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‘Seed schools’ can help nurture local heirloom plants

Written by: Jim Ewing

A novel approach toward helping young people ensure biodiversity in our world is studying seeds in the wild and planting them for food in the garden.

Called “seed schools,” they should be in schools everywhere.

According to Native Seeds SEARCH’s Seedhead News, Gary Paul Nabhan, sometimes called “the father of the local foods movement,” was recently named to an endowed chair at the University of Arizona’s Sustainable Food Systems Program.

Nabhan helps seed school students name their own plant (garden-bred or in the wild). “Once it’s in print and described,” he says, “you can’t patent it. It becomes public domain.”

Most Americans probably aren’t aware of the pervasive practice of corporations claiming ownership of common plants and seeds, giving them exclusive use.

Seed School’s Bill McDorman, Native Seeds SEARCH’s executive director, notes that land grant universities were in part established to provide seeds for farmers, but most of their research now supports further privatization of what was once part of the public trust.

In recent years, multinational corporations have bought up many seed companies, discontinuing production of many varieties and substituting their own patented genetically modified seeds (GMOs).

According to the Center for Biodiversity and Conservation, 96 percent of food crops available in 1906 are no longer available.

The American public has all but given away its ability to grow its own food to profit-making corporations and the government. Once that ownership is gone, we’re all serfs to those who own the seeds and plants that feed us.

Local heirloom food explained: A wonderful book on indigenous heirloom foods in Mississippi (Appalachia and the South, too) is The Moving Feast by Allan Nation (Green Park Press; 2010; $ 25.60).

It’s called that because Native Americans would move their crops from field to field, creating the parklike forests early settlers found. Food grew abundantly without artificial chemicals. Such practices, Nation explains, continued until the 1930s. Organic farming, Nation says, is essentially another name for those practices.

Nation, publisher of The Stockman Grass Farmer magazine, is something of a hero across the U.S. for his promotion of raising cattle naturally.

Such luminaries as celebrity farmer/author Joel Salatin swear by his work, extolling heirloom foods and natural processes (often called ecofarming) with his magazine in Ridgeland.

Nation’s book should be on every organic farmer’s bookshelf as a reminder that although, as the teacher says, there is no new thing under the sun, there is plenty of old lore worth remembering.

It’s available at, 1-800-748-9808 or P.O. Box 2300, Ridgeland MS 39158-9911.

Contact Jim Ewing at (601) 961-7036, email, on Twitter @OrganicWriter, or Facebook: http://

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