But Global Seed Savers Network wasn’t created just for the novelty finding cool varieties to grow. The Center for Food Safety (CFS), a nonprofit environmental advocacy group, is behind the tool, and their goal is to preserve ancient and genetically diverse plant varieties. They hope making it easier for farmers to connect and trade seeds will help to preserve crop diversity. According to the United Nations, seventy-five percent of genetic diversity of food crops has been lost to farmers since the 1900s as local varieties were overlooked in favor of commercial, high-yielding varieties that are all genetically uniform. Many of these are owned by companies like Monstanto and Syngenta.
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That’s a problem, first because it makes cooking and eating far less fun, and, more seriously, because it’s crucial for food security. Imagine that a plant disease begins killing, say, wheat. Since almost all commercially grown wheat is genetically uniform the crop will eventually be decimated. Other heirloom varieties of wheat that aren't widely grown may be resistant to the fungus, but we’ve basically put all our eggs in one basket, so to speak.
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Actually, we don’t have to imagine this scenario. It’s already happened—and is currently happening for the second time—with bananas. The Gros Michel banana used to be the variety eaten around the world, but in the 1950s it was completely wiped out by a fungus. These days the Cavendish is the only banana you’ll see on grocery store shelves. It’s smaller and said to be less tasty than the Gros Michel (though we’ll never get to find out for ourselves), and all of these bananas come from plants that are clones of a single plant developed 180 years ago. Now an even more powerful fungus is attacking the Cavendish bananas, and unless we can find a more genetically diverse variety that is immune to the disease there may come a day in our lifetimes when bananas will be very, very scarce.
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That’s where Global Seed Savers Network comes in. Seed swapping communities aren’t a new idea for protecting biodiversity (the wonderful Seed Savers Exchange has been around since the 1970s), but Global Seed Savers Network does a few things differently. For one, you don’t need to pay a membership to join the community, which may entice more farmers and gardeners to test it out. And then there’s the interface of the site itself.
The site was developed by the same company that created Match.com, and it functions much the same way. Swappers can create profiles, rate other growers, and leave reviews. You can also search by the region where you live or local climate and the site will—ahem—match you with seeds that other farmers are growing in similar geographical areas.
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CFS is hoping the new site will appeal to millennial farmers who are used to communicating and networking online, Rebecca Spector, the site’s project coordinator, told Civil Eats. The site encourages young farmers to learn how to save seeds and provides resources for doing so. It also outlines state-by-state seed sharing laws that are important to know when mailing seeds across state lines.
Global Seed Savers Network won't singlehandedly fix the world's plant diversity problem, but hopefully it will get more farmers and gardeners excited about saving, swapping, and talking about seeds, and that could get the gears turning in the right direction a little bit faster.