Meet The Locals: Seed Savers Exchange

Located at Heritage Farm on 890 beautiful acres north of Decorah, IA, Seed Savers Exchange has been preserving heirloom seeds since 1975. Their story began in Missouri with founders Diane Ott Whealy and Kent Whealy after Diane’s grandfather passed on seeds of his that originally were brought from Bavaria in 1884, Grandpa Ott’s Morning Glory and German Pink Tomatoes. These became the first two varieties in the Seed Savers collection.

Community members quickly learned about the organization and a small group of concerned gardeners began saving their own seeds to donate. Stories and seeds continued getting passed from generation to generation, likely saving many varieties of plants from extinction along the way.

Today, Seed Savers has over 13,000 members and preserves over 20,000 plant varieties. They specialize in preserving rare, heirloom, and open-pollinated plants which are able to regenerate themselves each year and withstand disease and other harmful environmental issues more easily. Their focus is on preserving and sharing the large collection of seeds they’ve collected over the years to ensure a secure food system that can adapt to new climate conditions and diseases.

Saving seeds isn’t just for gardening year-to-year, it is also an important part of maintaining a diverse agricultural system, which we are losing more of every year. According to Seed Savers’ website, we’ve lost over 75% of the world’s edible plant varieties just in the last century. We’re used to having endless access to food, but we’ve learned throughout history that disease can easily and unexpectedly take out an entire food species. Take the Irish Potato Famine as an example; a new fungus was introduced and the primary source of food in Ireland was wiped out in 1845. Regenerating plants and species in different climates conditions and strengthens the seeds and allows them to more easily adapt to changes.

Whether it is your first year or 50th year gardening, Seed Savers Exchange is a great resource. Find tips & tricks about all aspects of growing plants, soil health, planning, and more on their website at

Shop for These Products & Others from Seed Savers Exchange In-Store & Online in Early Spring

This article was originally published in the March/April 2021 issue of our bi-monthly newsletter, The Morsel. If you’d like to read more stories like this one and stay up to date on the latest co-op news and events, pick up a print copy in-store on your next grocery run or find more news on our website here.

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