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Stewardship Stories

Since 1975, stewardship stories have been an important part of our preservation work.

Hands passing a pepper to represent stewardship being passed from generation to generation.

Why Stories?

Since 1975, Seed Savers Exchange has led the heirloom seed movement and collected heirloom varieties of seeds from fruits, vegetables, herbs, and flowers. Stewardship stories have always been an important part of SSE’s preservation work. In their first year of marriage, co-founders Diane Ott Whealy and Kent Whealy were entrusted by Diane’s grandfather, with the seeds of two garden plants, ‘Grandpa Ott’s’ morning glory and ‘German Pink’ tomato. These seeds, brought by Grandpa Ott’s parents from Bavaria when they immigrated to Iowa in 1884, became the first two varieties in the collection.

Seeds are not just a source of food; they are a record of human history. Seeds are intrinsically connected to culture, health, technology, and the human experience. Many of the heirloom seeds in our collection have been grown and preserved by generations of families, each with their own stories of why they saved the seeds. Sharing these stories facilitates connection through shared cultural experiences and keeps this important part of history alive. 

For nearly 50 years, Seed Savers Exchange has grown its collection of heirloom and historic commercial seeds to over 20,000 varieties with help from individual donors with a passion for seed saving. In fact, a small group of just 41 seed savers have contributed 25% of the varieties in the collection. This group of gardening masterminds comes from all backgrounds—farmers, yes, but also artists, teachers, factory workers, lawyers, and homesteaders. In their spare time, they have tracked down, stewarded—and sometimes saved entirely—exceedingly rare varieties. Some started out of curiosity, some out of frugality, some in search of the best-tasting tomato.

Seed Savers Exchange has inspired a generation of seed savers and companies to specialize in rare, regionally adapted, delicious, and irreplaceable open-pollinated varieties. Many of these heirloom seed companies were founded by our own Seed Savers Exchange members.