Saturday, February 11, 2012


Me saving mouse melon seed
Time flies... two weeks ago now, I went to the Washington Gardener Seed Exchange, and Our Fearless Leader Jon Traunfeld was there to speak (and get some seeds).  Jon said he'd told his 17-year-old son about the event, that there would be 60 or so people trading seeds, and got the reply, "Wow, is it a subculture?"

And... well, yeah, it is.  I sometimes feel that I'm surrounded by Seed People all the time, but actually we are quite a tiny sprig in the broader landscape, those of us who save and trade seeds, and the larger group who plant and appreciate them (which is still not all gardeners; plenty of people deal only in plants).  And we don't all do it for the same reason.  Heck, each of us doesn't do it for a single reason; often it varies per plant (or day, or whimsical fleeting thought).

I wrote a review over on Grow It Eat It recently about a book called The Earth Knows My Name: Food, Culture, and Sustainability in the Gardens of Ethnic Americans, which I really liked and highly recommend.  I do admit to being a little twitchy about the title -- no, not the "sustainability" part, though having this comic appear while I was reading it made me laugh.  It's that I always read "Ethnic Americans" as "Ethnic-Americans" and, you know, I am a Non-Ethnic-American, being English-Scottish-Welsh-Irish-Dutch-German-Swedish-American with no immigrants later than the early 20th century and no significant cultural ties other than reading lots of British mysteries and watching Doctor Who.  (Doctor Who is not "ethnic."  Though it does constitute a subculture.)  I know what Klindienst meant (assuming the title is hers and not the publisher's); it's the "sharing a common and distinctive culture" definition - the Non-Culturally-Amnesiac-Americans.  I have a sufficiently privileged and confusing background to not have to worry about being defined by my culture, if anyone can figure out what it is besides Twitchy-Snarky-American, but there's also a thread of unreasonable jealousy in there toward people who actually do have a defined heritage that, for one thing, gives them stuff to plant and cook that they know their ancestors planted and cooked and that are more distinctive than, say, beets.  Not that I don't love beets.

Where was I?  Oh yes.  One of the gardeners Klindienst interviewed, an Italian-American woman named Maska (because everyone in her family has Russian names), was showing all the great plants she had in her garden, and Klindienst asked her if she had any heirloom tomatoes, and then immediately knew it was a stupid question:  yes, of course she did, but she didn't think of them that way.  They were tomatoes grown from seeds that she'd saved and replanted, that had history clinging to them along with the mucky stuff you have to ferment off before drying, but they were named after the people who'd given them to her or by their culinary characteristics, to accommodate no one but herself.  In other words, without the intermediary of the Seed Savers Exchange catalog or the formally-arranged trading events or the tomato tasting festival with little cups of forty supposedly different varieties.  She saved seeds because that's what you DO, although saving money and preserving culture were part of the equation as well (though the latter is probably expressed better as "these are good tomatoes and I want to keep eating them").

So, these are the Seed People, a subculture with room for those who don't know they're part of it, along with those who are kind of hyper-aware and more-heirloomy-than-thou (yeah, I've done it too, though I'd get thrown out of a lot of groups for planting hybrids).  A Big High Tunnel (tents would block too much light).  I have to say I save seeds (and I'm just getting started at it, really) mostly because it's fun, it keeps my seed budget slightly lower, and it allows me to be pushy about mouse melons.  (You really ought to grow them, you know.)  I have written before about being far too distractible to be good at preservation; I always want something new (or old-new), not the same thing year after year, but that doesn't mean I couldn't save the seed and pass it on to someone else.  The other side of being the Purple-Carrot-Chaser is that I'm willing to try anything (see this post on growing "exotics" - which is a much more twitch-inducing word than "ethnic").  And I guess not having a distinctive cultural heritage means I'm not tied to growing anything in particular (not that anyone should be); the world is my oyster plant.  (Though I have tried salsify and am not sure it's worth it.)

And oh, crap, I have a bunch of seeds to start today, and a map to draw, and a class to plan.  Get moving.

1 comment:

  1. Ohmigosh, another kindred spirit! I thought this post was plantastic!