Written by Pam Sherman

What are a mountain gardener,  a UCCS librarian and teacher, and a Montessori school teacher doing about climate change? All are teaching seed-saving, but in such different ways that no two are alike. Last month these seed teachers and 350CO Regenerative Agriculture and Local Food Systems Committee’s webinar panelists Penn Parmenter, Judith Rice-Jones, and Lexi Fickenscher, captivated us with their stories and experience. Watch the recording of the Give Seeds a Chance webinar here.

Trained as seed-saving teachers with the Rocky Mountain Seed Alliance, they know that seeds in Colorado adapted to the particular region and garden will be much happier and more successful in our unpredictable climate than seed brought in from a completely different bio-region–often from a different country.

It’s especially important here in CO with our intricate topography and crazy quilt of micro-climates. Locally adapted seed is better at gaming drought, flood, scouring wind, searing heat, extreme temperature swings, and whatever else is coming down the pike. And–it actually has taste. Because you, the gardener, save seeds from the plants you love and that do well.

Penn Parmenter, who grows at 8100+ feet, is the founder and sole proprietor of Miss Penn’s Mountain Seeds, teaches seed saving at Denver Botanic Gardens, and consults on seed-saving and mountain gardening. She introduced us to the magic of germination, from ancient pines to one of the huge number of mountain-adapted tomatoes she loves and grows. She insists: never give up on a seed, even one that is 50 or more years old! They are much more resilient than we are taught to think!

Judith Rice-Jones, a former academic librarian and current co-teacher of The Geography of Food course at UCCS who helped found the Grain School at UCCS, grows four types of different heirloom grains at her city home and makes bread from it. She reminded us that in the past, every Colorado town had its own mill–if you wanted bread, you had to grow its grain first. Judith says flatly: without seed security there is no food security. So let’s grow our own grains where we can in the city–backyards, organizations’ campuses, and more.

Lexi Fickenscher, Denver Montessori’s Farm Manager, teaches gardening and seed-saving to children: even the three-year-olds sow, harvest, thresh, and winnow seed and make seed paper and yummy treats; the older ones host delicious pot-luck dishes using garden-grown veggies. During Covid-19, Lexi has been adapting the teaching of this very hands-on curriculum to online presentation–a huge challenge, but one she is meeting successfully. Lexi says that children will tell you seed saving is not hard; adults will tell you it’s too complex for them. I wasn’t the only adult who wanted to be a student in Lexi’s classroom.

The passion of these three teachers for their focus is clear, compelling, and inspiring.

Next year could be much like this year: seed companies overwhelmed and backlogged with orders, seed companies working round the clock to meet demand, some unable to do so. Avoiding that and taking responsibility for feeding ourselves and our communities in a changing climate–these are reason enough to start saving seed. But when we let a plant complete its natural cycle and produce seed, a relationship develops with the plant, the natural world, and one’s seed-saving community–these are what keep us coming back to the full circle of life.

For more information on learning seed-saving, in addition to the Give Seeds a Chance webinar, see Rocky Mountain Seed Alliance’s free seven-session online seed school, and many other current learning events involving seed stewarding, heirloom grain trials, seed libraries, and other opportunities for participation.

Pam Sherman serves on the 350CO Regenerative Agriculture and Local Food Systems Committee.

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