Thursday, December 6, 2012

The Seed Underground by Janisse Ray

To prepare properly for my Thanksgiving, I decided to find another gardening book. It required extensive searching through Pima County library’s catalogue to find a book that would hold my interest over the holiday. All of Thanksgiving morning I was painstakingly cooking a turkey while preparing candied yams, mashed potatoes and two purple sweet potato pies (including the gluten-free crusts) from scratch. Once company had left and I was finally able to relax I was at last rewarded with another kind of meal I could really dig into: Gardening stories.

This book was a great read!

The Seed Underground: a growing revolution to save food is a narrative told by Janisse Ray which includes her experiences in seeking to save vegetable varieties. Many of her chapters include the experiences of other farmers and food growers seeking to save vegetable varieties from extinction. Additionally, the book includes some helpful information about seed saving, growing specific vegetables, and some very insightful thoughts about how the business of vegetable growing and seeds are treated within the United States.

From the previous knowledge I had gained while reading Seed to Seed and Breed Your Own vegetable Varieties, I only needed to skim the The Seed Underground chapters that  are devoted to planting, growing, and saving seeds to find anything I may have not already learned. The intention of this book, however, is not to provide helpful gardening information. The real substance of the book is gleaned from Ray’s narrative - which explains how vegetable varieties are being taken from us and what individual gardeners are doing about it. As I read the experiences of each gardener, I was able to relate with them, as I too seek for the best veggie varieties to grow in my area and work to adapt my plants for my climate and needs.

Of all the stories Janisse told, I related most to the Ms. Fishman, who the author called the “Sweet Potato Queen.  Ms. Fishman had saved many varieties of sweet potatoes to both preserve the varieties and in order to feed her family. She noted that she didn’t grow many other vegetables – like okra – because her family didn’t enjoy eating them. Additionally, I thought it was neat to read about the gentleman who has over 50 varieties of Jerusalem Artichoke. What saddened me was to read about how many different varieties of vegetable are being lost to the world – often forever. My heart really went out to Ray when she talked to a tomato grower about her problems with growing tomatoes in a southern climate and when she felt perplexed that publically funded universities were researching hybrid tomato varieties which in turn support the profits of private companies.

All in all I really enjoyed Janisse Ray’s The Seed Underground. It is definitely worth a read and worth applying what this book seeks to inspire its readers to do – to save endangered seed from extinction and sustain seed varieties in your area - so that when the day comes that others want to control your life you can say, “No thanks- I’ll choose to keep my freedom by growing my own food!”

9 comments:

  1. I have been wanting to do some seed saving in the garden, but simply run out of time every season...your book inspires me to make time next season...a new thing to add to my knowledge base...I look forward to it.

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    1. I'm glad to hear that this will inspire you to do some more seed saving! If you get a chance to read Janisse Ray's book I'm sure you'll really enjoy it. (=

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  2. So many varieties have been sacrificed on the alter of corporate greed, so it's up to us to save what we can for future farmers and home growers. It's frightening how much is taken off our plates, literally, every day. Thanks for the post. :-D

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    1. You're welcome, Kris - and thanks so much for the reply!

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  3. Hi, i echo Kris above, it happened to your countries and we are in it now. Our traditional varieties and biodiversity are dwindling because the corporate group has all the money to pay for everything, and before we know it, our resources are gone! It is sad that we didn't learn much from the developed countries, who are now the heart of these multinational corporations.

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    1. Thank you for your response, Kalantikan. It is a difficult thing to be told what seed you can grow and when. This is why it is important for us to continue to grow our own native, open-pollinated seed.

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  4. Jay - This is the second time you've beat me to the post on something I've already drafted but not yet published. What a wonderful book this was!

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    1. Haha! Great minds think alike. Make sure you publish it. I'd love to read more about your thoughts. (=

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  5. Hello,

    I recently finished reading this book as well, and was actually already on the path transitioning from growing vegetables to growing seeds. Since reading this I have become inspired to track down disappearing varieties (hopefully along with their stories) and grow them out to preserve them. I'd like to archive not only the seeds but their cultural path as well. If anyone out there has any seeds with stories or any leads, I would so appreciate speaking with you or hearing from you via email. Thanks, and I hope this comment doesn't violate any rules here!
    Hannah Davidson

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Dear Gardening Friends,
I look forward to learning more about gardening with you. Your comments help me recognize that gardening is a life-long journey.

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