Guest Blog by Jim in Clarks Grove
The Seed Saver’s Exchange was started by Kent and Diane Whealy with some seeds that
came from Diane’s grandfather. Kent and Diane realized these seeds would be lost if they didn’t save them and pass them on to other people. The first meeting was held in the Whealy’s home. SSE now has more than 13,000 members with a core group of about 800 who collect, produce and distribute rare seeds to other SSE members. I have been part of SSE for many years and I think makes gardeners more aware of issues related to the breeding and conservation of cultivated plants.
Several years ago I volunteered to write an article about Mary Shultz for an SSE newsletter. Mary was an SSE member with an unusually high dedication to seed saving. I was aware of her efforts from seeing her listings in the SSE Year Book, which is an annual summary of the all the seeds that members are willing to send to other members. Lettuce was her specialty. I have the seed of a few very nice kinds of lettuce that Mary sent to me at my request.
I wanted to interview Mary, but her health had been failing for several years and she wasn’t able to speak on the phone. Fortunately I was able to contact her husband, Arthur, and her daughter, Laurie. They sent me some articles written by and about Mary. The SSE office also shared some of her correspondence. I learned that Mary did all the garden planning. Arthur provided most of the labor. One year they grew 153 kinds of lettuce. They also sold to restaurants where the chefs altered their menus to include these high quality vegetables from Mary and Arthur. One of my favorite kinds of lettuce is a variety called Becker, which I grow using seed sent to me by Mary. A note was included with this seed indicating that Mary thought I should have it because it came from a Minnesota family. I told Laurie that this lettuce seed was an unexpected gift from her mother, and she said Mary was known for doing things like that.
Mary also wrote newspaper articles about gardening, and in one of them she stated that it was her hope that she had been able to encourage others to grow more of their own vegetables and become less dependent on getting them from large scale, highly industrialized farms. In a letter Mary said that she found comfort in her contacts with members of SSE because her great dedication to gardening and seed saving was not understood by most of the people she knew. When I talked to Arthur he said that Mary was still making gardening plans and she had given him a list of things she wanted him to plant.
Mary was in hospice care toward the end of her life and passed away a short time after my article was published. She had a very large and generous personality that matched the large size of her seed collection. I think we can learn a lot from people like Mary who make big efforts to conserve valuable resources and to pass on important information and ideas. Although I don’t expect that I will be able to follow directly in Mary’s footsteps, the example she set has inspired me to continue to add to my seed saving efforts and to expand other work that I value.
How will you pass along what you know?