UNT program preserves American Southern seeds, history

Monday, October 10, 2011

DENTON (UNT), Texas -- Whether to replenish devastated crops or to grow plants from the past, farmers and gardeners often look for heirloom seeds, old, non-hybrid varieties of plants that have become difficult to find over time.

The Southern Seed Legacy program at the University of North Texas works to collect and conserve Southern heirloom seeds and their histories, with a particular focus on seeds threatened by genetic erosion or extinction. The Southern Seed Legacy serves as a seed reserve for plant varieties in danger of  becoming extinct, and as a memory bank documenting the cultural history of Southern heirloom plants.

The Southern Seed Legacy began in 1996 at the University of Georgia. In the Spring of 2011, the program was moved to UNT, and is now under the direction of UNT Anthropology Professor James Veteto. The program, which houses more than 700 varieties of seeds, is housed in the Laboratory of Environmental Anthropology in UNT's Life Sciences Complex.

"The cultural and biological heritage of southern crop varieties has enriched life in the South for the past several thousand years," Veteto said. "Whereas most Southerners used to work on farms and grow their own food, today less than 1 percent of the population is still employed in farming. Presently, the conservation of old-time seed varieties mostly takes place in home gardens, and is practiced by older generations. The Southern Seed Legacy aims to conserve and promote these time-honored and cherished heirloom varieties and cultural memories and encourage a new generation of Southern farmers and gardeners to take an interest in growing local foods. This is becoming increasingly important in the face of economic hard times and uncertain climate change."

In the future, Veteto hopes to develop a greenspace area on campus featuring a garden of plants from the Southern Seed Legacy, and to host a seed swap in Spring 2012. He also plans to work toward recruiting more growers and seed collectors into the Southern Seed Legacy's membership network.

UNT News Service Phone Number: (940) 565-2108

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