FERN’s Friday Feed: Why we save seeds

Welcome to FERN’s Friday Feed (#FFF), where we share the stories from this week that made us stop and think.

What seed-saving can teach us about the end of the world

FERN and Orion Magazine

“Every broccoli crown you bag at the store, every fruit you skin for your child, comes from a seed stocked with generations of DNA. But it also comes … with a story of how it traveled from one continent to another, from the earth to your hand. Archivists at the Seed Savers Exchange catalog these stories,” writes Kea Krause. “Some speak to the end of worlds: a bean grown by a prisoner at Auschwitz who took it with her when she was forced to march. Others to hope for the future: a lima bean grown since the 1930s by someone’s beloved great grandfather. And still others to a mix of both: a tomato seed smuggled into prison by someone serving a sentence for a drug charge, and harvested in a work-release program. I was learning a funny thing about seeds: though they hold the blueprints of life’s beginnings, they’re often associated with the end of something — my tomato, life as we know it — apocalypses big and small.”

The controversial rush to ID species before they go extinct


“For [Michael] Sharkey and other entomologists who support his approach, this method of accelerated taxonomy is an urgently needed response to ecological calamity,” writes Brooke Jarvis. “Here we humans are, on a planet of astounding diversity in which truly enormous numbers of our neighbors are still mysteries to us—are, in fact, slowly revealing themselves to be more mysterious than we ever realized—and at the same time we’re pushing those other species rapidly toward oblivion. What choice is there, Sharkey asked, but to do all we can to speed up the naming process, if we are to learn what we’re losing before it’s gone?”

The date is less a fruit than a cultural marker


“It’s possible to divide the world in two: the part that venerates the humble-seeming fruit known as the date, and the part that does not,” writes Matti Friedman. “I grew up in the part of the world that doesn’t care (in my case, Canada), where supermarkets banish this queen of fruit to remote corners of the health-food aisle with the lowly prune and the most obscure nuts. But I’ve spent the last three decades living and writing in Israel, part of the world where the date reigns. Now when I visit North America and see these fruits languishing on their remote shelves, it feels like climbing into an Uber with that Washington, D.C. driver who was once finance minister of Afghanistan. You can almost hear them whispering: Don’t you know who I am?

How to make corn more like cactus

Knowable Magazine

“This past summer, a widespread drought across the United States lowered crop yields by as much as one-third as corn, wheat, barley and other plants suffered from too much heat and too little water. It’s a scenario that will likely become more common as climate change makes much of the world a hotter, drier place,” writes Kurt Kleiner. “Scientists are trying to teach old crops some new tricks that will let them flourish in these harsher conditions — turning to secrets that reside in plants like pineapples, orchids and agaves. These and certain other plants have hacked photosynthesis in ways that allow them to thrive when it’s hot and dry.”

Ode to the 1990s food court

Los Angeles Times

“On any given Saturday, my girls and I would find our way to the mall. We performed a version of what Virginia Woolf describes so beautifully in ‘Street Haunting’ … the subversive joy of strolling aimlessly. ‘With no thought of buying, the eye is sportive and generous; it creates; it adorns; it enhances,’ Woolf writes. “Woolf’s essay, published in the interwar years of the early 20th century, was an ode to walking outdoors on a brisk winter evening in London,” writes Jean Chen Ho. “We were Asian American young adults in California on the cusp of the new millennium, swanning around the corridors of a temperature-controlled indoor shopping center … Woolf ends up at a stationery shop on the Strand, where she purchases a single lead pencil before heading home. As for me and my coterie of teenage girl flaneurs, we sashayed toward the food court.”