Farmers and gardeners have long appreciated
a wide variety of plants and have nurtured them for meals, healing, and exchange. But diversity too often has been surrendered to monocultures of fields and spirits, predisposing much of modern agriculture to uniformity and, consequently, vulnerability. Today it is primarily at the individual level—such as growing and saving a strange old bean variety or a curious-looking gourd—that any lasting conservation actually takes place.
As scientists grapple with the erosion of genetic diversity of crops and their wild relatives, old-timey farmers and gardeners continue to save, propagate, and pass on folk varieties and heirloom seeds. Virginia Nazarea focuses on the role of these seedsavers in the perpetuation of diversity. She thoughtfully examines the framework of scientific conservation and argues for the merits of everyday conservation—one that is beyond programmatic design. Whether considering small-scale rice and sweet potato farmers in the Philippines or participants in the Southern Seed Legacy and Introduced Germplasm from Vietnam in the American South, she explores roads not necessarily less traveled but certainly less recognized in the conservation of biodiversity.
Through characters and stories that offer a wealth of insights about human nature and society, Heirloom Seeds and Their Keepers helps readers more fully understand why biodiversity persists when there are so many pressures for it not to. The key, Nazarea explains, is in the sovereign spaces seedsavers inhabit and create, where memories counter a culture of forgetting and abandonment engendered by modernity. A book about theory as much as practice, it profiles these individuals, who march to their own beat in a world where diversity is increasingly devalued as the predictability of mass production becomes the norm.
Heirloom Seeds and Their Keepers offers a much-needed, scientifically researched perspective on the contribution of seedsaving that illustrates its critical significance to the preservation of both cultural knowledge and crop diversity around the world. It opens new conversations between anthropology and biology, and between researchers and practitioners, as it honors conservation as a way of life.