Roots 2014: Lee Jones on Keeping America Close to Its Food
Why are seed systems important?
“Seed system” is a very broad and all-inclusive term. It has to be broken down into individual parts to truly understand the quality effects of seeds. The criteria used for selecting seeds is a beginning point. The criteria used depends on the purpose of the individuals setting the criteria. For instance, when my great-great-great grandfather saved seed, his main criterion was “how does it taste?” Who would want to save a vegetable that didn't taste good if you were growing it for yourself? We feel that should still be the main criterion and a great percentage of the criteria used to select a seed. Next are the qualities that seed has and the way it's grown. As in all kinds of growing, there are good growers and there are beggars. These growers also have different criteria. If they're growing for the highest yield, they may use one set of criteria. If they're growing for the highest quality and purity they would use another set of criteria.
How the seed is taken care of as it's harvested and as it is stored has a great deal to do with the end quality. A seed has the maximum potential it can ever have when it's originally grown. Seed quality deteriorates each time a person touches it. How much it deteriorates depends on the care given at each step.
If all seeds were perfect there would be no need for further steps, but unfortunately that's not always the case. When we as growers get seeds, whether we grow it ourselves or purchase it from a professional, it has to go through several checks before it is planted. The first of those steps is to check the actual germination under specified conditions in the lab. If that germination isn't up to standard, then it has to be cleaned and sorted by specific gravity, and retested. It makes absolutely no sense to plant a seed that will not grow. We have found that the seeds we grow ourselves are much more adaptable and produce a better quality plant than seeds grown in another location.
Without the highest quality seed it is impossible to grow high-quality vegetables.
How do we get more people to care about sustainably raised foods without it feeling like a class distinction?
We can't do it alone. It is happening now and will continue to do so through many people arriving at the same conclusion over time, that conclusion being that healthy food is fresh and unprocessed food obtained directly from the grower. We will never be able to force people to make that change. The American people are very independent and for the most part they want to make decisions based on the facts. Fortunately, the fact that fresh and unprocessed foods are healthiest is becoming common knowledge from a wide variety of sources including: nutritionists, the medical field and people willing to make healthier choices. Today people are beginning to see what a difference eating fresh can make. And this awakening is not coming from any single class; it is coming from a broad base of people that are making sound decisions based on facts about their life. Our part in that is to educate when we can but most importantly to continue to grow the very best, healthiest, and best tasting vegetables possible.