The Abundant Life Seed Foundation


Lawrence F. London, Jr. - Venaura Farm - Chapel Hill, NC, USA
mailto:london@sunSITE.unc.edu  http://sunSITE.unc.edu/london
mailto:london@mercury.interpath.net  http://www.interpath.net/~london
Piedmont Online http://sunSITE.unc.edu/piedmont piedmont@sunSITE.unc.edu
Title: The Abundant Life Seed Foundation

The Abundant Life Seed Foundation

Please see the fall '95 and spring '96 issues of Abundant Life's newsletter, Seed Midden.

Mission Statement:

Abundant Life Seed Foundation is a 501 (c)3 non-profit organization in the State of Washington whose purposes are to preserve genetic diversity and support sustainable agriculture through acquiring, propagating, preserving and distributing native and naturalized seed, with specific emphasis on those species not commercially available, including rare and endangered species; providing information on plant and seed propagation; and aiding in the preservation of native and naturalized plants through cultivation.

There are three key ideas in the mission statement to explore further in order to more fully understand the mission of Abundant Life. These are sustainable agriculture, genetic diversity and saving open pollinated, rare and endangered seed, each idea trickling down from the other.

Sustainable Agriculture

Sustainable agriculture is a holistic growing system or a culture. It remembers who or what lives downstream. It nurtures healthy soil and uses knowledge instead of chemicals. Sustainable agriculture attempts to work within and adapt to the ecosystem of the land, putting back what it takes out, limiting foreign inputs. It works in a kind of agreement with the earth that says If we take care of earth, it will take care of us. As well as the practice of healthy farming, it is a return to economic viability for the farmer, the chance for our future generations to become farmers. It is embracing a healthy, nutritious life from beginning to end, starting with what we put in our soil, moving to what we put in our environment, and careful of what we put in our bodies. It is a local seed supply that farmers save from their crops, rather than continually supporting large seed companies who have much to gain from the chemical dependencies of the seeds. Practically, sustainable agriculture includes crop rotation, integrated pest management, cover cropping, composting and water management all within an individual micro climate.

Look at the word agriculture. Agri Culture. Agri- meaning land. Culture -the cultivation of land. When you think of agri culture, what images occur? Perhaps one of The American Gothic, the old farmer couple with the pitchfork in hand and the farm house in the background. Do you imagine a farmer with the dirt from the land he loves, permanently under his nails? Or a family of farmers, teaching their children their timeless art of nurturing the fields and cultivating the soil. The word cultivate means so much more than to grow. It means to prepare and improve the land. To nurture and to foster. To form and refine. It even means to seek the acquaintance or good will of.

Look at the word agribusiness. Agri Business. Where's the culture or the cultivation? Why is it significant that modern growing is referred to as agribusiness and not agriculture? What's behind this seemingly innocuous change in nomenclature? When we lost the use of the term culture, did we also lose the finer points of the definition and the act, such as to nurture and foster? Does modern agribusiness attempt to seek the acquaintance or good will of the land anymore? Sustainable agriculture, in many ways, puts the culture back into agriculture.

Finally, look at the word sustain. Sustainable. Not only does it mean to keep in existence or maintain, it also means to supply with nourishment, to support the spirits or encourage. To put sustainable, agri and culture together, creates a powerful phrase.

In some ways its easier to understand sustainable agriculture by comparing it to agribusiness. Modern agriculture is a decrease in people farming, down from 12% of the population to 2%. It is a loss of half of our topsoil over the last 20 years. It is an increasing use of pesticides, even though we still lose 20% of our crops to pests. It is 2 million acres of land abandoned a year, due to erosion. It is pesticide resistant insects. Simply put, sustainable agriculture is the opposite of all this because it looks at long term solutions to feeding people, by addressing the long term health of the land, the ecosystem and the planet.

Genetic Diversity

The diversity of our cultivated crops is diminishing at a rapid rate. Many people are aware of the disappearing rain forests or the cute, fuzzy endangered species, but they arent usually as cognizant of the diminishing diversity in crops, and consequently arent aware of their limited choices of what to grow or eat. The Food and Agricultural Organization of the UN estimates that since the beginning of this century, about 75% of the genetic diversity of agricultural crops has been lost. Seed Savers Exchange estimates that 90% of the food crops grown at the turn of the century are no longer commercially available. And according to their most recent survey, two-thirds of the almost 5,000 open pollinated varieties available in 1984 disappeared by 1994.

The consequences of this diminished diversity can be potentially severe. When we plant only one variety of a vegetable, we are vulnerable to the weaknesses of that variety. That is, in fact, what happened in Ireland with the potato famine. There were only two varieties of potatoes, both vulnerable to blight, and consequently a million people starved. Lack of genetic biodiversity is as inherently unstable in the agricultural world as it can be in the animal world.

Saving Open Pollinated, Rare and Endangered Seed

When you walk through the grocery store nowadays, see if you can find out the variety of the cabbage you're buying, or the celery you're putting in your salad. You probably don't know and can't find out. Notice their appearances next to each other, their uniformity, their lack of bruises. This is because they are likely hybrids, bred to be thick skinned and ship well. Bred for uniformity in ripening and uniformity in shape for easy, mechanical harvesting. Bred to grow moderately well, whether you plant them in Oregon or in Florida. Hybrids have been created for many reasons practical to agribusiness, but less necessary in sustainable agriculture, and not even desirable for backyard gardening. In contrast, gardeners select vegetables for taste and tenderness. The farthest they need to transport the veggies is from garden to kitchen. There is growing evidence that open pollinated, heirloom varieties that have been traditionally grown by gardeners, and passed down through generations are not only tastier, and more interesting, but more nutritious as well. Open pollinated seed that has been grown and harvested for generations in a region or micro climate becomes adapted to that area and becomes stronger generation after generation.

Besides modern hybrids being grown for traits unnecessary and undesirable for backyard gardening, hybrid seeds are sterile, or dont reproduce true to type. That means that gardeners and farmers have a perpetual reliance on seed companies. The tradition of planting and saving seed is completely interrupted by both the physical impossibility of saving viable seed and by the legal impossibility of saving the seed. Many hybrid seeds are patented, and it is illegal to reuse those seeds without buying them again.

Many of the seeds of Abundant Life are heirloom seeds. Heirlooms are open pollinated seeds (non hybrid) that have been passed down through generations. They contain pockets of genetic information, and they carry pockets of cultural and historic information. They are the gardeners equivalent of great grandma's hutch or grampa's glasses. They often have the same historic flavor of an old building or similar quirky stories as your grandparents. There are names like the Cherokee Trail of Tears bean, tucked into the clothing and hair and belt of the the Cherokee Indians as they were marched and forced onto the reservation. There are the the Banana Legs tomato and the Moon and Stars watermelon. A rich history, and a tasty something to eat live within these seeds.

At the core of Abundant Life is saving seed. We have a farm where we grow many varieties and save and make the seed available. We also have a Seed Growers Network. During the season of 1995 we grew about 160 varieties at the farm, about the same again through our network of growers. We feel if these varieties are not only to survive, but to thrive, we must grow them and make them available to farmers and gardeners. We distribute our seeds through a sales catalog and also through the World Seed Fund, in which seeds are distributed for free around the world to those in need.

We are moving more toward education about seed saving, trying to demonstrate the importance of not merely buying and planting endangered seed, but maintaining and saving that seed season after season, generation after generation.

We Need Your Help

We feel that we are only scratching the surface of what needs to be grown, saved and distributed to a wider group of people. We have a beautiful farm that is productive, but has a small staff who are overworked. Unfortunately, there are more and more seeds that we feel need to be planted and preserved. Just saving seeds and putting them in a seed bank does not insure their survival. Seeds are alive, and as they get a little older they become a little less viable every year, until they are no longer viable at all. We have an archive collection of seeds, but that is only valuable as a living, breathing organism. If seed samples are not planted and rotated through the collection, it becomes a useless group of dead seeds.

We grow out these seeds and make them available to you through our catalog and seed sales. However, seed sales alone are not enough to support this essential work. If we are to blossom into the nurturing, thriving organization we know Abundant Life can be, we need your help.

How can you support Abundant Life
and the important work it is doing for everyone?

Become a member. When you join the foundation for $30 or more, you support growing out these invaluable, rare seeds. You are making a small contribution toward sustainable agriculture and a varied and stable genetic diversity. Your money will help grow out varieties that may not be commercially available anywhere.

When you become a member, you receive the Abundant Life newsletter, called the Seed Midden three times a year. We include seed saving tips, updates about our farm and foundation, stories about interesting seeds and articles about topics we think are important and of interest. You are among the first to receive the new Abundant Life catalog each year, and we send you a packet of wildflower seeds for your region in appreciation. Primarily, you receive the goodwill of the staff, the planet, and the pleasure of knowing you're making a contribution toward the preservation of the life and values you hold dear.

Yearly memberships are as follows, though no one will be denied membership because of lack of funds:

Give a membership to a friend. Is there someone you know who loves to garden? Or is concerned for our environment? People enjoy gift memberships and like knowing they are contributing positively to the environment. They receive all the benefits of above.

Choose a project or program youd like to support. Growing rare varieties organically is one of the most expensive elements of Abundant Life. It's difficult to say how much these seeds are worth, because how do you put a price on an irreplaceable item? You can choose to support the farm with a single, substantial donation. There are many projects, some of them onetime, that are waiting for a donor with a specific interest. Inquire about something that fits your interests.

Join the Seed Growers Network. Do you know about growing for seed? Have you been growing Great Grammas mystery bean for 20 years? Whether you grow professionally or as a hobby, if you know the specifics of seed saving and you want to contribute to biodiversity, you can become a grower for Abundant Life. If you are in the infancy stages of seed saving, Abundant Life has some resources to recommend to help you with the details.

Donate to the World Seed Fund. Seeds are sent around the world for free to impoverished communities. Help a community feed a child. For every $10 donated, 20 packets of seeds are sent. Or, with every $25 you donate, a family of six could plant a garden and eat for a year.

Volunteer. Often, time is the most valuable thing you have. If you don't have the time, your financial support is essential. But if you can't support Abundant Life financially, or if you live nearby, or have a useful long distance skill, we appreciate your time. A healthy nonprofit needs support of volunteers. We could use people with computer skills , native plants background, historical seed interests, organization or people skills, writing skills, and of course, any seedy people. We can work on long distance projects if you're creative and resourceful. We'd like to help people design projects they can be responsible for.

Mention us in your will.

Donate Gifts InKind. Another computer or related equipment (Macintosh, preferably). Farm supplies. Related books. Other?

Educate. Spread the word. Tell others about us and where to find us.

Buy Abundant Life, open pollinated non hybrid, untreated seeds. Environmental issues are gaining prominence because of principally minded people such as yourself. You project your voice by placing your dollars with organizations and products you can morally and ethically support. Buying our seeds means you support a sustainable agriculture, with a locally grown seed source. You support putting the culture back into agriculture. How you vote with your dollar speaks a thousand words. Do you vote for a living soil, ecosystem and planet or do you vote for uniform, chemically supported crops growing from a lifeless soil and dying planet?

To support The Abundant Life Seed Foundation, send your donations and correspondence to:

Abundant Life Seed Foundation
930 Lawrence St.
PO Box 772
Port Townsend, WA  98368
Phone: 360 385-5660
All Donations are Tax Deductible.
To receive a catalog, send a $2 donation to the above address.