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Friday, March 7, 2008

The “Doomsday” Seed Bank

posted by on March 7 at 14:07 PM

The Global Seed Vault in Norway—AKA the Doomsday Seed Bank—just received its first installment of a million seeds. According to the NYTimes, the goal of the vault’s creators is to store and protect samples of every type of seed from every seed collection in the world, “in case natural disasters or human errors erase the seeds from the outside world.”

Although the NYT doesn’t go into much detail about this aspect of the story (noting only that “economics encourages farmers to drop crops”) those “human errors” include the near-universal practice of monoculture farming, which has replaced native and traditional seeds (the kind the multimillion-dollar Seed Vault will preserve) with hybrids developed for pest resistance and productivity. In other words, the “doomsday,” if it comes, will be mostly of our own making.

However, as the Slow Food USA blog points out, freezing seeds inside a mountain in the Arctic isn’t the only way to preserve rare seed varieties. Here in the US, at least two organizations—the Seed Savers Exchange and Native Seeds/SEARCH—are saving seeds the old-fashioned way: by encouraging farmers (and ordinary citizens) to grow them.

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Grow heirloom crops, and buy heirloom vegetables.

Posted by Fnarf | March 7, 2008 2:12 PM

That's all well and good, but do they have poppy seeds? Cannabis seeds? Coca seeds? Bet they do they- wouldn't that be a scandal? Maybe you should use those well-honed journalistic skills and find out.

Posted by Fifty-Two-Eighty | March 7, 2008 2:13 PM


let the inappropriate "seed" jokes begin...

Posted by michael strangeways | March 7, 2008 2:13 PM

i've done Native Seeds before and they have good books for your inner plant geek.

Posted by Jiberish | March 7, 2008 2:16 PM

The USDA has a small-ish seed bank here in Washington, on the WSU campus in Pullman. They grow all kinds of crops and harvest the seed for cold storage.

Posted by Ian | March 7, 2008 2:59 PM

The problem with preservation through planting is GMO seeds have a way of cross-pollinating with native seeds, rendering the offspring sterile.

Posted by Mahtli69 | March 7, 2008 3:32 PM

The more you learn about the loss of crop species--and the loss of biological diversity, in general--across the globe, the more horrified you get. The likes of Archer Daniels Midland have helped create a fragile agricultural system across the world.

For anyone who's interested in such awesomely depressing matters, there's a book that came out last year I highly recommend: The Sixth Extinction.

Posted by cressona | March 7, 2008 5:27 PM

a lot of god all these seed will do us when all the bees are dead and can't pollinate them!

Posted by Queen_of_Sleaze | March 7, 2008 5:57 PM

Oh my God you ARE capable of making sense! Sweet! I wondered why you still worked there.

Posted by julie | March 7, 2008 8:15 PM

You call that work? Although, to be fair, you probably can't call it a paycheck either.

Posted by Fifty-Two-Eighty | March 7, 2008 10:45 PM

Just growing the seeds would do nothing against really catastrophic like a asteroid impact, nuclear war, massive climate change, etc.

Say what you will about the over engineering of food, but it has enabled most of us to not have to farm and instead spend are time developing lots of cool shit. If we ever did have to rebuild it would be nice to be able to not have to start completely from scratch.

Posted by Giffy | March 8, 2008 8:29 AM

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