By Julie Johnson
Appalachia’s growers are encouraging crop diversity and saving heirloom vegetable varieties from extinction by creating a network of seed saving and swapping.
Heirloom fruits and vegetables are often far tastier than their supermarket cousins and express characteristics that have been developed by generations of natural growth in backyard gardens and small farms.
From the yellow-striped Green Zebra tomato to the Dark Pot Liquor butterbean to the crimson Bloody Butcher corn, heirloom varieties deliver diversity in agriculture and allow each grower to bring something unique to market.
There are many organizations and seed swap events in and around Appalachia that promote planting heirloom varieties and help growers save and share their seeds after harvest.
The Southern Seed Legacy (SSL), based out of the University of Georgia’s Anthropology department, has numerous research farms and operates a program called “Pass Along Southern Seed” (PASS.) For a $15 annual membership, you can order any of 130 heirloom seeds from their seed bank. Once successfully grown, you must keep one-third of the next generation for yourself, pass one-third to another grower and return one-third to SSL.
Check in your area for seed swaps near you.