Sustainable seeds, sustainable business

How one local business stays environmentally aware

Hudson Valley Seed Library, environmental living, gardening, sustainable

With so many seed companies around the country, starting one that focused on so few varieties was risky, but Hudson Valley Seed Library Owners, Ken Greene and Doug Muller, who now live in Accord, chose to trust the community.


“There’s so much consciousness in the Hudson Valley about food,” says Greene. “People here are already thinking about where it’s coming from, who grew it and how. We were saying let’s think one step beyond that. There’s this whole industry, whole farming practice that goes on before your farmer. Who grows the seed, how is it being grown? This is a special region in that a lot of people were ready to take that step—really, to think one step backward.” Not surprisingly in this economic climate, the pair has been doing a lot of thinking about what it means to have a sustainable business. “If we’re just working all the time,” says Greene, “that’s not sustainable.”

This year, Muller and Greene turned to the farming community for support. They’ve contracted with fifteen local farms, each of which will be taking responsibility for one or two varieties that the library offers. “We’re teaching these farmers to save seed as well,” says Greene. “It makes us more sustainable, and more community based.” Over time, the pair hopes to expand on the network they’ve already established, working with more local farms, ensuring that all the seeds they sell are locally grown and adapted.  “We need to transition as a community and as a culture to producing for ourselves,” says Greene.


Through seed-saving workshops and an active online presence, he and Muller aim to inspire home gardeners to once again take up the practice of saving seeds. “It’s something that people having been doing for 12,000 years. You don’t have to be an expert or rely on a corporation to do this.”


So far, small seed companies like the Hudson Valley Seed Library have operated largely under the radar of the corporations that control much of the world’s seed. “Monsanto and Dupont are interested in the most important world food crops, and so they haven’t really cared that we’re saving an heirloom tomato from NY,” says Greene. He recognizes, though, that they may begin to care. Heirloom varieties do hold importance for companies like Monsanto because of their genetics. “In order to do breeding work and to create new seed, especially in our climatically unpredictable future, they need those resources,” Greene explains. “The more genetic resources you have to draw on the more powerful you are.”


A radical act


The simple act of saving and exchanging seeds is a powerful thing in the eyes of Muller and Greene. It’s radical, it’s democratic and it’s patriotic. During the victory garden era of World War II, 40 percent of the food grown in the United States came from home gardens.


We may not be there yet, but Greene believes we’re on our way. “The real power is to say that we can create our own food security in our own communities,” he says emphatically. “Every year, in my neighborhood, I meet someone who is starting a garden. It is overwhelming, and we seem so small, but if we’re saving our seeds and exchanging them with each other, I can’t imagine how that can be controlled by anyone.”


Anne Dailey’s work as a writer, activist, and agrarian is grounded in food and farm traditions. 

How did the Seed Library begin?  And what is the Terminator seed?