The Importance of Saving and Sharing Seeds

Why do we care about saving and sharing seeds? A major goal of Cultivate Oregon is to foster a strong local food system 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.


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 as 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 regions in the world where vegetable seeds can be successfully cultivated, 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 seeds, which are planted by farmers around the world. The Willamette and Rogue Valleys could grow into regional powerhouses of organic seed products, creating economic growth for the state, 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, all of which are important for current and future food systems facing climate change challenges.




Organic and conventional farmers in Oregon have long-recognized the harms that result from GE contamination. In 2013 the discovery of GE wheat growing in an Oregon field seriously affected the export of the state’s wheat, and an ongoing GE bent grass contamination in Eastern Oregon has clogged irrigation and drainage ditches on private and public lands and will require ongoing remediation to manage the spread of the grass.

In 2014, in order to safeguard their crops, voters in Josephine and Jackson counties, by significant majorities, passed ballot measures to ban the cultivation of GE crops. However, during the 2013 special summer session, Oregon legislators included the GE seed issue in legislation (S.B. 863) that was used as leverage to pass the “Grand Bargain” related to PERS (retirement) issues. As part of this political compromise, which was otherwise unrelated to agriculture, S.B. 863 put into place a statewide prohibition that prevents any county or local jurisdiction from regulating use of seeds.

The Jackson County vote was fortunately exempted from S.B. 863 because the ballot initiative was filed by January 30, 2013—a political carve out made during the bargaining process. But Josephine County wasn’t included, and as a result, the county’s 58% affirmative vote was barred from going into effect simply because their citizen initiative was filed at a later date.

Around this same time, a moratorium was placed on cultivating GE canola in the Willamette Valley because of the detrimental effects cross-contamination would have on the marketability of brassica crops to buyers in countries that won’t accept GE products.

Cultivate Oregon, along with our coalition partners, is working on educational and legislative solutions to these issues, 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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