Seeds with Stories

When we think of family heirlooms, what usually comes to mind are cherished items handed down over generations, such as a fine walnut corner cupboard or a colorful handmade quilt, great grandmother’s silver or old letters, photographs and journals.

Family heirlooms may also include seeds that have been planted, saved, and passed down over the course of many generations. Such seeds are precious carriers of history, memory, tradition, and relationship with their own associated stories and favorite recipes. And because they have likely been grown in the same general area over a period of time, the seeds have gained a local adaptability.

Craver sharing seedOld Salem Horticulture extends its commitment to sustainable practices, growing heirloom plants and seed saving through a community initiative called “Seeds with Stories.” This project identifies, documents, grows, and shares local heirloom seeds of food and garden plants in the Northwest Piedmont region of North Carolina, with a special interest in heirloom seeds associated with early Moravian families.

“Seeds with Stories” creates value for the community by:

  • collecting and distributing seeds uniquely adapted to our region
  • connecting the gardens of today with the gardens of yesterday
  • enhancing biodiversity for the gardens of tomorrow
  • using stories to build social capital, an established practice in Winston-Salem

How it works:
Collection: Currently, small amounts of seed can be stored in the Old Salem Horticulture Department’s seed refrigerator. As the program develops, additional dedicated refrigerator storage space will be required.

Documentation*: Seeds are documented through audio recordings of the oral history of these plants and their stewards, photo documentation, any associated recipes, and the growing methods used to produce these heirlooms.

*If you would like to donate to “Seeds with Stories,” please gather the related information such as the known history of your heirloom seed (names of those who have grown it, their relationships, and where it was grown) and any other associated information that may be important. Also, photographs of the plants (and seed-growers) in the garden, field, or kitchen are most valuable, as well as favorite recipes on how to prepare and recommendations of how to grow.

Growing/Multiplication: Seeds that have a history dating back to before 1850 can be grown out and displayed in Old Salem’s gardens. Those with history post-1850 can be adopted by local farmers and gardeners.

Distribution: Seeds that are grown out at Old Salem will be shared with attendees of Slow Food Piedmont’s Annual Seed Swap at Old Salem, and nationally with Seed Savers Exchange’s network of amateur seed savers. The stories of these seeds will be shared.

Advocating: “Seeds with Stories” can be used by chefs and farmers to re-introduce these locally adapted heirloom varieties into our local food system. Additionally, some Seeds with Stories may have the potential to be nominated to the Slow Food Ark of Taste.

Fundamentally, the “Seeds with Stories” initiative validates seed saving and the commitment of seed savers everywhere, and hopefully stimulates additional stories and new seed savers. 

To donate to, or adopt from, Seeds with Stories, please contact Eric Jackson, Old Salem Heritage Gardens & Outreach, ejackson@oldsalem.org or 336-201-5174.

For thousands of years all over the world, garden_seeds x200
people have been saving and sharing seed, and a vast biodiversity has been created; however, changes in recent time have diminished this ancient practice. Industrial agriculture practices, population movement from rural areas into cities, and increasing challenges to seed sovereignty have all contributed to the decline. As a result, not only are we losing agricultural diversity, but a safe and healthy food supply is threatened as well. Also lost is the link to associated traditional knowledge, lifeways, superb taste, healing properties, or other irreplaceable attributes. Now more than ever, seed saving and sharing are vital for the future.