Monday May 15, 2017

Seed Banks: Re-sowing paradise

Listen to Full Episode 53:58

In the face of climate change and declining biodiversity, one of humanity's oldest cultural practices – seed saving – has a new urgency. Maria Zytaruk explores how preserving seeds reflects the deepest of human fears and hopes, whether it's done in a high-tech seed bank in Britain, or a simple storage closet lined with jars at a convent in Kingston. **This episode originally aired December 16, 2016.


"It's this fascinating way of holding the past, present and future all at one time in your hand."
-- Elizabeth Hoover

For their potential to be awakened hundreds -- if not thousands -- of years later, seeds have captured our imagination. Seeds that have been entombed with Egyptian mummies, seeds that have sat dormant in mud banks for a generation, seeds that have been tucked into 18th century letters -- all sit expectantly for humans to rediscover them and bring them back to life.

While individuals have always saved seeds, with global warming and with so many plant species now threatened, seed banks have become a strategy to preserve biodiversity. Seed banks might be low-tech operations run out of an individual's home, or high-tech facilities dug into the Norwegian permafrost. The orientation of these collections might vary (a seed "bank" or a seed "sanctuary") but the impulse is the same -- to guard these potentially vibrant objects against extinction.

Maria Zytaruk is Associate Professor of English at the University of Calgary.  Her research focuses on the history of collecting and the material culture of science.

Guests in this episode: 

  • Jonas Mueller, Senior Research Leader, Seed Conservation. Millennium Seed Bank

  • Michael Way, Conservation Partnership Coordinator, Conservation Scientist, Millennium Seed Bank

  • Margaret Atwood, Writer, novelist and environmental activist. Her dystopian novel, The Year of the Flood, centred on a cult of organic gardeners. 

  • Victoria Pickering, Ph.D. candidate at Queen Mary, University of London and Natural History Museum, London

  • Kelly Gilliam, member of Board of Directors of Seeds of Diversity and founder of the Populuxe Seed Bank in Edmonton.

  • Evan Fraser, Canada Research Chair in Global Food Security, University of Guelph

  • Elizabeth Hoover, Manning Assistant Professor of American Studies, Brown University

  • Sister Gayle Desarmia, Sisters of Providence, Kingston, Ontario

  • Cate Henderson, Head Gardener and seed-saver at the Heirloom Seed Sanctuary

  • Annie Richard, Gardener at the Heirloom Seed Sanctuary

Related websites: 

**This episode was produced by Dave Redel