The Seed Underground
A Growing Revolution to Save Food
by Janisse Ray
"What a dream of a book—my favorite poet writing about my favorite topic (seeds) and the remarkable underground network of growers who are keeping diversity alive on the face of this earth while putting delicious food on our tables! If books can move you to love, this one does."
—Gary Paul Nabhan, author of Chasing Chiles and Renewing America’s Food Traditions
"If you haven’t heard what’s happening with seeds, let me tell you. They’re disappearing, about like every damn thing else. . . . But I’m not going to talk about anything that’s going to make us feel hopeless, or despairing, because there’s no despair in a seed."
— from The Seed Underground
Across the country, a renaissance of local food, farming, and place-based culinary traditions is taking hold. And yet something small, critically important, and profoundly at risk is being overlooked in this local food resurgence: seeds. We are losing our seeds. Of the thousands of seed varieties available at the turn of the 20th century, 94 percent have been lost — forever.
With a signature lyricism that once prompted a New York Times writer to proclaim her the Rachel Carson of the south, Ray (Ecology of a Cracker Childhood) brings us the inspiring stories of ordinary gardeners whose aim is to save time-honored open-pollinated varieties like Old Time Tennessee muskmelon and Long County Longhorn okra—varieties that will be lost if people don’t grow, save, and swap the seeds.
From rural Maine to Oregon’s Palouse, Ray introduces readers to dozens of seed savers like the eccentric sociology professor she dubs “Tomato Man” and Maine farmer Will Bonsall, the “Noah” of seed saving who juggles hundreds of seeds, many grown by him, and him alone. And Ray tells her own story—of watching her grandmamma save squash seed; of her own first tiny garden at the edge of a junkyard; of falling in love with heirloom and local varieties as a young woman; and the one seed—Conch cowpea—that got away from her.
With a quiet urgency The Seed Underground reminds us that while our underlying health, food security, and sovereignty may be at stake as seeds disappear, so, too, are the stories, heritage, and history that passes between people as seeds are passed from hand to hand.
About the Author
Writer, naturalist, and activist Janisse Ray is a seed-saver, seed-exchanger, and seed-banker, and has gardened for twenty-five years. She is the author of several books, including Pinhook and Ecology of a Cracker Childhood, a New York Times Notable Book. Ray is on the faculty of Chatham University’s low-residency MFA program, and is a Woodrow Wilson Visiting Fellow. She has won a Southern Booksellers Award for Poetry, a Southeastern Booksellers Award for Nonfiction, an American Book Award, the Southern Environmental Law Center Award for Outstanding Writing, and a Southern Book Critics Circle Award. She attempts to live a simple, sustainable life …