The introduction of the Limited Edition “From the Preservation Gardens” line of seeds to the SSE catalog in 2013 brought the heartwarming, funny, and sometimes curious stories of varieties from our on-site preservation collection into the homes of thousands of Americans. The SSE catalog is responsible for producing an annual infusion of fresh pieces of history along with member favorites.
Each fall, Seed House Manager Tom Wahlberg and Collection Curator Jenna Sicuranza brainstorm collection varieties for the upcoming year’s catalog grow-out. Jenna selects a wide range of crop types and submits them to Tom for trial and evaluation. These varieties are exceptional in some way – mammoth size, unique flavor, early season – and always have an interesting history.
After a season of growth, what may have started as a list of 13 varieties to feature can get narrowed down to 8 or 9. As the weather begins to cool and the catalog design process picks up, the featured line is finalized. Once varieties have been featured in the Limited Edition line, it’s a matter of determining what can be transitioned to the catalog. The process is easier when there is a niche to fill, like with the “Italian Black” Cowpea, a featured variety in 2014.
“Not all seeds are going to be commercially viable, but all seeds are remarkable,” explains Tom. It’s a balancing act between making seeds available to the general public through the catalog and relying on member offerings in the Exchange to provide access to varieties with such rich histories. He goes on to say, “You hope that people understand... if they want to ensure they have a certain variety for planting next year, the best way is to save the seeds themselves.”
Seed Savers Exchange is a non-profit organization located in Decorah, Iowa, with a mission to conserve and promote America's culturally diverse but endangered garden and food crop heritage for future generations by collecting, growing, and sharing heirloom seeds and plants.