September 22, 2017

The Awe-inspiring Potential of a Seed

“It always amazes me to look at the little, wrinkled brown seeds and think of the rainbows in ’em,” said Captain Jim. “When I ponder on them seeds I don’t find it nowise hard to believe that we’ve got souls that’ll live in other worlds. You couldn’t hardly believe there was life in them tiny things, some no bigger than grains of dust, let alone colour and scent, if you hadn’t seen the miracle, could you?”
L.M. Montgomery, Anne’s House of Dreams
Janine Pineo Photo | The long view down the middle aisle of the Fedco Seeds facility. Inside the boxes are packets of seeds.

Janine Pineo Photo | The long view down the middle aisle of the Fedco Seeds facility. Inside the boxes are packets of seeds.

• By Janine Pineo •

Plant a seed.

It’s not a cliche.

It’s a mantra.

It is one that can be heeded in more ways than one. So I am going to plant a seed about planting seeds.

I am in awe of seeds. I can look at one the size of a speck of dust and see the flower it is meant to become. Or I imagine the taste of the vegetable it will produce.

Janine Pineo Photo | Inside the packet-wide boxes are the packets of seeds.

Janine Pineo Photo | Inside the packet-wide boxes are the packets of seeds.

The definition of a seed is straightforward: a flowering plant’s unit of reproduction, capable of developing into another such plant. The more scientific of definitions talk about stored food, an embryonic state, the difference between angiosperms and gymnosperms and so forth.

I know all that. I look at a seed and it speaks to me in a different way. It is a piece of life, waiting to emerge and sustain more life. Not only is it a possible source of food for me, but it can sustain insects, birds, mammals and more, which in turn sustain not only humans but other species.

It is the global circle of life in action, you see.

And yet, we threaten our own existence with the loss of some of these lives. I am fascinated with the Millennium Seed Bank in the United Kingdom. This partnership aims to conserve 25 percent of the world’s plants by 2020.

“The Millennium Seed Bank Partnership is the largest ex situ plant conservation programme in the world. Our focus is on global plant life faced with the threat of extinction and plants of most use for the future. The seeds we save are conserved in seed banks as an insurance against the risk of extinction in their native habitat.”

The project’s goals may sound simple, but ponder this: How many seed-bearing species of plants are there in our entire world? Read on.

“Working with our network of partners across 80 countries, we have successfully banked over 13% of the world’s wild plant species. With your help, we are going to save 25% of those species with bankable seeds by 2020 (75,000 species). We target plants and regions most at risk from the ever-increasing impact of human activities, including land use and climate change.”

All of this was prompted by my Saturday visit to Fedco Seeds annual tree sale. It actually is much more than that, with the warehouse open for buying supplies and seed potatoes (there is another whole kettle of fish in the seed-saving world). And if you aren’t paying attention, you will miss a stop at what I think is one of the most amazing sights, something I believe rivals a museum filled with the finest art.

I am talking about their seed facility. There, up on a road in Clinton, is a long, long building filled with boxes filled with packets filled with seeds.

Millions of seeds. Millions and millions. Probably billions. Likely even a gazillion.

From the itsy speck of a poppy seed to the hefty bulk of a winter squash seed, you can find all the varieties of plants listed in their catalog.

Box after box stretches into the distance. As you walk down the middle aisle, you will pass everything from broccoli to basil to bachelor buttons. It all is logically arranged — once you figure out the system — and if you are anything like me, you end up hauling away more seeds even though you already got your order from them for the year.

As I stood there Saturday afternoon, I had thoughts enter my head that have done so ever since I first set foot inside that Clinton building. Because this is just one seed company in Maine; there are more, several of them.

What if they sold all those seeds? What if those seeds produced the flowers, fruits and vegetables that is the promise in each one of those individual seeds?

Would anyone have to go hungry in this state? Would we have more than enough and be able to share the wealth beyond our borders? Would we eat healthier?

Would the world change? Would people?

Wouldn’t it be incredible to plant a seed and see?

The week of May 5 is Garden Maine’s last of the Spring Has Sprung giveaways. Click here to enter for a chance to win a collection of seeds and a copy of John Chisholm’s book.

Note: I looked at inspirational quotes about seeds after I wrote this story. It seemed more than appropriate to include it.

Janine Pineo Photo | A view from the far end of the seed facility in Clinton.

Janine Pineo Photo | A view from the far end of the seed facility in Clinton.