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The Seed Underground: A Growing Revolution to Save Food (original 2012; edition 2012)

by Janisse Ray

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364313,489 (3.3)None
Member:JonathanGorman
Title:The Seed Underground: A Growing Revolution to Save Food
Authors:Janisse Ray
Info:Chelsea Green Publishing (2012), Paperback, 240 pages
Collections:Read but unowned
Rating:***1/2
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The Seed Underground: A Growing Revolution to Save Food by Janisse Ray (Author) (2012)

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Home gardeners are increasingly turning to "heirloom" varieties of plants. Whether it's to remember flowers their parents or grandparents kept or to find better tasting vegetables, it's a growing movement of sorts. And Ms. Ray recites (several times) statistics of how many varieties are no longer available - and the numbers are disconcerting. Seed companies have bred hybrids to the point where a gardener cannot save seeds from one year to the next and have them grow true. Even more distressing, companies have turned to genetically-modified (GM) crops that have genetic traits artificially inserted for resistance to pests or - alarmingly - chemical herbicides. Ray argues that we have lost control of our food supply risking imminent collapse and are in need of a revolution.

I really looked forward to reading this book. I recently began planting vegetables again and was interested in growing some "heirloom" varieties mainly because so many modern hybrids have been bred for output or shelf-life instead of taste. (I've even ordered seed catalogs from Seed Savers and other small heirloom companies.) Unfortunately, my results have so far been poor (no one in the family liked the taste of the varieties I tried) and I hoped this book might provide some guidance. However, as Ms. Ray writes in the Introduction "This is not a textbook on seed saving. I am looking to inspire you with my own life." (pg. xv)

And she tells us about her farm and visits to others to acquire old varieties. Some of these episodes are interesting, and she offers a few bits of advice, like pollinating squash flowers or saving tomato seeds or growing sweet potatoes. This is when the book really shines. But, "You won't get many of those details from me here," she writes. "My goal is simply to plant a seed." (pg 151) Much of the book is a paranoid screed against "big ag" and "big chemical" companies and how evil they and our government and justice system are (and some of her stories are indeed troublesome). "Science is worrisome when it only serves the interests of mercenaries and their employees... infecting our food supply with greed." (pg. 12) And in spite of her claim in the Preface that "I do not feel hopeless" (pg. ix) she later says "Who needs hope? ...It's not hope or love that keep me going. It's fight." (pg. 193)

Ms. Ray describes herself as a "granola" (a "back-to-the-earth" hippie who grew up post-60s) and comes off as a Luddite when it comes to technology. We get an earful of her philosophy of not flying and avoiding fossil-fuels ("Plastic is bad stuff." pg. 129) and basically living apart from modern society. Her attitude is militant and she calls anyone saving seeds a "revolutionary" and seems to find meaning in fighting modernity. But even she admits by the end that not all technology or corporations are evil. Sometimes hybrids combine beneficial traits and are useful, and public and private companies can do "good" (see pg. 174). (Incidentally, this is why many gardeners choose hybrids over heirlooms - they often grow better and are more reliable even if the taste is often inferior. And buying a packet of seeds for a dollar or two is more convenient than the effort to save your own, as even she admits.) Still... I completely relate to her desires for older varieties and will continue to look for ones that grow well for me and that the family likes. I'll just have to look elsewhere for information on them. ( )
  J.Green | Aug 26, 2014 |
Home gardeners are increasingly turning to "heirloom" varieties of plants. Whether it's to remember flowers their parents or grandparents kept or to find better tasting vegetables, it's a growing movement of sorts. And Ms. Ray recites (several times) statistics of how many varieties are no longer available - and the numbers are disconcerting. Seed companies have bred hybrids to the point where a gardener cannot save seeds from one year to the next and have them grow true. Even more distressing, companies have turned to genetically-modified (GM) crops that have genetic traits artificially inserted for resistance to pests or - alarmingly - chemical herbicides. Ray argues that we have lost control of our food supply risking imminent collapse and are in need of a revolution.

I really looked forward to reading this book. I recently began planting vegetables again and was interested in growing some "heirloom" varieties mainly because so many modern hybrids have been bred for output or shelf-life instead of taste. (I've even ordered seed catalogs from Seed Savers and other small heirloom companies.) Unfortunately, my results have so far been poor (no one in the family liked the taste of the varieties I tried) and I hoped this book might provide some guidance. However, as Ms. Ray writes in the Introduction "This is not a textbook on seed saving. I am looking to inspire you with my own life." (pg. xv)

And she tells us about her farm and visits to others to acquire old varieties. Some of these episodes are interesting, and she offers a few bits of advice, like pollinating squash flowers or saving tomato seeds or growing sweet potatoes. This is when the book really shines. But, "You won't get many of those details from me here," she writes. "My goal is simply to plant a seed." (pg 151) Much of the book is a paranoid screed against "big ag" and "big chemical" companies and how evil they and our government and justice system are (and some of her stories are indeed troublesome). "Science is worrisome when it only serves the interests of mercenaries and their employees... infecting our food supply with greed." (pg. 12) And in spite of her claim in the Preface that "I do not feel hopeless" (pg. ix) she later says "Who needs hope? ...It's not hope or love that keep me going. It's fight." (pg. 193)

Ms. Ray describes herself as a "granola" (a "back-to-the-earth" hippie who grew up post-60s) and comes off as a Luddite when it comes to technology. We get an earful of her philosophy of not flying and avoiding fossil-fuels ("Plastic is bad stuff." pg. 129) and basically living apart from modern society. Her attitude is militant and she calls anyone saving seeds a "revolutionary" and seems to find meaning in fighting modernity. But even she admits by the end that not all technology or corporations are evil. Sometimes hybrids combine beneficial traits and are useful, and public and private companies can do "good" (see pg. 174). (Incidentally, this is why many gardeners choose hybrids over heirlooms - they often grow better and are more reliable even if the taste is often inferior. And buying a packet of seeds for a dollar or two is more convenient than the effort to save your own, as even she admits.) Still... I completely relate to her desires for older varieties and will continue to look for ones that grow well for me and that the family likes. I'll just have to look elsewhere for information on them. ( )
  J.Green | Aug 26, 2014 |
Home gardeners are increasingly turning to "heirloom" varieties of plants. Whether it's to remember flowers their parents or grandparents kept or to find better tasting vegetables, it's a growing movement of sorts. And Ms. Ray recites (several times) statistics of how many varieties are no longer available - and the numbers are disconcerting. Seed companies have bred hybrids to the point where a gardener cannot save seeds from one year to the next and have them grow true. Even more distressing, companies have turned to genetically-modified (GM) crops that have genetic traits artificially inserted for resistance to pests or - alarmingly - chemical herbicides. Ray argues that we have lost control of our food supply risking imminent collapse and are in need of a revolution.

I really looked forward to reading this book. I recently began planting vegetables again and was interested in growing some "heirloom" varieties mainly because so many modern hybrids have been bred for output or shelf-life instead of taste. (I've even ordered seed catalogs from Seed Savers and other small heirloom companies.) Unfortunately, my results have so far been poor (no one in the family liked the taste of the varieties I tried) and I hoped this book might provide some guidance. However, as Ms. Ray writes in the Introduction "This is not a textbook on seed saving. I am looking to inspire you with my own life." (pg. xv)

And she tells us about her farm and visits to others to acquire old varieties. Some of these episodes are interesting, and she offers a few bits of advice, like pollinating squash flowers or saving tomato seeds or growing sweet potatoes. This is when the book really shines. But, "You won't get many of those details from me here," she writes. "My goal is simply to plant a seed." (pg 151) Much of the book is a paranoid screed against "big ag" and "big chemical" companies and how evil they and our government and justice system are (and some of her stories are indeed troublesome). "Science is worrisome when it only serves the interests of mercenaries and their employees... infecting our food supply with greed." (pg. 12) And in spite of her claim in the Preface that "I do not feel hopeless" (pg. ix) she later says "Who needs hope? ...It's not hope or love that keep me going. It's fight." (pg. 193)

Ms. Ray describes herself as a "granola" (a "back-to-the-earth" hippie who grew up post-60s) and comes off as a Luddite when it comes to technology. We get an earful of her philosophy of not flying and avoiding fossil-fuels ("Plastic is bad stuff." pg. 129) and basically living apart from modern society. Her attitude is militant and she calls anyone saving seeds a "revolutionary" and seems to find meaning in fighting modernity. But even she admits by the end that not all technology or corporations are evil. Sometimes hybrids combine beneficial traits and are useful, and public and private companies can do "good" (see pg. 174). (Incidentally, this is why many gardeners choose hybrids over heirlooms - they often grow better and are more reliable even if the taste is often inferior. And buying a packet of seeds for a dollar or two is more convenient than the effort to save your own, as even she admits.) Still... I completely relate to her desires for older varieties and will continue to look for ones that grow well for me and that the family likes. I'll just have to look elsewhere for information on them. ( )
  J.Green | Aug 26, 2014 |
I'm torn here. I want to like this book, but must confess that I found something about the tone of the writer grating. There's something I can't quite put my finger on. The closest I can come is a sense of haughtiness, or perhaps a feeling the author is trying too hard in places to come off as sage and wise. I'm sympathetic to many of the authors leaning, but not necessarily all. (I'm not a fan of the huge internationals and I detest whati is happening with the law and genetic patents.) That being said, she doesn't send as much time talking about some of the things I'd rather hear about, such as the seed exchanges, setting up exchanges of knowledge, or multicropping. (Indeed, the latter gets less time than the discussion of it in the Unprejudiced Palate, a book that covers a much broader spectrum.

There's a lot that remains unsaid about a large, large chunk of the author's personal history. (Essentially, the raising of her son). I can respect in some ways that there's things she rather not talk about, but the fact they linger in the back of my mind and make me wonder exactly how much I can trust the persona that is being put through in the pages.

I feel compelled to say some positive things, since I really am conflicted. Some of the stories feel genuine and many of the resources are mentioned are interesting. I'm planning on working through some of the bibliography in the back to learn more. I suspect were I to meet the author in person, I'd get along with her. I feel that this book will deeply resonate with some audiences, but I'm not it. ( )
  JonathanGorman | Dec 5, 2012 |
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Discusses the loss of fruit and vegetable varieties and the genetically modified industrial monocultures being used today, shares the author's personal experiences growing, saving, and swapping seeds, and deconstructs the politics and genetics of seeds.… (more)

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