By Karen Biondo
For The Beachcomber
Food Security and Sustainability have found their way into each and every one of our lives during this time of COVID. Seed sales are soaring as many engage or re-engage in growing food for themselves both as therapy and as a vital need. With no farmers market at this time, we risk losing touch with our essential farmers who grow such gorgeous abundance for us, often inspiring us with their wisdom and helpful hints. This series of farmer profiles, by Karen Biondo, will help us stay in touch with our neighbors and friends in our community who work the soil to grow the food that heartily sustains us.
Saving the planet, changing the world, one seed at a time …
Long before colorful seed catalogs that we anticipate and savor, how did we get our seeds to grow our food, herbs and flowers?
We shared with our neighbors. Perhaps I grew corn, you grew squash and after harvest and feasting, we saved some seed to exchange with each other during the dark season. For thousands of years, in every culture, this is how it was done.
Jen Williams, the hardworking, visionary farmer of Wild Dreams Farm and Seed Company believes the time is NOW to reclaim the biodiversity that has been lost to giant corporate seed companies.
Williams began her farming life at Terry’s Berries in Tacoma just after college. She returned to Vashon with her husband Jason to farm their two acres for market as Red Truck Farm.
Williams took a break from farming after the birth of their second son and left the plants to tend to themselves. What Jen discovered the following spring was food growing everywhere. The plants had indeed tended to themselves, going to seed and scattering in the wind to plant themselves wherever they landed.
It was a “wow” moment as Williams thought about how little she knew about where seeds come from. They come from a seed catalog just like carrots come from a grocery store. Don’t they?
Williams found herself excited and curious about how the whole process works. She became more intentional in letting plants go to seed and started learning about seeds from the Organic Seed Alliance. She now says nothing has captivated her the way seeds have, finding them endlessly fascinating.
Fueled by her curiosity, Williams spent a few years learning, experimenting and practicing growing specifically for seed production. During this time she also realized her deep belief that saving seeds is something we can all do, even if from just one of our favorite plants.
There are lots of reasons to save seeds.
To name a few: saving seeds can reconnect us to our evolutionary history as hunter/gatherer/grower of food. It can reconnect us to the natural world. Saving seeds is a political statement against the corporate control of our food by not letting “them” decide what crops we can grow. Saving seeds is a direct action to protect plant biodiversity and helps create local and regional adaptation of food plants. New variations will only be found by people who save seeds.
Saving seeds is a way to generate free food. We can even grow a free lunch by saving and growing our own seeds.
Williams is quite emphatic that saving seeds is not rocket science and a Ph.D. is not required.
In fact, it is astonishingly simple. Remember, people have done it for thousands of years without university degrees and complicated algorithms.
Let some plants in your garden mature, flower and make seed. Let the seeds ripen on the plant. if you notice birds eating your seeds it’s time to collect your treasures.
Let them dry, then store them in a jar, can, bag, whatever in your refrigerator. Plant them in the spring and watch what happens. Repeat. Now you are a seed saver.
For Williams, growing seed to package and sell, there is a bit more effort and maybe a little bit of scientific discovery. After she harvests the seed, she cleans the seed of all the excess plant material (thresh and winnow) and the seeds dry in a room with a dehumidifier. The seeds she saves this year will be tested for germination next spring, with a goal of 80% germination.
Seed saving is definitely a Long Game. Some seeds will take almost two years to go through the whole process, including germination testing and sometimes a full grow out to make sure a particular seed does indeed grow up to be what Williams expected (or better) before making it into the little brown packet you buy.
Yes, there is much to learn about the life and cycle of seeds and Williams is an enthusiastic learner by experimentation. And an enthusiastic sharer of information. She wants to show us all how accessible and fun seed saving is. It is also critical to our survival.
Williams is also the inspiration and creator of The Vashon Seed Project, a group of farmers and growers teaching and learning from each other about seed saving. She has led several workshops about seed saving and is looking forward to creating more learning opportunities in 2021.
When I asked Williams what she envisioned for the future of Wild Dreams Seeds, she was quite clear that she has no interest in becoming a big, privately owned seed company. She truly wants the Vashon community to join her in growing a Vashon network of seed growers.
She ended our conversation with, “I want to live in a world where we grow our food, share our seeds and feed each other. And work hard. Because it’s hard work. And it’s joyful. “
Being with Jen Williams at Wild Dreams farm is joyful and inspiring.
Shop for seeds and ask questions about seed saving at Wild Dreams Farm at wilddreamsfarm.org.
Karen Biondo is a farmer and chef who currently cooks home delivery lunch for the Vashon Senior Center. She is also a member of VIGA’s Food Access Partnership. She enthusiastically encourages everyone to try anything in the garden (and in life). She practices curiosity on a daily basis. Reach Biondo at firstname.lastname@example.org and shop her holiday gift page at labiondofarm.com/farm-gifts.