Julia Coffey is the owner of Seeds Trust, a seed company in Colorado that’s dedicated to helping solve the problem of disappearing biodiversity.
In this Q&A interview she describes how a chance meeting with Bill McDorman, renowned seedsman and previous owner of Seeds Trust, inspired her to become the seed steward she is today.
When did you get interested in saving seeds?
After graduating from the University of Colorado in 2009, I taught English in France and was able to see an interesting clash of food models in the town square. Local merchants and growers would set up their stands in the square every weekend close to chain supermarkets offering products at lower prices, but more processed foods sourced from all over. It was small scale and local versus industrial and global. I felt local was better as far as quality and use of non-renewable resources.
When I returned to the U.S. I wanted to see if there was a better way for us to grow, distribute, and consume food. I searched around Colorado for projects involving permaculture or alternative agriculture. The same day I went to visit the Lyons Farmette, Bill McDorman of Seeds Trust was giving a lecture there on the importance of seed saving.
What drove your interest in seeds?
I initially considered seeds to be the most fundamental place to start in making our food system better, and then I realized the food system wouldn’t even exist without seeds. There are so many people who don’t know 90% of our seed diversity has disappeared in the last century with hybridization and industrial mono-cropping practices. Globally, we are using some of the most irresponsible growing practices in history, seeding large swaths of land with only a handful of crops, patenting seeds, spraying massive amounts of chemicals and discouraging (and in many cases preventing) farmers from saving seed.
On another note, seeds are just cool! As Bill would tell us, they are quite possibly the most incredible technology humans have ever encountered: self-replicating, adapting to specific environments and passing that adaptation on, able to last for thousands of years and still germinate. Seeds are full of potential. When you hold a seed in your hand, you are holding a million plants.
I apprenticed with Bill and learned how to run a seed business. When he and his wife were asked to become the executive directors of Seed SEARCH, they sold Seeds Trust to me.
What are 3 things you’d like vegetable gardeners to know about saving seeds?
1. Saving seeds and selecting for what you prefer creates a variety totally unique and specifically adapted to where you are — basically you are rejoining a 10,000-year-old ritual and saving the world.
2. In many cases you can save seed and eat what you’ve grown.
3. You don’t have to be super meticulous. Unless you are growing seed for sale or are developing a specific variety, you don’t have to worry too much about cross-pollination or even take it very seriously. Some of the best varieties have been complete mistakes and the best seed savers have been total amateurs, so have fun!
What’s the easiest way for gardeners to get started saving seeds?
The best way to get started is to find the plants you have the most enthusiasm for. Pepper lover? Herbs? Flowers? Enthusiasm is so motivating and that energy feels good, it’s pure positivity.
I’m always looking for ways to connect with fellow seed friends, whether it’s for swapping seeds, for working together in some way, sharing favorite varieties or stories. Sometimes I have internship spots available or I’m hiring for a season.
For more information, contact Julia through the Seeds Trust website.
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