Preserving heirloom seeds in Utah Valley

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Utah Seed Exchange, an open community group located in Utah Valley, provides members a place to learn how to grow and protect heirloom seeds for free.

Allaire Younica helped found the group in February with the goal to preserve heirloom plants and varieties. Heirloom plants come from seeds that have not been cross-pollinated, they reproduce plants identical to the parent plant and will do so indefinitely if protected.

Derek Haynie, Utah Seed Exchange member, said he heard about the group on a radio show and realized it is important people develop the skills of growing and preserving seeds.

“(People) need to eat healthier, and most healthy food comes from heirloom seeds,” Haynie said.

Younica said the best way to preserve a plant species is by planting it, keeping the seed pure to the parent plant and then properly storing the seed until planting it again. Unless frozen, seeds usually lose their ability to germinate within a couple years. To keep seeds “pure” they must be grown in isolation from other species and varieties to prevent cross-pollination.

“Ninety-eight percent of all seeds available in catalogs in 1910 are now extinct,” Younica said. “The seed varieties stopped being grown or properly stored, they do not exist anymore. We can not bring any plants back, but we can help ensure that no more species are lost.”

Younica said there are several advantages of being a Utah Seed Exchange member.

“Members will not have to buy any more seeds or plant starts,” Younica said. “Members will exchange with each other. (They) give what they have and get what they need.”

Members support the organization by preserving the varieties of seeds and trading with each other. They also meet consistently to taste the produce and varieties each member is growing.

“(Group members) are supporting our organization because we are supporting their goal of preserving varieties by teaching hundreds of new people how to grow and preserve heirloom seeds,” Younica said.

Michelle Curtiss, a group member, said the Utah Seed Exchange helps teach what plants thrive in Utah’s cliamte.

“It is exciting to learn how to grow a garden year-round without having to use a large expensive greenhouse,” Curtiss said. “We can have fresh produce 365 days a year.”

Classes are taught on how to use heirloom seeds suited for the winter growing season or to use hotbeds to extend the growing season through the colder months of the year.

“Through growing heirloom varieties and saving the seeds, members of Utah Seed Exchange will feed their families healthy and nutritious food grown organically,” Younica said.

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