Monday, February 25, 2008

A World Without Seeds

Imagine a world without carrots or peas, sunflowers or tomatoes. No onions, no corn, no beans, no pumpkins. No nothing. That doomsday scenario is part of the motivation behind the Svalbard Global Seed Bank set to begin operations on February 26th. The "facility" is a tunnel bored into the permafrost of a mountain in Svalbard, an Arctic archipelago about 1000 kilometers south of the north pole. As a gardener, this story immediately sounded interesting to me. But as I read more about it, the story of the seed bank went from interesting to astounding.

The goal of the project is to protect and preserve every known variety of the world's crop seeds. These seeds will be a "back-up" supply in the event of a natural or man-made disaster that wipes out a seed variety -- or even all of them. There's room for 4.5 million seed samples in the vault. Each sample contains about 500 seeds. That adds up to a whopping 2.25 BILLION seeds. All I can say is "Nobody sneeze."

This is a monumental undertaking. I can't imagine I collected even 500 seeds from my garden last fall. I saved some morning glories, liatris, helenium, and columbine. Of those, half have been lost to seed spills. So the thought of collecting 500 seeds from 4.5 million seeds types from around the globe is simply mindboggling. Still, I feel a solidarity with these seed savers.

The Svalbard Global Seed bank has been nicknamed the world's "Doomsday Vault." A bit morbid, no? I'd prefer to forget the doomsday scenarios and imagine instead the world's ultimate seed swap. While I'm glad to hear that countries around the world are getting involved in saving seeds, it's nice to know that gardeners are doing their bit every day to protect bio-diversity on the planet -- simply by saving a few seeds.


Gardenista said...

I listened to the CBC radio program on that seed bank this morning. It was truly amazing. I'm glad that Norway felt so strongly as to invest $8 million of its own dollars to build this project!

Anna--Flowergardengirl said...

That is interesting--kinda like the biology labs that save viruses and other morbid stuff--but seeds is much better. I wish they had a better name for it. I wonder if they will have to replenish due to the life expectancy of some seeds. What if somebody did sneeze and they mutated. It truly would be a disaster.