Thursday, May 28, 2009

Squash Seed From Thomas Jefferson Makes Its Way to Brooklyn

As it turns out, not all of Thomas Jefferson’s seeds are controversial. Saturday, one Brooklyn community gardener will take home squash seeds descended from a squash Jefferson planted in the 1800s, as part of the Vegetable Starts Seed Giveaway held by the New York Restoration Project (NYRP).

Jason Sheets, regional director of Brooklyn gardens at NYRP, had the idea for a seed giveaway and first implemented it last year. This Saturday, gardeners from the community will converge on Target Community Garden in Bed-Stuy (below) to collect some of the 2,000 heirloom vegetable seeds donated to
NYRP for the giveaway.

Heirloom seeds, Sheets said, are “seeds that have been around for years and years,” handed down for generations. They’re better in many ways than hybrid seeds you see in garden centers today, because they produce vegetables that “are better tasting, have a historical context and are open pollinated,” he explained. For a vegetable to be open pollinated means that its seeds can be harvested, as opposed to hybrid vegetables, which have sterile seeds.

“More and more people over the last 10 years have been embracing
hybrids because they have built-in disease resistance,” Sheets said. This has brought about the near extinction of many heirloom vegetable plants.

Fortunately, heirloom seeds have become popular in recent years, no doubt helped by the efforts of Amy Goldman, chair of the board of the Seed Savers Exchange, an organization dedicated to “preserving the world’s diverse but endangered heirloom seeds,” she said.

“I have devoted my life to the preservation of our vegetable heritage,” Goldman said. She donated the seeds for Saturday’s giveaway to NYRP, because she wants to educate “this new generation of farmers and gardeners.”

The selection of seeds that will be given out were determined by the gardeners themselves. Sheets said NYRP held a gardener’s gathering in March where community gardeners reserved the heirloom seeds they wanted in their garden.

In case some gardeners aren’t comfortable growing the vegetables from seeds, Sheets will have some seedlings, or vegetable starts, available. These were propagated by Landcraft Environment and will be given away Saturday.

Vegetable starts and seeds will be organic, untreated and not genetically engineered. Types will range from tomatoes, carrots, corn and herbs. Sheets said that an heirloom seed might yield a purple tomato. He hopes that in future years, he will be able to open seed giveaways to the public.

Sheets calls Goldman, an avid gardener who has published many books on the subject, the “queen of heirloom vegetables.”

“We want to get people out there gardening and growing their own food,” Goldman said. “We’re putting seeds in the hands of farmers and gardeners where they belong.”

Jefferson photo courtesy of, garden photo courtesy of the New York Restoration Project.

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