Trading and Saving: Appalachian Seed Swap

It was great to read this lively blog post by Joyce at Friends Drift Inn, reflecting on the importance Appalachian heirlooms seeds after a successful seed swap at the Pine Mountain Settlement School

They came from as far away as Lexington, Louisville and Berea. The little room at Pine Mountain Settlement School in Harlan County was full and brimming over. Experts and amateurs alike gathered for an ancient ritual that has taken on modern importance, seed saving.

Due to our geographic mountain fortresses, seeds grown in Appalachia remain largely untainted by commercial agriculture and genetic engineering. (GE or GMO) We hillbillies take such things for granted.  We know that there is a stash of White Hastings bean seed hidden in Grandma’s freezer. We know that Johns Creek Bevin’s Tomato is perhaps the lip smackenest summer pleasure in the garden.    
Sometimes we forget what we know. It takes people like Bill Best to remind us heirloom seeds are treasures. It takes young chefs likeSean Brock and Kentucky native Jeremy Ashby to remind us old fashioned mountain ways have a cool factor beyond a passing trend. In those tiny little seeds there is our history. In those tiny little seeds are genes that have adopted themselves to our mountain environment becoming more tenacious each season. In those tiny little seeds are bursts of flavor unlike anything massed produced agriculture “products” can promise us…..yet never deliver.
Allowing one variety of anything to dominate is folly; a monoculture mentality…..that’s what led to the potato famine. By preserving many varieties and strains of vegetable, we insure our food security. By saving and nurturing the best of the best, we strengthen what we already have.
You may think we in Appalachia are poor. But we are rich beyond your wildest dreams, blessed with countless varieties of beans, tomatoes, squash, and grains that you may never have heard of….but someday you might. Because down here in the hills, we like our food to taste like summer in Grandma’s garden….not winter in a factory warehouse.
And so the seed savers gather. They swap stories. They spread around their treasures insuring floods, tornadoes, or pestilence will not destroy our assets. Dispersement makes us unlikely heroes in case of disaster. Who among us will have the seed bank that resurrects a Breathitt County Greasy Bean, a Vinson Watts Tomato, or the mighty thick necked green striped cushaw?
Laugh now….but someday you will thank us; and perhaps those hillbilly heirloom vegetable seeds will save us all.