The heirloom seed saving movement has grown dramatically over the past three decades, and one woman, Diane Ott Whealy, has been there every step of the way. Whealy is known as the mother of the movement, after she and her husband Kent Whealy established the Seed Savers Exchange in Decorah, Iowa back in 1975.
Whealy developed an interest for heirloom varieties when she was gifted a handful of morning glory seeds from her grandfather. The seeds had come to the United States years earlier from Bavaria, brought by her great grandparents. That collection has grown to more than 24,000 varieties of plants currently being distributed among exchange members and protected in several storage facilities throughout the world.
"When immigrants came into this country, they brought with them the seeds that they wanted to have when they got here," said Whealy. "They had no idea what they'd find."
The act of planting these rare varieties helps bring biodiversity back to the nation's flora, as commercial varieties of corn, tomatoes, leafy greens, potatoes, flowers and other plants currently dominate most gardens and fields.
"I'm looking at all the beautiful things at the farmers' market these days and they're all heirloom varieties of seed," Whealy said reflecting on the benefits of the saver movement. "If we hadn't started this when we did, over 35 years ago now, who knows what we might of lost."