Viroqua Food Co+op Blog

#P6 Profile: Seed Savers Exchange

Posted by Bjorn Bergman on Sat, Mar 07, 2015 @ 09:30 AM

We’re sure that many of you are eagerly awaiting the disappearance of snow and the thaw of the soil to seed-savers-seed-packetsmake way for the 2015 gardening season. In fact, it’s time to pick up seeds so you can start planning and dreaming about your 2015 garden. For that reason, we thought it would be a great opportunity to learn more about one of our P6 seed suppliers, Seed Savers Exchange (SSE).

Seed Savers Exchange may be a household name when it comes to organic heirloom and open pollinated seeds, but there is a lot more behind this amazing non-profit than their glossy seed packets and full color alluring seed catalog.

Seed Savers Exchange was founded in 1975 by Diane Ott Whealy and Kent Whealy. Diane’s grandfather gifted the couple some seeds from two garden plants: Grandpa Ott’s morning glory and German Pink  omato. These seeds were brought by Grandpa Ott’s parents when they immigrated from Bavaria to St. Lucas, Iowa in the 1870’s. The gift of these seeds gave Diane and Kent the idea of starting a seed exchange where seed saving gardeners and farmers across America could exchange them with others, thereby preserving and making available many heirloom varieties that were disappearing.

That year, Diane and Kent, along with 30 others from around the United States participated in The True Seed Exchange, which allowed them to trade and share seeds amongst the group. This publication is now known as the Seed Savers Exchange Yearbook and is a cornerstone of the organization.

In 2015, Seed Savers Exchange celebrates its 40th Anniversary, and there is a lot for this organization to celebrate! In the time that has gone by, SSE has found a home at Heritage Farm, just north of Decorah, Iowa. This 890-acre farm is nestled among sparkling streams, limestone bluffs and century-old white pines, and features the SSE Lillian Goldman Visitors Center (education center and demonstration garden), Preservation Gardens, Historic Orchard and a herd of Ancient White Park Cattle. Additionally, they have become an extremely important non-profit member-supported organization that preserves and shares America’s culturally diverse, but endangered garden and food crop heritage in a variety of ways. Some of the ways include: maintaining a seed bank, offering their yearly Seed Savers Exchange Yearbook, Seed Savers Exchange Seed Catalog and offering many educational opportunities.
Seed Savers Exchange Heritage Farm is home to one of the largest seed banks of its kind in North America. It houses over 20,000 varieties of heirloom and open pollinated varieties of vegetables and herbs that have been donated by gardeners and farmers across North America. SSE preserves and maintains all of these varieties by growing and saving seeds for each variety about once every five years.

Seed Savers Exchange was founded upon participatory seed preservation through their Seed Savers Exchange Yearbook. Through this publication, members of SSE may list and purchase seeds directly from other farmers and gardeners. Today, members list over 19,000 unique varieties through the Yearbook as a way to keep open pollinated and heirloom varieties circulating in the hands of gardeners and farmers today and into the future.

The most visible way that Seed Savers Exchange is preserving our garden heritage is through their yearly offering of the Seed Savers Exchange Seed Catalog. Each year, they release this 100+ page catalog that features 600+ varieties of heirloom and open pollinated seed varieties that are available for purchase by the general public. These are the same varieties of seeds that can be found on our seed racks in our seed department.

SSE also aims to educate others about the importance and practice of seed saving and seed preservation. They do this through hosting numerous events at Heritage Farm, including a Spring Garden School, Heritage & Heirloom Apple School, Summer and Fall Seed Saving School, Annual Conference and Campout, Tomato Tasting Festival and a Fall Harvest School. In addition to their work at their headquarters, they do presentations at a variety of venues, festivals and events around the United States to get more people interested in seed saving and creating public seed libraries and seed banks.

To learn more about SSE, check out their website and/or visit Heritage Farm this summer during one of their fun and educational events they host at Heritage Farm near Decorah (

Next time you are at the VFC, check out all the amazing varieties of seeds from Seed Savers Exchange on our seed racks in our produce department. You can rest assured that each purchase of SSE seeds helps support their mission of preserving open pollinated and heirloom seeds for future generations.

Seed Savers Exchange is part of the P6 program at the VFC because:

Local: Seed Savers Exchange is located in Decorah, Iowa about 48 miles from VFC.
Co-op/Non-profit: Seed Savers Exchange is a non-profit organization.
Small Producer: Seed Savers Exchange is a member-supported and non-profit organization. Their seeds are delivered by mail to VFC.

Tags: P6 Producers, Local, small producer, Seed Savers Exchange, Co-op/NPO producer