Online Seed Exchange

Online Seed Exchange

Seed Savers Exchange (SSE) is proud to provide a new tool to help seed savers and gardeners keep the diversity of our garden heritage in the hands of many: an online seed exchange.

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Talking Trees Installation at Heritage Farm


Brooke Joyce and Harvey Sollberger stand under one of the Talking Trees tripods.

Talking Trees is an outdoor sound installation created by Brooke Joyce and Harvey Sollberger.

Talking Trees began as a casual, post-concert conversation between composers Brooke Joyce and Harvey Sollberger in 2009. A shared interest in making music in non-traditional venues was discovered, as well as a love for nature and the wonderful landscape of northeast Iowa. Four years later, we are excited to share the fruits of our labor at the beautiful Seed Savers Heritage Farm.

Our goal is to provide visitors with a sensory experience that compliments rather than overwhelms the natural soundscape. As you walk the southern side of the Valley Trail, you will encounter four large, metal tripods, designed and built by Kelly Ludeking, which contain four small speakers. You’ll hear sounds that were recorded at Seed Savers last May. Each tripod features a single sonic theme:

I. Water

A stream runs parallel to most of the Valley Trail. You’ll hear sounds from this water source, along with raindrops and wind chimes. As the day progresses, the sounds become more resonant and reverberant.

II. Birds

Many varieties of songbirds make their home at Seed Savers. Several are featured in this part of the installation. The bird calls become less frequent and more resonant as the day progresses.

III. Frogs

Elsewhere on the farm are areas favored by frogs, captured here in the twilight hours. As dawn moves to dusk, the frog sounds become more reverberant, spacious, and sustained.

IV. Insects

In particular, chirping crickets and buzzing flies. As time passes, the buzzing becomes more sustained, and we begin to hear a more defined pitch center.

We invite you to wander and linger as you like. Begin by making your way to the Valley Trail, and take the right fork when it branches. The distance from the parking lot to the end of the installation is approximately 1.25 miles and takes about 25 minutes to walk (without stopping).

Throughout the month of May the installation will run every day from 9 a.m. – 7 p.m., rain or shine. If you visit at different times of day, you’ll experience different sounds, as each station in the installation goes through a transformation throughout the 10-hour cycle.

Please share your thoughts, either by writing on the notebook outside the visitors center, or by visiting and clicking on “Talking Trees.”

Coinciding with this art installation is an additional exhibit at Heritage Farm, titled "Grassfed." Both art exhibits kick-off on May 4th, accompanied by a rare plant sale from the preservation collection at Seed Savers Exchange. Read about "Grassfed" and the rare plant sale here.

Structural Design by Kelly Ludeking, technical assistance from Bruce Larson (electronics), Dennis Pottratz (solar panel) and Steve Smith (programming).  Technical Information:

  • Sound Device: Raspberry Pi, running Linux
  • Software: Pure Data
  • Solar Panel: SunWize 55W
  • Battery: Dura-Start Deep Cycle Marine Battery
  • Speakers: Pyle PLMCA20 Motorcycle Speakers


  • Iowa Arts Council
  • Luther College

Special Thanks:

Hugh Livingston, Benji Nichols, Brandon Schmidt and Dan Trueman

The Lillian Goldman Visitors Center at Seed Savers Exchange is open Monday through Friday 9 a.m. - 5 p.m. and Weekends 10 a.m. - 5 p.m. Directions here.

Join the Facebook event here!

Debunking the Hybrid Myth

Navazio's workshop in the rain

At the Seed Savers Exchange Conference this summer, Dr. John Navazio 's talk, "Debunking the Hybrid Myth," laid out the hybrid vs. open-pollinated argument.  Here's a peek at John's speech, the whole speech is available here.  Also, check out Dr. Navazio's new book, The Organic Seed Grower, due out in December. Dr. John Navazio


Why are hybrids favored?

  • Once the parental inbreds are fixed it is easy to make the hybrids year after year.  You have two parental types and you cross them.
  • You can maintain those two homogeneous, very uniform parental types, and every time you want to make some new hybrid seed just plant it out in the field, detassle one, and let the other one make pollen.  They’ve been inbred so much they’re very easy to maintain, unlike OP’s that have all that variation. You're seed savers, you’ve seen it, right?  Once you've inbred them you’ve basically made it so genetically narrow that you’ll see that the variation is gone.  Two uniform parents make a uniform hybrid.
  • Companies liked it because hybrids allowed instant proprietary ownership. If you maintained your own inbreds and didn’t give it to anybody else you were the only one that could make that ‘Copper Cross’ hybrid and sell it.  Whereas, previously, if you were Ferry Morse and released ‘Detroit Dark Red’ in 1902, within three years every home garden, farmer, and seed company in America had ‘Detroit Dark Red.’ Owners of seed companies loved this little trick, this little wizardry, and the breeders liked it because of the stacking of traits it is actually easier to breed hybrids.

What are the disadvantages of hybrids?

  • Inbred lines are genetically narrow and have less adaptation over time than many OP's.  That’s why so many of them died from inbreeding depression.  You reveal these deleterious traits and narrow their genetic base so much that they’re not adapting and evolving like our older varieties were at the hands of the humans who kept them.  In fact, in studies of inbred lines they found that the best inbred lines tend to have less of McClintock’s transposable elements which meant they stayed stable much easier and are the reason the companies loved them so much.   It’s anti-evolutionary.
  • Hybrids are weaklings.  When you grow inbred seed, and I worked at a company where I grew inbred seed, you have to pour on the chemicals, use more water, more fertility, you really do have to baby them.  They are prima donnas.
  • F1’s focus is often not on the best traits.  They’re really focused on the traits that are good for the centralized systems, where we do high input agriculture.  It’s the wedding of modern reductionist science and high input, high output.  That’s not the way Mother Nature normally works.  Vandana Shiva talks about how the focus of science has been reductionist, and it’s all about how can we figure out the input to get exactly what we need to get the right output.  At that point you are taking a lot of nature out of the system and the new variation that gives us all of the diversity that we honor so much here today just doesn’t show up as much.
  • When you save seed from the hybrids, they don’t breed true, and when varieties are dropped they are gone!  You don’t save seed from hybrids, although there’s always an exception to the rule.
  • Seed growing has become very centralized and very specialized.  A hundred years ago all farmers had knowledge of how to grow seed for most of their top line crops.  If you want to talk about loss of diversity, we have lost the people who know how to grow seed.  This is as tragic as losing the genetic variation itself.

What are the advantages of open-pollinated varieties?  

  • They carry variability, and this results in genetic resilience.
  • OP varieties can be bred to be tough in all stages.  We can select for that in all stages.  You can do that with hybrids too, but it’s easier if you have that built in resilience.
  • They can be very regionally adapted and continue or always will be adapting year in and year out.  We need things like that right now, we’re going through this climate chaos, and so is everyone that I speak to all over the country.
  • When you save seed they do breed true, if you followed your isolation, of course.
  • Varieties are not lost due to a business decision.  Many of the farmers I work with actually went back to OPs' because they were sick and tired of seed companies dropping hybrid varieties that they’d actually come to know and love and learn to cater their system too.  All of the sudden it is gone one day.

What are the disadvantages of OP’s?  

  • They are genetically variable, and not always consistent. I don’t know if any of you get frustrated on the garden scale of not getting as much uniformity as perhaps you would like - some cabbage plants don’t really make a head or something like that.  But we can also take advantage of this if we do our selection and upkeep, and learn how to foster that adaptation.
  • They are harder to maintain.  I can attest to that having bred both hybrid and OP's.  It’s much harder to breed something that’s genetically resilient, while keeping in enough variability to keep it strong, and enough selection to make it uniform.  It’s a real paradox, how will I get a uniform enough variety but keep the variability?
  • How do seed companies keep varieties exclusive?  If we’re just growing OP’s anyone can go and grow it.   That’s a biggie. And the question that I ask all the seed growers I work with is, "What is the incentive for you to proceed if there is no business incentive?"


Harvest Fest & Soup Recipes

Despite the gloomy weather, Harvest Festival was a cozy event under the post and beams of Heritage Farm’s old barn.  Nearly 300 attendees sampled dozens of different antique apple varieties, heirloom beans, and fragrant roasted garlic.  Tasting over 26 varieties of apples in one place was truly a unique experience.  Apple expert Dan Bussey commented, “I am always amazed that there is no one favorite apple, some visitors really didn’t like Black Gilliflower, one of my favorites.  Taste is so subjective, just another reason this diversity is so important.” Soup cook-off winner Chef Stephen Larson from Quarter/QUARTER, along with SSE's Shannon Carmody and John Torgrimson

Area chefs Jim McCaffrey from McCaffrey’s Dolce Vita, Justin Scardina from La Rana, Mattias Kriemelmeyer from the Oneota Community Coop, and Stephen Larson from Quarter/QUARTER, went head to head in a soup cook-off featuring heirloom garlic varieties.  Chef Stephen Larson from Quarter/QUARTER was this winner.  Check out his winning recipe, or better yet, head over to his restaurant.



Garlic Insanity!!!

©Stephen Larson and QUARTER/quarter Restaurant LLC

Makes about 10 – 12 ounce servings

 For the soup:

  • 8 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 pound new crop garlic, cloves separated, peeled and crushed
  • 1 1/2 pounds fresh oyster mushrooms (or substitute button mushrooms), divided
  • 2 pounds fresh sweet corn kernels (or use frozen), divided
  • 1/2 pound yellow fleshed potatoes (like Yukon Gold), peeled and cut into small chunks
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon Sriracha hot pepper sauce
  • 6 cups corn cob stock (or use vegetable or chicken stock, or water)
  • 1 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Reggiano Parmesan cheese

Directions:  Melt the butter in a large soup pot over low heat.  Add the garlic then cook it over VERY LOW heat, stirring occasionally, until very lightly golden (about 1 hour).  Meanwhile, trim the stems from the oyster mushrooms and reserve.  Set aside 6 ounces of the mushroom caps for the garnish then add the rest of the caps to the reserved stems.  Once the garlic is done cooking, add the reserved mushrooms stems and cap mixture, 1 1/2 pounds of the corn kernels, salt, sugar, pepper sauce and stock to the soup pot and bring to a boil over high heat.  Once it has come to a boil, turn the heat down to medium and simmer for 20 minutes (or until the potatoes are very soft).  Meanwhile, make the garnish.  When the soup is done simmering, stir in the cream and cheese then blend in batches on high speed until smooth, passing each batch though a fine strainer, to remove the corn skins, into another pot.  Continue below to finish.

For the garnish and to finish the dish:

  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • Reserved oyster mushroom caps, cut into julienne
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh rosemary
  • Reserved 1/2 pound of corn kernels

Directions:  Put the butter into a large skillet over high heat.  When the butter is melted, add the mushrooms and rosemary, and continue to cook over high heat until the mushrooms are lightly colored.  Add the corn and continue to cook until just tender.  Stir into the blended soup and serve hot.

Or try this one from Chef Jim McCaffrey:

Roasted Garlic, Braebern Apple, Sharp Cheddar Cheese Soup

  • 1 Head garlic
  • Kosher salt
  • Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • 2 celery stalks, chopped
  • 2 Carrots, peeled and chopped
  • 1 Onion, chopped
  • 6 Tbl flour
  • 2 braebern apples, deseeded and cut into eighths
  • 4 cups vegetable broth
  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 2cups sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
  • 1 Tbl Dijon mustard
  • 2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
  • ¼ tsp black pepper
  • 1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1 4 oz. can green chile, chopped
  • Salt to taste.


Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Cut tip end of garlic off.  Rub open garlic in kosher salt and sprinkle with olive oil.  Wrap with aluminum foil and bake in oven for forty five minutes. Take cloves out of paper.  Add ¼ cup olive oil to large sauté pan. Saute celery, onions, and carrots until carrots are soft. Add flour and stir it in until slightly browned. Add  garlic cloves. Puree in food processor. Add to large pot. Add two tbl olive oil  to sauté pan and sauté apples until soft.  Puree and add to pot. Add broth and bring to a gentle boil. Turn heat to low and add cream and cheese. When cheese is melted, add remaining ingredients and stir. Enjoy!

Antique apple varieties on display at Seed Savers Exchange’s Harvest Festival

Kerr, Apple 101If you love apples, then you won’t want to miss the Harvest Festival at Seed Savers Exchange on Saturday, October 13, 10:00 am – 4:00 pm. Come learn that there is more to American apple diversity than Red Delicious and all her modern cousins.

Bring your seeds saved from this year’s harvest for the seed swap. Sample antique apple varieties and vote in the Harvest Soup Cook-off featuring area chefs from La Rana, McCaffrey’s Dolce Vita, Oneota Community Food Cooperative, and QUARTER/quarter.

Other events taking place at the Seed Savers Exchange Harvest Festival—tours, seed swap, apple pressing, and hayrides—begin at noon.  Children’s activities—squash squisher, pumpkin carving & seed saving, seed packet making and collecting, pillow sack threshing, and a garden scavenger hunt—will be happening all day.

Harvest Lecture Series

This year Seed Savers Exchange presents several lectures, including two speakers who are devoted to using healthy food as a tool for developing communities. 

  • 10:00am Seed Savers Exchange—“Seed Processing.” Learn how to process seeds and prepare them for storage.
  • 11:00am Seed Savers Exchange—“Seed Stories.” Hear the stories and learn how some of our favorite varieties came to be. Seed Savers Exchange launched the Collection Origins Research Effort (CORE), a massive sleuthing effort to collect and record complete histories of thousands of varieties.
  • 12:00pm Seed Savers Exchange—“Hard Cider Making.”  Learn various ways hard cider can be made.
  • Emily Torgrimson photo1:00pm Emily Torgrimson—“Sponsoring community meals to support charitable organizations.”  Torgrimson is founder of Eat for Equity, a non-profit that stages community meals and uses the donations to fund the work of charitable organizations. Featured on the TODAY Show, Eat for Equity has branches in Minneapolis, Boston, Portland, Washington D.C. and Phoenix.
  • Dan Carmody photo3:00 pm Dan Carmody—"Developing Regional Food Systems." Carmody is the President of the Eastern Market Corporation, Detroit, Michigan, where he leads the non-profit charged with converting one of the nation’s oldest and largest public markets into the nation’s most comprehensive healthy metropolitan food hub.

Seed Saving Workshop

For the garden enthusiast, a full-day workshop on the fundamentals of seed saving will be held on Sunday, October 14, from 10:00 am - 4:00 pm. This includes an introduction to seed saving, saving biennials, wet and dry processing and storing seeds. Participants will get hands-on seed saving experience. Preregistration is required. Cost is $40 and includes a box lunch (Seed Savers Exchange members receive a 10% discount). Register here.

Located six miles north of Decorah, Seed Savers Exchange is a non-profit membership organization dedicated to the preservation and distribution of heirloom seeds.  Seed Savers Exchange maintains a collection of thousands of open pollinated varieties, making it one of the largest non-governmental seed banks in the United States.  For information visit


For more information contact:

Shannon Carmody Seed Savers Exchange 563-387-5630

You'll never look at a tomato the same way again

Tomato Cloche

If you’ve been waiting for the right time to attend the Seed Savers Exchange Tomato Tasting—well wait no further.  From a planning perspective, SSE staff members are usually pretty nervous this week, biting our nails as the tomato harvest comes (we want to make sure there is enough for everyone). That is not the case this year. With the warm and early season we are up to our elbows in tomatoes—including many never-before sampled varieties. In fact, in addition to the over 40 commercial varieties, we will be sampling over 20 varieties from the SSE Collection that are only available through the exchange. So come see, taste, and experience tomato diversity in action this weekend from 1-4 PM at Heritage Farm.  Here’s a sneak peak at this year's event:

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Tomato Tasting and Seed Saving Workshop

tomato tasting 2011 JT 060

Seed Savers Exchange near Decorah, Iowa, is hosting a free Tomato Tasting and Seed Saving Workshop on Saturday, September 1, 2012. The Tomato Tasting will run from 1:00 – 4:00 pm, offering visitors the opportunity to sample a wide variety of heirloom tomatoes and learn how to save tomato seeds. Dester tomato image

The event will be held at the Lillian Goldman Visitors Center. More than 40 varieties of tomatoes of all colors and sizes will be available, including yellow cherry, pink beefsteak, striped stuffing, red grape and green roma’s. This year’s tasting will include 10 rare varieties from Seed Savers Exchange’s seed bank collection. Last year, Dester, a beefsteak tomato from the rare varieties was voted most popular.

The Oneota Food Co-op in Decorah is sponsoring this year’s Salsa Contest. Limited to 25 entrants, applications are available at the Co-op, by calling 563-382-4666, and online at The registration deadline is Monday, August 27. The co-op will also be providing food for purchase during the event.

Tomato tasters sampling over 40 varieties of tomatoesThere will be tomato seed saving workshops beginning at 12:00 noon featuring Seed Savers Exchange staff as well as tomato advisor and expert Craig LeHoullier. LeHoullier will give two talks, Tasting the Biodiversity of Tomatoes and Tomatoes with Great Stories and Great Flavors. Visitors will be able to tour Seed Savers Exchange’s tomato gardens. Guided hayride tours begin at 12:00 noon and are scheduled for every 45 minutes.

“This family event gives people the opportunity to experience the wide diversity of tomatoes available, and learn how to improve their own gardening experience,” says Diane Ott Whealy, co-founder of Seed Savers Exchange. The event will include music with special activities planned for kids.

All events are free to the public.

Founded in 1975, Seed Savers Exchange operates an 890-acre farm in northeast Iowa where thousands of rare fruit, vegetable, and other plant varieties are regenerated and preserved in a central collection. Its non-profit mission is conserving and promoting America’s culturally diverse but endangered food crop heritage for future generations by collecting, growing, and sharing heirloom seeds and plants. For information visit


For more information contact:

Shannon Carmody Seed Savers Exchange 563-387-5630

Seed Savers Exchange announces Harvest Lecture Series

Barn in the Morning at SSE Heritage Farm

Decorah, Iowa – Seed Savers Exchange, Inc., a leading non-profit organization dedicated to saving and sharing heirloom seeds, announces its Harvest Lecture Series. The series is designed to connect everyday gardeners and eaters with professionals in the food and seed industries. The Harvest Lecture Series is based on the Science Café model of engaging the general public in a casual setting, an atmosphere where everyone joins in. These lectures and discussions are meant to involve people who may not typically have these conversations.

The lecture series, which will take place in the barn loft at historic Heritage Farm near Decorah, feature

  • September 7: Dr. Bill Tracy, "Public Plant Breeding and the Role of Land Grant Universities"
  • October 13: Dan Carmody, "Developing Regional Food Systems" and Emily Torgrimson, “Eat for Equity: using community meals to support charitable organizations” (rescheduled from August 17)
  • October 19: Dan Bussey, "Our Apple Heritage"

Dr. William Tracy, Ph.D., Professor of Agronomy at UW-Madison, is a sweet corn breeder. To improve eating quality and pest resistance, Bill works with corn varieties from around the world. He creates and releases improved populations, inbreds, and hybrids.

Dan Carmody is the President of the Eastern Market Corporation, Detroit, MI, where he leads the non-profit charged with converting one of the nation’s oldest and largest public markets into the nation’s most comprehensive healthy metropolitan food hub.

Carmody will be joined by Emily Torgrimson, founder and Executive Director of Eat for Equity, a non-profit that stages community meals and uses the donations to fund the work of charitable organizations. Featured on the Today Show, Eat for Equity has branches in Minneapolis, Boston, Portland, Washington D.C. and Phoenix.

Dan Bussey is the Orchard Manager at Seed Savers Exchange. Apple historian and orchard keeper, Bussey has written a book on 14,000 apple varieties grown in North America since the 1600s which is scheduled to be published later this year. He owns a four-acre orchard in Wisconsin featuring more than 250 apple varieties.

Each lecture begins at 7:30 pm and costs $10 ($5 in advance). Refreshments will be served by Oneota Food Coop in Decorah beginning at 6:30.  Register here.

Founded in 1975, Seed Savers Exchange operates an 890-acre farm in northeast Iowa where thousands of rare fruit, vegetable, and other plant varieties are regenerated and preserved in a central collection. Its non-profit mission is conserving and promoting America’s culturally diverse but endangered food crop heritage for future generations by collecting, growing, and sharing heirloom seeds and plants. For information visit

This event is co-sponsored by the Leopold Center.

For more information contact: Shannon Carmody, Public Programs Manager 563-387-5630

Please pass the peas


The SSE preservation garden crew finished planting over 64 varieties of peas this week for evaluation, public display and seed regeneration. In a few short weeks these peas will take over the trellises here at Heritage Farm. But climbing skills aren't the only interesting thing about peas, here are a few more facts and growing tips that might leave you thinking Pass the Peas! [uds-billboard name="peas-please" ]

Webinar: Planning Your Garden for Seed Saving


This month's SSE webinar episode will highlight best practices for planning a garden for seed saving. Learn the difference between open-pollinated and hybrid seed and gain an understanding of plant taxonomy, reproductive structures and pollination methods. View the archived recording of this webinar below.

Part 1


Part 2


Part 3




Click here for information about SSE's seed donation program