PLANTING THE SEED
Ever since last spring, when Garden Design Magazine asked me to contribute 3 kitchen garden designs based on heirlooms for a future issue, I’ve been thinking about seeds. The designs were to be part of a larger issue, which focused entirely on heirlooms: heirloom plants, interviews with heirloom gardeners including Peter Hatch, William Woys Weaver, Amy Goldman-Fowler, and how to plant heirlooms in a kitchen garden.
Naturally, I responded with a hearty “YES” because it was a great honor to be asked. I also knew very little about what constituted an heirloom verses an open-pollinated seed, other than what I grew in my garden. Quite honestly, I was not an active voice in the opposition against Monsanto, yet was totally appalled at what I did know. Perhaps by offering a few inspirational garden designs, with ideas on what open-pollinated varieties to grow, might help the cause.
As a writer, I am always curious to learn more and share with others. At my garden lectures, I am often asked where to buy seeds, since I once was part of The Cook’s Garden seed catalog, and sourced mostly European heirlooms that had more flavor and variety than what was available in the typical U.S. catalogs. I always advocate to support smaller, family-owned seed companies, such as Wild Garden Seeds, Hudson Valley Seed, and Seed Savers, and Baker Creek, who offer seeds that are grown locally and not connected with Seminis, the seed company giant owned by Monsanto.
The politics of seeds is just on the brink of a larger awareness, and I am convinced that we all need to learn more about where our seeds are grown, how we can save our own, and support open-pollinated varieties. We also need to pay attention to what we are putting into our mouths that is linked back to GMOs, because eating is no longer simple – unless we grow all of our own food. Corn and soy products are in almost everything.
Planting the Seed
I’ve begun writing a new book, tentatively called The Complete Heirloom Garden, and look forward to a journey that includes in-depth discussions with people who are deeply committed to saving heirloom and open-pollinated seeds.
I always start my writing process by reading as much as I can, and the book of the month is Modified by Caitlin Shetterly. With grit and grace, Shetterly traveled across the U.S., and to Europe, to find out more about GMOs, but rather than using an angry voice, she writes in a personal, loving way, weaving together stories with detailed interviews that reflect both sides of the issue, although the message is clear. It took five years of research, and she outlines a comprehensive discovery of exactly how GMOs and biotech companies are actively disrupting the health of our bodies, of nature, and the earth. While they claim that pesticides are reduced, the truth is that even more pesticides and herbicides are being used to combat nature.
I know which side I am on. Early in the book, just as she is embarking on her first interview with a biotech scientist, she writes: “…a [writer] friend had told me that he thinks it’s better to be totally ignorant as a writer because if you don’t know anything, you get better stuff.” She tested this theory throughout the book, but as she learned more and became a feisty warrior, she also learned to listen and observe. She brings the reader into the controversy with a fair discussion and avoids spelling out a doomsday conclusion, yet had me on the edge of my seat ready to fight the good fight.
As I write The Complete Heirloom Garden, I will continue to focus on the best-tasting vegetables, the most fragrant herbs and flowers, and showcase the lost varieties of fruit, since all deserve a place in the garden and at the table.
But I will also learn, along with you, through research and interviews, and at the end of this process, I’ll have a book, plus be better informed about why heirlooms and open-pollinated seeds are the key to our future. Join me and we’ll become better stewards of our own gardens, of the landscape, and of the future of gardening by simply being more attentive to what we grow and why.