It’s April, and that means that gardening conversation in most parts of the country has begun to turn to direct-sow seeds for cool-season crops—crops like ‘Grandma Hadley’s’ lettuce, a rare butterhead variety Seed Savers Exchange has stewarded since 1988.
That was the year that Pam Andrew—then a novice gardener in Arizona—carefully packed up and mailed her family's cherished heirloom lettuce seed to us along with the following handwritten note:
“This lettuce seed has been in our family for generations. I remember eating it at my grandfather’s in wilted lettuce salad as a child. [My Great Aunt] Flossie remembers her Grandma Hadley growing it—which was my great-great-grandmother!...Since Flossie no longer gardens, she said it was up to me to keep the seed going, but I’m afraid I’ll lose it.”
Unwilling to take the chance of losing forever seed her family had so carefully saved for well more than a century, Pam did what countless other gardeners and seed savers have done since Seed Savers Exchange was founded in 1975—she entrusted it to us for safekeeping. Today that seed is sealed in three-ply foil, labeled, and stored alongside more than 25,000 other open-pollinated varieties in a seed vault at our Heritage Farm headquarters.
But that’s not the end of the story.
In 2016—after evaluation by members nationwide—Seed Savers Exchange introduced the variety into its catalog as part of an effort to increase agricultural diversity by moving the varieties it stewards from the vault into the hands of backyard gardeners. This critical ongoing work is made possible by an active network of supporters, including thousands of members who care deeply about food security, biodiversity, and the future of our food supply.
As you look ahead to planting those cool-season crops—including, we hope, rare heirloom varieties like ‘Grandma Hadley’s’ lettuce—take a moment to think about the people who planted them before you, people like Grandma Emma Hadley and Aunt Flossie Cramer who lovingly saved seeds yesterday so that you can savor the fruits of those seeds today. And then, if you are not already a member, please consider joining Seed Savers Exchange's member network and the crop-diversity movement. We need your support more than ever to preserve the world's endangered garden varieties for future generations.