The Importance of Saving and Sharing Seeds

Why do we care so much about saving and sharing seeds? A major goal of Cultivate Oregon is to foster a strong local food system that is rooted in regenerative agriculture principles. For example, maintaining and creating healthy soils and ensuring that seed stocks remain independent and protected from contamination in an era of increasing corporate consolidation of the seed industry, as well as threats of genetically engineered (GE) contamination and climate change.



Infographic from Center For Food Safety

According to the last census to count seed diversity, conducted in 1983, the United States lost 94% of its vegetable seed varieties in the 20th century. For example, the census revealed that of the 288 varieties of beets originally counted, only 28 remained because the seeds had not been cultivated and saved. Of 158 varieties of cauliflower, 9 remained and of 55 varieties of kohlrabi, 3 remained. Hundreds of other crops displayed a similar dwindling—many to only one remaining varietal.

It is unknown what the vegetable seed diversity is today, but one needs only to recall the Irish potato famine to be reminded of the disastrous consequences that can result when there is a lack of genetic diversity in a food system. Gary Paul Nabhan said in the documentary Seed: The Untold Story “The diversity in our seed stocks is an endangered as a golden eagle or a panda right now. We have the largest seed shortage in history.”


Oregon is one of the top five seed producing areas in the world where vegetable seeds can be successfully produced, owing to the state’s fertile valleys and temperate climate. Specialty seed growers in the state grow radish, cabbage, onion, swiss chard, squash, beets, grasses, among others, for seed, which are planted by farmers around the world. The Willamette and Rogue Valleys could remain a regional powerhouse of organic seed products, given the right protections. 

In addition to the economic benefits of being a vital seed-producing region, saving and sharing local seed varieties in our region that are best adapted to micro climates throughout the Pacific Northwest keeps seeds in local hands, requires less inputs, and increases evolutionary gene diversity, which is critically important for current and future food system crops during these times of rapid climate change.


Photos copyright Chris Hardy


Cultivate Oregon, along with our coalition partners, are working on educational and legislative solutions to solve local issues around seed sanctuaries and preemption, as well as helping to build a local seed network that is easily accessible to farmers, gardeners and consumers throughout the state.

We hope you'll join us in strengthening our local food system by donating to our cause and signing up to volunteer. Are you a seed breeder or farmer interested in becoming part of Cultivate Oregon's seed network? Tell us about your business including the challenges that you face and letting us know how we can support you in sustaining your business.

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Cultivate Oregon Seed Swap