People sign up to be part of a seed lending program after a presentation from Joe Simcox and Ben Cohen during the Tamarack District Library “Sow It Forward” program.
— Daily News/Lori Hansen
Starts Seed Program
Published: March 24, 2016 | By Lori Hansen
LAKEVIEW — While libraries are renowned for lending books, the Tamarack District Library in Lakeview is starting a Seed Library this spring.
The kick-off for this new program was last Saturday at a “Sow It Forward” program featuring a Michigan expert in saving diverse heirloom seeds, along with a special appearance by a world-wide botanical seed saver.
Ben Cohen, owner of Small House Farm near Midland, and Joseph Simcox, a botanical explorer and co-founder of the Rare Vegetable Seed Consortium, spoke to 40-plus people coming from Midland, Six Lakes, Cedar Springs and other nearby towns. The crowd consisted of some from the Lakeview Community Gardens, but also longtime farmers, those interested gardening, natural crafters and teachers.
“The program was a collaborative effort with the Community Garden, in its second year, and we were hoping to draw 15 to 20 people,” said Mary Russell, operations supervisor. “We are pleased to see so many people who are willing to participate in gardening, and in the seed lending program.”
Cohen said reasons to save seeds include for a hobby, to save money and to build community.
“You have a crop of beans you like, you share your seeds with your neighbor, and then they get to enjoy them, and then they share them, and everyone can come together to share what they’ve got,” Cohen said.
“But with seed sharing, we also maintain diversity,” he added, citing that 90 percent of the world’s foods today come from only 30 variety of plants.
“Four kinds of plants—corn, rice, soy and wheat—provide 50 percent of all the world’s foods,” Cohen said. “We are in danger of becoming monolithic. What happens when one crop fails, such as the Irish potato famine or the Michigan tomato blight of 2014?”
Cohen presented ways to save and store seeds, and benefits of having diversity among plants, while Simcox explained how people have become victims of convenience.
“We are dependent on someone else taking care of us,” said Simcox as he made a stop-over between presentations in California to New York. “Sure, I eat at McDonald’s, too. It’s convenient. It’s a reality of society.”
The problem, he explained, is consumers get stuck with big companies taking care of them, which leads to the descent of agriculture.
“We are losing traditions of our parents and grandparents, we are losing varieties of plants because we no longer see the need to grow them,” he said. “Most people eat globs and globs of meat when we should be eating lots and lots of veggies, and we need to be able to change the addiction to having the big companies take care of us.”
He presented how melons are grown in California, picked and shipped to a warehouse, sorted at a distribution site and shipped again to a local grocery store.
“They aren’t grown for flavor, they are grown to be easily transported. And then we get used to the taste, and think that’s good enough. But then we miss out on what a really good melon ought to taste like. And if we grew it in our own backyard, we could taste it. But we don’t want that, we want convenience,” Simcox said.
He shared how a century ago, more than 9,000 varieties of apples were grown, compared to only 800 in present day.
“We’ve lost 1,000 kinds of apples in only 100 years,” he noted.
At the completion of the two-hour program, Cohen distributed packages of saved seeds to be grown.
“I have always gardened, but am hoping to help teach my grandchildren and great-grandchildren more,” said Pat Cole of Six Lakes. “And now (with the new seeds) I can help keep something going.”
Participants were given seeds with the responsibility, after harvest, to save half of the seeds and return to Cohen.
“The other half you can plant again, you can share with a friend or a neighbor, you can help keep them going,” Cohen said.
Jeanne Calkins, a school administrator from Midland, said she attended to have seeds to share with a school garden project.
“Last year was the first year for the school’s community garden, and I thought we could try adding seed-saving to it,” Calkins said.
Jackie Bissonette, of the Lakeview Community Garden, worked with Russell to bring the program to the library.
“We hope to continue the garden and help to continue with a variety of fruits and vegetables, and this also helped the community,” Bissonette said. “It was a win-win.”
Correspondent Lori Hansen is a Greenville-area resident.midity.
Lakeview Daily News