And then, one day, a carrot came up just as the little boy had known it would.
from The Carrot Seed
written by Ruth Krauss
illustrated by Crocket Johnson
Harper and Row, 1945
My grandmother saved her seeds from year to year and planted her whole backyard, part of her front yard, and that little grassy strip between the gravel on her driveway with vegetables and flowers. I don’t know what happened to her seeds when she passed away. I’m pretty sure neither of my aunts took them. I know my mom didn’t. So they and their progeny are lost to obscurity.
On a grand scale, forward thinkers devised a way to protect the world’s food crops from falling into oblivion. In 1996, the first Global Plan of Action for conserving and using crop diversity was adopted by 150 countries. In 2004, the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture was put into place to help support this global system in a sustainable way. The Crop Trust was born and its Seed Vault opened in 2008.
The Svalbard Global Seed Vault houses seeds of over one million crop varieties from over 5,000 species. The seeds arrive from countries the world over and are catalogued and stored deep inside a mountain halfway between Norway and the North Pole in a $9,000,000 structure. The permafrost, thick rock, and low humidity ensure the safety of the seeds, even if the Vault loses power.
From their website, “The Crop Trust is the only organization whose sole mission is to ensure humanity conserves and makes available the world’s crop diversity for future food security.” https://www.croptrust.org/about-us/
The Crop Trust and the International Rice Research Institute signed a long-term partnership agreement in 2018. In it, the Crop Trust agrees to fully fund the essential operations of the IRRI genebank forever. From their website https://www.irri.org/our-work “IRRI works toward finding solutions for the world’s biggest challenges and contributing to the UN Sustainable Development Goals.” They fight hunger, poverty, and inequality while working toward responsible consumption and production, climate recovery, and good health and well being.
Besides working with the IRRI and governments around the world to develop crop conservation strategies, the Crop Trust studies how we can sustain ourselves in light of population growth and the changing climate. Their Crop Wild Relatives Project is a global long-term effort to collect, conserve, and use wild relatives of cultivated crops to develop food crops that will thrive during the changes our climate is undergoing.
Crop diversity ensures food security, helps adapt to our changing climate, reduces environmental degradation, protects nutritional security, reduces poverty, and ensures sustainable agriculture. The Svalbard Global Seed Vault is an insurance policy of sorts, to back up the many seed banks all over the world serving to ensure crop diversity.
My daughter sent me one of the most interesting sources for seeds. It’s not a seed bank or a warehouse. It’s a seed lending library. Located in the Concord, MA Library’s Fowler Branch, patrons are encouraged to check out a packet of seeds (5 packet limit) and grow them. They encourage, but don’t insist the growers reserve a couple of their best plants, allow them to “go to seed” and return their harvested seeds back to the library. This will help the seed lending library become self-sustaining. https://concordlibrary.org/resources/concord-seed-lending-library
Another website lists seed lending libraries from all over the world. Unfortunately, while over 80 locations are listed, you can’t search by location to easily find one close to you. https://www.seedsoftimemovie.com/find_seed_libraries It’s an interesting browse, though, and while you’re there, you can watch the Seeds of Time documentary.
During the Cold War years of the 1950s, my dad thought it would be a good idea to dig a shelter in our backyard, just in case. He didn’t do it. I’ve seen enough apocalypse movies and read enough books to know that if someone dropped a massive bomb, I would not have to worry. I’d be dead along with everyone important to me, probably.
But even if the ice melts and sea levels rise, the Global Seed Vault, at 426 feet above sea level, is high enough to be out of the water, even in a worst case scenario. And the permafrost will keep the seeds cold.
Seed samples sent to the Vault stay in possession of the country that sent them. The first withdrawal was made in 2015 by Syria who had been storing seeds since 2012. Thirty-eight thousand seeds were removed by researchers and sent to Lebanon and Morocco. The Syrian non-profit organization that contributed the seeds moved to new quarters after rebel forces took over their area of Aleppo. The organization, the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA) continues to deposit seeds, coming now from their new locations. They also continue to withdraw seeds, as necessary. https://www.croptrust.org/press-release/vault-continues-prove-value-world/
The Svalbard Global Seed Vault is "owned and administered by the Ministry of Agriculture and Food on behalf of the Kingdom of Norway and is established as a service to the world community." https://www.wur.nl/en/show/CGN-seeds-in-the-Svalbard-Global-Seed-Vault-FAQs.htm In case of famine due to war or natural disaster, we'll be able to start over.
Good to know.
-—stay curious! (and plan your garden)