In my area, many of us grow vegetable crops and many have developed seeds for generations. We have started a seed bank and in collaboration with a few other seed companies and groups, some of us will be growing for seed alone this year. Saving seeds is the easy part. It’s quite another to grow for seed each year. In order to really save seed well, you must grow it and keep it fresh year to year.
My first experience with the perils of large scale seed banks was the scandal that erupted over the Fort Collins collection in the mid 1980s. Journalists had published stories dramatically detailing the grossly negligent manner in which deposits to the seed bank were treated. Numerous seed deposits were spilling out onto the floors of the facility, the facility was woefully understaffed, there was no testing of the seed and a virtually complete failure of required regeneration — in short a seed saving disaster. A legal petition by my organization to rectify the decision seemed to get the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) attention. But when no real action resulted we litigated. I was a very active member of that legal team. As such I reviewed much of the material in the case that documented USDA’s complete disregard for the safety and integrity of the seeds under its care. This litigation ultimately forced a settlement where USDA agreed to do an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) pursuant to the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and conditions at the seed bank improved somewhat.