Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Touring An Heirloom Seed Farm In The Hudson Valley

For the second year in a row, I was lucky enough to snag a ticket to the summer tour of the Hudson Valley Seed Company {formerly Hudson Valley Seed Library}. This is a summer highlight for me as it's such a thrill to see where my seeds start and hear stories of how they have thrived for generations before me.

Hudson Valley Seed Company began as the first true seed library.  Which is exactly as it sounds.  But instead of books, they would lend out seeds.  The purpose was to keep alive seed varieties and the surrounding cultures.

Did you know that approximately 94% of the planet's seed varieties are now extinct?  Gone.  Forever.

Seeds are life.  Literally and figuratively.  

Literally because they contain everything needed to being a life.  A plant, a tree, a crop, all begin with a single seed.

And figuratively because seeds are stories.  They are culture.  More than just a meal, they are the rituals and songs and seasons around that meal.  Seeds are signs of hope for a good harvest, security that food will keep communities fed, and flavors unique to specific regions.

Small companies that center around saving the remaining seeds have a special place in my heart.  They know that even the nicest grocery stores stock nothing based on flavor.  Your stores stock products based on aesthetics and shelf life.  But home gardeners and small scale farmers are willing to risk growing an ugly tomato or an unusual squash or a rare bean because the flavors are beyond compare to anything available in a grocery store.  And because when those old, rare varieties because part of our daily lives, the new layers of culture and stories build.

On top of getting a great tour again from Ken and Doug, they added in a new layer this year.  Rowan White, an Indigenous Seed Steward and member of the Mohawk tribe, joined the tour.  She shared rich and powerful stories of seeds that added the most beautiful new layer to the experience.  I felt so inspired listening to Ken, Doug, and Rowan share their various perspectives of seed farming!

Seed farming is so fascinating in that you're not farming for food.  While they do taste the fruits and veggies during the years of trials to get the best product possible, in the end, they are farming for seeds.  And most people don't realize that seeds {with a few exceptions} are taken from what we would classify as over-ripe fruit.  Fruits that are beyond the eating stage because they are too big and too everything to be tasty and tender.  

Years of growing trials take place with each new seed that the company tries out.  Years spent looking for consistency in color and flavor and shape and durability.  It can take five, 10, or more years before a seed is ready to reach the mass market in some cases.

Hudson Valley Seed Company does such a spectacular job of incorporating their farm into the land.  They honor and respect the surrounding natural landscape and the life that lives there.  It's refreshing to see a farm that is able to work within an existing ecosystem instead of claiming all of the land purely for themselves.

Another fun part of the tour is getting to see three methods of see collecting.  A wet method of collecting tomato seeds.  Which are collected, fermented, and dried.

A very simple method of collecting lettuce seeds that is nothing more than thrashing or stepping on seed pods to release the seeds within.

And a third method that involves a DIY project and a shop vac.  All very easy to scale up or down for the home gardener.

We also met an artist who uses medical tools to carve into tiny seeds.  I can't imagine picking such a tiny medium to focus your art on.  But it was really touching when someone asked if he signs his work and he firmly said NO.  Seeds should not be signed or patented or claimed by one person or group.  They are life-giving and for the world to share in.  

Another beautiful day spent down in the Hudson Valley talking about growing plants and eating food and admiring the lush landscape!

Thank you for the hospitality and lessons, Hudson Valley Seed Company!  Can't wait to see your farm again next summer!


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