What comes to mind when you think of “local food”? For many people, this term conjures images of farmers markets brimming with colorful veggies or neighbors tending to plots in community gardens. Some may think of the benefits local food has for sustainability, environmental health, and climate change. Still others focus on the nourishment and wellbeing for their families that fresh, organically grown food provides.
These are all important and relevant pieces of the local food picture. But something vital is missing: local seeds. In fact, locally grown seeds are the foundation to a healthy, localized food system. This is not a new idea. For millennia, cultures around the world have farmed sustainably by saving their own seeds. Like so many ancient traditions, this practice has been largely forgotten in our modern lives and often gets overlooked by local food proponents.
But a new awareness is sprouting. People everywhere are connecting with seed saving and reintegrating these timeless traditions into their community food systems. Take for example the seed library movement, which has spread like bindweed across the United States in recent years. Hundreds of communities now steward their own growing collections of local, freely available seeds. Located in public libraries and other common spaces, these community-supported initiatives represent a new and exciting evolution of the local food movement—one that views seeds as the source of true resilience and community health.
There are many reasons that local seeds are being embraced by local food advocates. For one thing, seeds that are saved and replanted each season adapt to their environment and yield healthier, hardier plants. This in turn makes our food systems more resilient and diverse. When small farmers save their own seed or source it locally (rather than from big seed companies whose seeds are grown thousands of miles away) their crops perform better and require less inputs such as toxic pesticides and expensive fertilizers. Rejoining the ritual of seed saving benefits us spiritually as well. When we connect with nature in this intimate and co-creative process, we nourish our souls along with our bodies.
Those that want to begin their seed saving journey can visit their nearest seed library to learn practical skills or get involved as a volunteer. Organizations such as Seed Savers Exchange, Native Seeds/SEARCH, and the Rocky Mountain Seed Alliance are great sources for information (and seeds!) to get started. Similar organizations and seed saving groups exist in other regions, so be sure to explore your local resources.
So the next time you think of “local food”, remember that it all starts with locally grown, saved, and shared seeds. Better yet, start growing and saving your own! You’ll be connecting with an elegant and ancient tradition—and leading the way for a vibrant, healthy, and delicious future.