Seed Banking

In the face of climate change and energy challenges, what creative ways are you finding to forge healthy and durable lives and communities? Send submissions — five hundred words or fewer — to Orion, 187 Main Street, Great Barrington, MA 01230, or via e-mail to Submissions become property of Orion.

“Old-timey” is what my grandpa used to call the juicy tomatoes that he grew in his garden in western Pennsylvania. As a child romping through and snacking on his vegetables, I was unaware of the value of the genetics that my grandpa was preserving in the seeds he saved and planted. Nor did I know that, after my grandpa’s death in 1987, my uncle continued to grow and save seeds from those same tomatoes. But then, a few months ago, a small packet arrived in the mail: my grandpa’s “old-timey” tomato seeds that my uncle had been growing and saving all these years. What a gift, and a perfect seed to add to the growing collection in my community’s local seed bank.

I began the seed bank as a project at Red Gate Farm (, an educational farm in western Massachusetts. I was concerned that the art of seed saving was being lost in a time when it is needed most. As the world’s seed supply is increasingly owned by multinational companies, farmers and gardeners are losing control of the seeds available to them. Vegetable varieties that were valued for their superior flavor are being replaced by varieties that can withstand traveling across the country, or across the world, in today’s global food market.

The seed bank reverses this trend by teaching people to save the seeds from their favorite vegetable and flower varieties that grow in their own backyards. Just like those from my grandpa’s “old-timey” tomatoes, seeds are saved from fruits and vegetables because they taste delicious, or perhaps grow particularly well in our unique New England soils and climate. The seeds are then collected and stored in the seed bank and made available to the community. Some seeds are sold to the public, while others are distributed free to seed bank members on the condition that they will grow, save, and return to the bank double the amount of seed taken.

In the seed-bank model, no one farm or garden is responsible for growing all of the seeds for the community. Instead, with many different growers saving just one or two varieties, the risk of seed contamination by cross-pollination can be minimized, and a crop failure in one garden does not jeopardize the whole seed supply.

By providing our community with quality, locally grown seeds, the Red Gate Farm Seed Bank takes “eating local” to an entirely new level. It preserves heirloom vegetable and flower varieties, and hardy New England favorites, that may otherwise disappear. It teaches farmers and gardeners how to save seeds, a knowledge that is quickly being forgotten. And it provides a valuable opportunity for our community to work together to create a local, sustainable food system.


  1. I would like to know more about local seed banks. I live within a few miles of two seed companies and have always used them. I used to have a seed search company years ago but what about local seed banking? Is it useful? Is it doable? How do I get started? Thanks,

  2. Saving seeds is a basic survival skill that used to be taught to children before they could talk. I followed my mother and grandparents into the garden where I learned it all. The churches and school should become local nursuries where the community can get gardens starts and seeds …. heirloom plant sales have replaced candy bars as school fund raisers, check out Saving Seeds at

  3. I’ve read that during the Civil War, southerners kept seeds, it was a tradition, and that’s partially what kept them alive in those years after- they could plant a harvest to come.

  4. Our horticulture program in our island school has begun saving seeds and also finding old varieties of apples that we are grafting onto rootstock in our school orchard. Kids feel more connected to the place they live when they realize that grafting was an art and science that may have been practiced by their great granfather.

    Islesboro, Maine

  5. Seeds are very important, what would we do without seeds……we would not have any of the marvelous plants we have today without seeeds and seed farming just think of all the things that comes from seeds

Commenting on this item is closed.