appalachia seeds

In Saving Seeds, Preserving Taste, Bill Best has captured in words his passion and dedication for perpetuating heirloom vegetable and fruit varieties in Appalachia. This has been his life’s work…. At seventy-nine, he continues to promote the saving of heirloom seeds, seeds that hold the potential for flavorful, nutritious food; seeds that if saved, can be grown year after year; seeds that hold a part of the history of Native American and Appalachian cultures.” Journal of Appalachian Studies

The Brown Goose, the White Case Knife, Ora’s Speckled Bean, Radiator Charlie’s Mortgage Lifter—these are just a few of the heirloom fruits and vegetables you’ll encounter in Bill Best’s remarkable history of seed saving and the people who preserve both unique flavors and the Appalachian culture associated with them. As one of the people at the forefront of seed saving and trading for over fifty years, Best has helped preserve numerous varieties of beans, tomatoes, corn, squashes, and other fruits and vegetables, along with the family stories and experiences that are a fundamental part of this world. While corporate agriculture privileges a few flavorless but hardy varieties of daily vegetables, seed savers have worked tirelessly to preserve genetic diversity and the flavors rooted in the Southern Appalachian Mountains—referred to by plant scientists as one of the vegetative wonders of the world.

“In this simple paperback I’ve learned more about beans and their evolution at the hands of American farmers than anything else I’ve read over the past 35 years.” Maureen Gilmer, “Yardsmart”, Charlotte Observer

“Best’s book depicts the alternative to corporate farming as unveiled in Karl Weber’s Food, Inc. (2009), discussed in Michael Pollan’s In Defense of Food (2008), explored in Sally Fallon, Pat Connolly, and Mary G Enig’s Nourishing Traditions (1995), and revealed in Robyn O’Brien and Rachel Kranz’s The Unhealthy Truth (2009).” Journal of American Culture

Yet many seeds from major national companies are grown by farmers in California and Oregon, places with different soil, pests, and diseases than the Southern Appalachians. At the same time, regional seed suppliers are working with local farmers to grow varieties that are suited to this part of the country.

Picking out seeds is one of the joys of spring. Flipping through a seed catalogue and dreaming of the summer’s harvest is a highlight of the season for farmers and home gardeners.

Even if a gardener doesn’t save his or her own seeds, Fortner says planting commercial seeds that were developed for their region offers advantages. “If there’s a disease or a pest outbreak in your garden, if you’re growing varieties that are adapted to this area, then those plants are most likely going to have the genetics that will help them fight those diseases and pests.”