Now that Seed Savers-Heirloom is available for preorder, let me just say how much I enjoy this book. I know it sounds a little weird and very immodest, but I do love reading Heirloom, and believe me, I’ve read it numerous times in polishing, proofing, the re-release, etc. And I still always get drawn in…
Heirloom has dual storylines and even dual POVs. The exciting, adventurous storyline is the story of Lily, as told by Lily, as she travels across the country looking for her long-lost dad. The sweet country life of Clare and Dante, now gardening refugees in Canada, is less exciting but lovely. Their story also unveils the political history of the U.S. that led to the present state of illegal gardening.
I also think the new cover for Seed Savers-Heirloom is outstanding (shout-outs to illustrator Alan Baker and cover designer Shannon Bodie!), right down to the kudzu taking over the title!
Here is an excerpt from the Clare and Dante storyline that speaks to the book’s title, Heirloom. Clare and her Canadian host mom are browsing seed catalogues.
Clare had been learning about the 1980s in school. It sounded like an interesting time to live, before too much technology or so many restrictions. But it was such a long time ago . . . Her brow furrowed as a new thought struck. “I thought people saved their own seed.”
Marissa laughed. “Some do. I save seed from a few plants. Cilantro, peppers, certain flowers. But this is easier. And it’s fun to look through catalogues and send for the pretty packets. What’s wrong?”
Clare’s mouth had turned down in a frown.
“It’s just that . . . well . . . what’s the big deal about Seed Savers if you can just buy seeds?”
“Oh honey,” Marissa said. “It is a big deal. What if what happened in the States happened here? People who save seeds are important. Besides that, there’s a lot to be said for having seeds suited to an area. Sometimes the seeds I order from catalogues don’t grow well here. On the other hand, locally grown and saved seeds are well adapted to a particular place and always do great. It’s important.”
“I don’t get what you’re saying.”
“Okay,” Marissa said, flipping ahead in the book, “let’s look at the tomatoes.”
Marissa pointed at a picture of long, red-striped tomatoes. “Striped Roman. OP—that stands for open pollinated. You know about pollination?”
“You can plant the seed from an open-pollinated tomato such as this and expect to grow the same tomatoes. Over time, plants change and adapt to the local growing conditions and year-to-year climate. So if I saved my own seeds, the plants from my seeds would be better for this area than seeds I randomly purchase. That’s why many places have seed banks and seed libraries. Food security.”
“Seed banks? Seed libraries?” Dante walked in just as Marissa was making her point about saving seeds. “Can I check out some seeds?” he asked, giggling. “How long do I get to keep them for? Do I hafta pay a fine if they’re overdue?”
“Oh go away, silly,” Clare said, unwilling to be interrupted.
“I’m hungry,” Dante complained.
“You are a growing boy. I suppose it wouldn’t hurt for you to have a small snack,” Marissa said. She saw the startled look on his face. “Not that kind of snack. Snack here still means eating a bit between meals, it’s not one of those ridiculous packaged food groups you’re used to . . . oh for heaven’s sake.”
“Warm up a bagel and have it with peanut butter,” Clare suggested, still nervous Marissa might get distracted before her questions were answered.
“Yes,” Marissa agreed, “that’s a fine idea. Can you handle that, Dante? Clare and I are in the middle of something.”
“Of course,” Dante answered, deepening his voice.
“Tell me about the seed banks and libraries,” Clare said.
“Hmm. Like I said, seed banks and libraries are about food security, knowing you’ll have food if you have access to seeds—and the ability to grow them, of course. A seed bank usually consists of volunteers who grow out plants that thrive in their area and then harvest and store the seeds. When there’s enough seed to share, they do that too. But there is always seed in the vault, so to speak.”
Clare was nodding her head. “And seed libraries?” she asked.
Marissa chuckled. “Well, just like Dante said, in some libraries you can actually “check out” seeds. You take some home, plant ‘em, save some of the seeds to bring back at the end of the season. Instructions come with each packet as well as a code for Monitor instructions. Each seed library works a little differently, but that’s the general idea. They’re not everywhere, but Hudson has one.”
Clare wanted to ask Marissa if they could visit the one in Hudson, but held back.
“One other thing,” Marissa said, “about buying seeds every year versus the importance of saving seed . . . see these?” She pointed at a photo of some thick-looking tomatoes dubbed Kobe Beefsteak. “F-1, that means these seeds are hybrids. With hybrids, the pollen of two varieties has been crossed to produce a new plant. I sometimes order hybrid seeds, but I would never be able to save seed from these plants. They wouldn’t be true, that is, wouldn’t grow the same beautiful tomatoes we see here. If anything ever happened and I couldn’t buy seeds, eventually I’d run out. People who plant and save non-hybrid, open-pollinated seeds are guaranteed a food source.”
“What about these?” Clare asked, pointing at the next page. “Heirloom? My mom said our Bible was an heirloom. I thought it meant an old thing passed down in families.”
“That’s right. All of the seeds marked heirloom are open-pollinated seeds that have been grown and saved and passed down in a family or community for generations. Seeds with stories, some people say.”
Clare’s eyes moved over the page slowly, caressing each photo of plump tomatoes, reading the enchanting descriptions and histories of the seeds.