Seed Saving and Resilience: Beth Kersey Talks About Her Research

March 11, 2018


My dissertation research is exploring the historic agronomic practice of seed saving among gardeners and farmers.  I am interested in understanding why they save seeds—given it is not efficient (or is it?).  My project asks how these farmers and gardeners came to learn this skill and develop their practice given the small number of people with this knowledge; and what does this practice mean for socio cultural resiliency in times of global environmental change?

I have been incredibly inspired by the almost two dozen people I interviewed.  Their dedication to saving seeds and promoting agrobiodiversity through their practices takes many forms.  I have learned much, such as the extent to which seed saving for some is about developing seeds better adapted to the local environment including disease resistance and tolerance.  For others, it is ensuring a variety never vanishes again. Several seed savers I interviewed had developed partnerships which could be  drawn on to grow out a variety when only few seeds existed.  Once a viable number of seeds were produced, seeds then became available to the larger community.

My research has several implications, from serving as a proxy on how agricultural skills can be relearned to the specifics of exploring seed saving’s potential in promoting agroecosystem resiliency.  Resiliency is something which becomes increasingly more important in times of environmental and climate change. Seed saving in and of itself involves experimenting with seeds; and creating novelty (e.g. developing locally adapted varieties, new socio-cultural linkages).  These same two qualities are crucial for complex adaptive systems, such as food systems and agriculture, to adapt to climate change and extreme weather events.