Seed Stories

Bean 5527

Just looking at a seed, you really can’t tell much about it.

Maybe you can identify the type of vegetable or flower it will grow, but what about its flavor, its history, its grow-ability?

Now imagine going on an investigative journey to uncover its origins, its family legends and folklore. Exploring the seed’s story, unraveling its mystery. Following the twists and turns the stories take.

That is what seed historians do here at Heritage Farm as part of our Collection Origins Research Effort (CORE). They are working diligently to document the stories behind the vast collection in Seed Savers Exchange’s (SSE) Seed Bank.

Since our founding in 1975, thousands of donors have given us their seeds for safe-keeping. Some of these accessions have been accompanied by the stories of family members; others have little or no documentation.

It is urgent to gather this information by all possible means: phone conversations, emails, letters and personal meetings. It’s a race against time to contact the seed donors and their relatives so that their first-hand accounts are not lost.

Bean 5527 'Aunt Mollie'

Here is one such story, summarized from an account sent to us by Catherine Mellecker Simon, accompanying seeds given to Seed Savers Exchange:

Aunt Mollie
Aunt Mollie

In 1852 Franz and Wilhelmia Brockman and their four children came to America from Westphalia, Germany. The couple had to leave most of their worldly possessions behind as most immigrants,

“but they managed to bring a possession as a remembrance of their homeland which would take up very little space” – some special bean seeds.

By 1853 they and their children had settled on a farm in Liberty Twp., Johnson Co. Iowa. Their daughter, Amelia (“Aunt Mollie”) raised fruits and vegetables for sale, always growing the “Mollie Bean,” saving the seed each year. Amelia had no children of her own, but she was always included in her sister's family gatherings at the Mellecker farm.

“Amelia would always bring her beans for the potluck and seeds to share with us all. As a result during those two generations the “Mollie Beans” were grown by relatives in Montana, Colorado, Arizona and California.”

By the time Magdalene died in 1955, Amelia had passed away ten years earlier, but her namesake beans continue to be planted in the gardens of Franz and Wilhelmina’s descendants to this day.

Why are stories like this so important?

Heritage varieties offer us something that new releases many times do not. For one reason or another – taste, color, a name, adaptability, personal connections – they have survived the test of time.

A seed’s story is its voucher that a variety is worthy of being grown, saved, and shared. 

Sometimes, just becoming aware of the chain of stewardship and the personal experiences of those who've grown and shared these seeds will make the difference in a gardener’s choice to grow out an heirloom variety instead of a more common hybrid. The recorded stories help SSE promote heirlooms and open pollinated seeds for exchange and to get them into the hands of more growers, who in turn undertake the annual cycle of planting, cultivating, harvesting, storing, and sharing seeds.

You can be a part of this important effort to preserve the stories behind the seeds. Make a special tax deductible gift to this important project today so that our most vulnerable and valuable varieties and their histories are not lost to future generations. Your support will help us maintain genetic diversity and preserve our nation’s agricultural heritage.

You might also like to read other CORE seed stories, like the Collier cucumber.