How seed saving sneaks into your brain

I spent the 2001 growing season at Switch Farm in Milton, Ontario. 

It was my second season working on a farm and everything was still new to me and I didn’t yet know what was the important stuff.

I just filed all the experience away in that mental filing cabinet as I went along bunching kale and weeding carrots and staking tomatoes. 

Over that summer I realized this is what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.

I just didn’t know how important seed would be to me in that farming life.

Here are some formative seed experiences that happened that summer.

Andrea and Tanya at Everdale Farm

In June, I visited Everdale Farm in Hillsburgh – 40 minutes or so away from Switch Farm. 

I spent some time with two apprentices: Andrea and Tanya. Earlier that spring they had found some red russian kale plants that had survived the winter. They had kept the plants from getting tilled under for spring plantings so that they could grow a seed crop.

When I was there, they were stomping on the plants on a sheet. I didn’t pay attention to most of the steps but I remember there being a few jars of clean seed the next day.

Andrea and Tanya talked about seeds that whole weekend. I listened and filed it away.

Some farmer at some kitchen garden

In July, my folks came for a visit and we went on a series of day trips. I was starting to like being around farms, so a few of those trips were to farms.

We visited a kitchen garden about an hour away from Switch Farms. I cannot remember what town it was in or the farm’s name. But it was about ¼ or ½ acre. They were growing all the crops for a restaurant.

We talked to the farmer. When he found out I was working on a farm, he asked where we ordered our seeds. I didn’t know. We talked about other farm stuff too.

Afterwards, my mom highlighted that seeds were mostly what the farmer wanted to talk about.

I filed that away.

Piles of magazines

There was a separate house at Switch Farm for the farm apprentices – we lovingly called it the Labor Lodge.

On the bookshelves, there was a pile of past issues of the Seeds of Diversity magazine (also a bunch of Canadian Organic Grower issues).

I went through all the issues.

They were all about seeds. (I guess that’s what you should expect from an organisation called Seeds of Diversity.)

More stuff to file in my brain


That January, I came back and stayed at the Labour Lodge for a few days during the Guelph Organic Conference.

I walked through the deep snow to look at the fields. 

I came upon the flower garden we had planted with all the unsold plants from the spring seedling sales. It was a tangle of brown dried up plants that hadn’t been tilled under in the fall.

The tallest plants were tobacco plants. They were taller than me and at their top were little brown balls.

From plant science classes, I knew that tobacco was in the Solanaceae family – just like tomatoes and peppers. I guessed these were the tobacco equivalent of tomatoes. I wondered what the insides looked like. 

I picked one and squashed it. It was full of  dusty stuff. Not quite like a tomato. But it occurred to me that these were seeds.

Something clicked in that mental file folder. 

I reached out and plucked 5-6 of these tobacco berries and put them in my pocket then carried on with my walk.

21 years later at Tourne-Sol farm, we just harvested tobacco seed that is descended from those plants. It’s listed on our online seed store.

Next workshop: Tuesday Dec 6 at 2pm Eastern

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