These days, speaking of a “mailbox” might bring about images of our virtual mailboxes, not the charming metal containers at the end of our driveways. When Seed Savers Exchange began in the pre social media days of 1975, our members were older and living in rural parts of the country. They relied on these physical metal boxes to not only exchange hand-written letters but heirloom seeds as well. This unique club of seed savers referred to each other as “mailbox friends.” This week our 2013 Yearbook will be mailed out to more than 10,000 members—the 38th year in a row—to continue facilitating this connection between seed saving brethren. This Yearbook might well represent the largest private index of seed varieties in the United States.
While it is always a considerable challenge to compile the listings of more than 19,000 varieties from nearly 700 seed savers each year, one of the fun experiences is reading the many descriptions of varieties offered.
Passing by the office kitchen table on my way to get a cup of coffee a few weeks ago, two staff members were proofing the listings from the upcoming Yearbook and reading some of the anecdotes out loud. Christy was amused by an Iowa member who wrote, “In keeping with my penchant for selecting seed based on names (I buy wine the same way- don’t you?), ‘Little Brown Cat’ has joined my collection because, as my son observed, you really don’t see brown cats.”
Sarah said, “Listen to the history of the ‘Doloff’ bean.” First grown by Roy Dolloff in Vermont, he gave it to Hattie Gray who remembered walking with her mother to Burke Hollow and back to get the seed from him when she was a girl in the 1920’s. Hattie grew the seed for 60 years and gave it to Leigh Hurley who listed it in 1986. Today, 27 years later, five members are still listing the ‘Dollof’ bean.
Those hand-written letters are treasures which support Seed Savers Exchange’s belief that every seed has a story to tell. Whether you choose to utilize the yearbook as it always has been—through the print copy coming to your mailbox at the end of the driveway, or through the recently offered electronic version on our website, consider the people who have chosen to carry these varieties forward. Along with a check, send them a note of thanks in appreciation for preserving our garden heritage.
No matter the form of mailbox you use, we are thrilled to see Seed Savers Exchange members utilizing the Yearbook not only as a way to acquire and cultivate seeds, but relationships as well. As one member proudly told us this year, “In 2008 I contacted a SSE member in my area and we have been great friends ever since." Mailbox friends.
To learn more about the Yearbook and the additional benefits of becoming a SSE member, visit www.seedsavers.org/Membership/.