark contrast to industrial agriculture, and support Ray’s argument that the American food system is broken and these are the sorts of people who can show us how to fix it. She succeeds beautifully on all counts, evincing a firm grip on science, history, politics, and culture as she addresses matters of great significance to all of us.

The Bookwatch-
The Seed Underground: A Growing Revolution to Save Food
offers stories of ordinary gardeners who try to save open-pollinated varieties of old-time seeds, and blends their stories with that of Janisse Ray, who watched her grandmother save squash seed and who herself cultivated a garden rich in heirloom varieties and local strengths. It's a story of not just gardening, but harvesting and preserving vintage varieties of food, and will appeal to gardening and culinary collections alike with its powerful account of saving seeds and old varieties on the verge of vanishing.

Kirkus Reviews-
A naturalist's rally for the preservation of heirloom seeds amid the agricultural industry's increasing monoculture.  Ray (Drifting into Darien: A Personal and Natural History of the Altamaha River, 2011, etc.) unabashedly proclaims that seeds are "miracles in tiny packages.” Through accounts of her own journey in saving them, as well as facts and anecdotes, she urges readers to consider the practice, in order to avoid genetic erosion, to improve health, to work against a system that determines and limits availability, and more. Without stridence, Ray forthrightly presents her case, advocating for small organic farmers and less corporate dependence. In her most persuasive chapters, she recounts her travels in Georgia, Vermont, Iowa and North Carolina to meet others involved in saving specific varieties. She emphasizes the importance of diversity and also the ways in which preservation becomes a cultural resource; each seed bears a singular history that is often not only regional, but familial. Readers new to the topic will find that Ray's impassioned descriptions skillfully combine discussions on plant genetics and the metaphorical potential of seeds. Alternating between science and personal stories of finding her own farm, attending a Seed Savers Exchange convention, and increasing activism, the author also includes a brief section on basic seed saving and concludes with chapters that confront the idea of the homegrown as merely idyllic. With a nod toward Wendell Berry, this work emphasizes the importance of individuals working as a community. Recommended for experienced gardeners—guerrilla or otherwise—and novices searching for alternatives to processed, corporatized food.

Publishers Weekly, Starred Review-
In this enchanting narrative—part memoir, part botany primer, part political manifesto—Ray, author of the acclaimed Ecology of a Cracker Childhood, and lately returning to her childhood obsession with farming, has a mission: to inspire us with her own life to “understand food at its most elemental... the most hopeful thing in the world. It is a seed. In the era of dying, it is all life.” Ray is inspired by the eccentric, impassioned, generous characters she visits and interviews, gardeners and farmers who populate the quietly radical world of seed savers, from Vermonter Sylvia Davatz, self-proclaimed ‘Imelda Marcos of seeds,’ to the more phlegmatic Bill Keener of Rabin Gap, Ga., who gives Ray two 20-inch cobs of Keener corn, grown by his family for generations, as well as Greasy Back beans and some rotten Box Car Willy tomatoes to save for seed. Despite the book’s occasional tendency toward polemic, avid gardeners will relish recognizing their idiosyncratic, revolutionary sides in its pages, and it’s likely to strike a spark in gardening novices. Even couch potatoes will be enthralled by Ray’s intimate, poetically conversational stories of her encounters with the "lovely, whimsical, and soulful things [that] happen in a garden, leaving a gardener giddy.


  • Winner - Nautilus Gold Book Award : Green Living Category - 2013


Janisse Ray

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 The Seed Underground, 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 on a farm in southern Georgia with her husband, Raven Waters.


October 09, 2015

Janisse Ray at Forest and Field Writing Workshop

895 Catherine T. Sanders Road, Reidsville, GA, 30453 | Janisse Ray
Join Janisse Ray for a long weekend workshop at Red Earth Farm in Reidsville, Georgia from October 9-11. Here’s a chance to write and study writing on a beautiful and authentic farm. Days begin with a country breakfast and proceed into classes on literary nonfiction, metaphor, scenes, and publishing. Includes field trips and all food. Cost to attend ranges with a sliding scale of $275-350.

See all Events by this Author




By Janisse Ray

Janisse Ray, award-winning author of Ecology of a Cracker Childhood and Wild Card Quilt, writes an evocative paean to wildness and wilderness restoration with an extraordinary journey into southern Georgia's Pinhook Swamp.

Pinhook Swamp acts as a vital watershed and wildlife corridor, a link between the great southern wildernesses of Okefenokee Swamp and Osceola National Forest. Together Okefenokee, Osceola, and Pinhook form one of the largest expanse of protected wild land east of the Mississippi River. This is one of America's last truly wild places, and Pinhook takes us into its heart.

Ray comes to know Pinhook intimately as she joins the fight to protect it, spending the night in the swamp, tasting honey made from its flowers, tracking wildlife, and talking to others about their relationship with the swamp. Ray sees Pinhook through the eyes of the people who live there--naturalists, beekeepers, homesteaders, hunters, and locals at the country store. In lyrical, down-home prose, she draws together the swamp's need for restoration and the human desire for wholeness and wildness in our own lives and landscapes.

Available in: Paperback, eBook

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The Seed Underground by Janisse Ray book trailer

Interview with Janisse Ray

Janisse Ray Speaks at Upper Valley Land Trust Celebration!

This I Believe- Janisse Ray

This I Believe- Janisse Ray


The Preserving the Harvest Set (2-Book Bundle)

The Preserving the Harvest Set (2-Book Bundle)

By Carol Deppe

If you're a dedicated gardener you probably know about hot-water-bath canning and pickling, but there are many other ways to preserve the bounty of your harvest so it will last the whole year. This set combines a classic book on food preservation with a new book on gardening that includes some innovative preservation methods.

Unlike most books on putting up food, Preserving Food without Freezing or Canning doesn't assume that you will boil or freeze your vegetables and fruits. It is a book that goes back to the future—celebrating traditional but little-known French techniques for storing and preserving edibles in ways that maximize flavor and nutrition.

Translated into English, and with a new foreword by Deborah Madison, this book deliberately ignores freezing and high-temperature canning in favor of methods that are superior because they are more nutritious and energy efficient. As Eliot Coleman says, "Food preservation techniques can be divided into two categories: the modern scientific methods that remove the life from food, and the natural 'poetic' methods that maintain or enhance the life in food. The poetic techniques produce . . . foods that have been celebrated for centuries and are considered gourmet delights today."

The Resilient Gardener is both a conceptual and a hands-on gardening book, and is suitable for gardeners at all levels of experience. Resilience here is broadly conceived and encompasses a full range of problems, from personal hard times such as injuries, family crises, financial problems, health problems, and special dietary needs (gluten intolerance, food allergies, carbohydrate sensitivity, and a need for weight control) to serious regional and global disasters and climate change. It is a supremely optimistic as well as realistic book about how resilient gardeners and their gardens can flourish even in challenging times and help their communities to survive and thrive through everything that comes their way — from tomorrow through the next thousand years.

Available in: Quantity pack

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The Preserving the Harvest Set (2-Book Bundle)

Carol Deppe

Quantity pack $54.85

Integrated Forest Gardening

Integrated Forest Gardening

By Wayne Weiseman and Daniel Halsey and Bryce Ruddock

Permaculture is a movement that is coming into its own, and the concept of creating plant guilds in permaculture is at the forefront of every farmer’s and gardener’s practice. One of the essential practices of permaculture is to develop perennial agricultural systems that thrive over several decades without expensive and harmful inputs: perennial plant guilds, food forests, agroforestry, and mixed animal and woody species polycultures.

The massive degradation of conventional agriculture and the environmental havoc it creates has never been as all pervasive in terms of scale, so it has become a global necessity to further the understanding of a comprehensive design and planning system such as permaculture that works with nature, not against it. The guild concept often used is one of a “functional relationship” between plants–beneficial groupings of plants that share functions in order to bring health and stability to a plant regime and create an abundant yield for our utilization. In other words, it is the integration of species that creates a balanced, healthy, and thriving ecosystem. But it goes beyond integration. A guild is a metaphor for all walks of life, most importantly a group of people working together to craft works of balance, beauty, and utility.

This book is the first, and most comprehensive, guide about plant guilds ever written, and covers in detail both what guilds are and how to design and construct them, complete with extensive color photography and design illustrations. Included is information on:

•    What we can observe about natural plant guilds in the wild and the importance of observation;
•    Detailed research on the structure of plant guilds, and a portrait of an oak tree (a guild unto itself);
•    Animal interactions with plant guilds;
•    Steps to guild design, construction, and dynamics: from assessment to design to implementation;
•    Fifteen detailed plant guilds, five each from the three authors based on their unique perspectives;
•    Guild project management: budgets, implementation, management, and maintenance.

Readers of any scale will benefit from this book, from permaculture designers and professional growers, to backyard growers new to the concept of permaculture. Books on permaculture cover this topic, but never in enough depth to be replicable in a serious way. Finally, it’s here!

Available in: Paperback

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Integrated Forest Gardening

Wayne Weiseman, Daniel Halsey, Bryce Ruddock

Paperback $45.00

Mad Sheep

Mad Sheep

By Linda Faillace

In the mid-1990s Linda and Larry Faillace had a dream: they wanted to breed sheep and make cheese on their Vermont farm. They did the research, worked hard, followed the rules, and, after years of preparation and patience, built a successful, entrepreneurial business.
But just like that, their dream turned into a nightmare. The U.S. Department of Agriculture told them that the sheep they imported from Europe (with the USDA's seal of approval) carried a disease similar to the dreaded BSE or "mad cow disease." After months of surveillance--which included USDA agents spying from nearby mountaintops and comically hiding behind bushes--armed federal agents seized their flock. The animals were destroyed, the Faillace's lives turned upside down, all so that the USDA could show the U.S. meat industries that they were protecting America from mad cow disease--and by extension, easing fears among an increasingly wary population of meat-eaters.

Mad Sheep is the account of one family's struggle against a bullying and corrupt government agency that long ago abandoned the family farmer to serve the needs of corporate agriculture and the industrialization of our food supply. Similar to the national best-selling book, A Civil Action, readers will cheer on this courageous family in its fight for justice in the face of politics as usual and the implacable bureaucracy of the farm industry in Washington, DC.

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Living at Nature's Pace

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By Gene Logsdon

For decades, Logsdon and his family have run a viable family farm. Along the way, he has become a widely influential journalist and social critic, documenting in hundreds of essays for national and regional magazines the crisis in conventional agri-business and the boundless potential for new forms of farming that reconcile tradition with ecology.

Logsdon reminds us that healthy and economical agriculture must work "at nature's pace," instead of trying to impose an industrial order on the natural world. Foreseeing a future with "more farmers, not fewer," he looks for workable models among the Amish, among his lifelong neighbors in Ohio, and among resourceful urban gardeners and a new generation of defiantly unorthodox organic growers creating an innovative farmers-market economy in every region of the country.

Nature knows how to grow plants and raise animals; it is human beings who are in danger of losing this age-old expertise, substituting chemical additives and artificial technologies for the traditional virtues of fertility, artistry, and knowledge of natural processes. This new edition of Logsdon's important collection of essays and articles (first published by Pantheon in 1993) contains six new chapters taking stock of American farm life at this turn of the century.

Available in: Paperback, eBook

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