Seeds of Hope: Part One by Beth Bartlett

Author’s Note: This piece was inspired by Janet Maika’i Rudolph’s wonderful FAR post of December 15th, 2022, “Ode to Seeds.”

“. . . I know, yes, there is renewal, /because this is what the seeds ask of us/ with their own songs/ when we listen to their small bundle of creation,/ of a future rising from the ground . . .” – Linda Hogan

The first seed catalogs started arriving in the mail even before the turn of the new year.  In an annual ritual of hope, in the depths of winter we turn our thoughts and dreams to growing things – seeds of heirloom tomatoes, cucumbers, squash, carrots, and beans that will feed us and grace our tables in the summer and fall, and colorful marigolds, nasturtiums, and zinnias that will delight all summer long with their beauty. Is this the invincible summer of which Camus wrote?[i] 

Even as a young child, I yearned to plant seeds, and asked for a small patch of earth somewhere where I could grow a bit of lettuce and maybe some carrots. I sensed my mother found this a bit curious, since we had no vegetable garden. Nor did any of our friends and neighbors.  I just knew I wanted to dig in the dirt, sow seeds, and tend a garden. My mom let me have a small patch of dirt in a neglected corner by the garage, and for several years I planted, and weeded, and watered, and watched the lettuce grow.

It is a bit of a miracle – the growing of seeds. I’m in awe of “. . . the magic,” as Jane Goodall describes it, “the life force within a seed that is so powerful that tiny roots, in order to reach the water, can work their way through rocks, and the tiny shoot, in order to reach the sun, can find a way through crevices in a brick wall.”[ii] I especially marvel at the tiniest of seeds – lettuce, kale, carrots, tomatoes — those barely-the-size-of-a-pinhead seeds that hold all the information to become large and leafy greens, long sturdy root vegetables, and round, luscious, juicy, voluptuous fruits (or are tomatoes vegetables?) that feed us year-round — sliced fresh and made into sauces, salsas, juices, stews, and soups. Just add dirt, water, and warmth and the unfolding begins. It is always such a delight when the first shoots pop up through the dirt.  Yay, it worked! 

At the beginning of the pandemic, fearing that we would soon be without fresh vegetables, I began growing lettuce indoors, as well as the tomato, cucumber, and squash plants I’d usually buy from a nursery.  What’s more, as gardener Meg Cowden notes, seed-starting indoors, “provides a wellspring of hope as frigid winter days turn to weeks and months. . . .it is far more joyful to measure the growth of our seedlings than the accumulation of snow on garden beds.”[iii]

The seed is a miracle in and of itself — an undeveloped embryo of the mature plant, containing the DNA passed on for millennia, surrounded by all the food and nutrition it needs to give it a good start, with a protective coating to insure its safety until the conditions are right for it to germinate.[iv] Each mature plant creates dozens, sometimes hundreds of offspring seeds, insuring the continuance of the species for generations to come. Plus, they share their bounty with us. Of the 250,000-300,000 varieties of plant species, 10,000-50,000 are edible, and 7000 are farmed and used for food.[v]

Humans have been saving and planting seeds for millennia, but in recent decades, this long tradition has nearly come to a halt. Following World War II, chemical companies, needing to find new markets for the chemicals they had been developing for use during the war, found an outlet for their chemical fertilizers, herbicides, and pesticides in agriculture. Touted as “The Green Revolution” that would save millions from starvation, industrialized agriculture relied on hybridized high-yield seeds that required massive amounts of fertilizer and irrigation to grow. The emphasis on monocrops for high yields of cash crops led to reduction of seed diversity and to reliance on more and more chemicals as these farming techniques rapidly depleted the soil of its inherent nutritional value. Add to this the 1980 landmark US Supreme Court decision in Diamond v. Chakrabarty.[vi]  Ananda Mohan Chakrabarty, along with GE, had genetically engineered pseudomonas bacteria and sought to secure a patent for it, in violation of US law excluding plants and animals from patents. However, the Court held that life is patentable as long as there is sufficient human intervention to alter naturally occurring lifeforms. The decision created the precedent for seeds becoming “owned” under intellectual property rights. Soon after, the US Patent Office decision in ex parte Hibberd in 1985[vii] secured the right to patent genetically modified (GM) plants based on the decision in the Chakrabarty case, clearing the way for thousands of genetically engineered seeds to be patented.[viii]  Indigenous farmers, who had been saving seeds for millennia, now were forced to buy these patented seeds under GATT[ix]  and as conditions to secure loans under International Monetary Fund and World Bank “structural adjustment programs” (SAPs). Patent protection, argues ecofeminist and seed advocate Vandana Shiva, “transforms farmers into suppliers of free raw material, displaces them as competitors, and makes them totally dependent on industrial supplies for vital inputs such as seed.”[x]

One of the many miracles of seeds is that over thousands of years they have evolved to thrive under different environmental conditions, resulting in copious varieties of seeds with thousands of varieties of rice, maize, potatoes, wheat, apples, sweet potatoes throughout the world, each uniquely adapted to its particular climate and soil conditions.[xi] However, the patenting of seeds and their forced use as dictated by First World multinational corporations, as well as the fact that four multinational corporations that control around 60 percent of the world’s seed sales[xii] has led to the demise of seed diversity. Of the thousands of varieties of wheat, corn, soy, and rice grown throughout the world, only between 2-10% remain.[xiii]

But this is not the end of story – more to come in part two, tomorrow.


Ananda Mohan ‘Al’ Chakrabarty 1938–2020 | Nature Biotechnology

Camus, Albert. 1968. Lyrical and Critical Essays. Philip Thody, ed. New York: Vintage Books.

Cowden, Meg McAndrews. 2022. Plant, Grow, Harvest, Repeat. Portland, Oregon: Timber Press.

Duluth will be home to state’s first public seed library | MPR News.

Goodall, Jane, with Gary McAvoy and Gail Hudson. 2005. Harvest for Hope: A Guide to Mindful Eating.  New York: Warner Books.

Goodall, Jane. 2014. Seeds of Hope: Wisdom and Wonder from the World of Plants. With Gail Hudson.  New York: Grand Central Publishing.

Hogan, Linda. 2020. “Ceremony for the Seeds.” in A History of Kindness. Salt Lake City: Torrey House Press.

Shiva, Vandana. 1997. Biopiracy: The Plunder of Nature and Knowledge.  Boston: South End Press.

______. 1989. Staying Alive: Women, Ecology, and Development.  London: Zed Books.

_____. 2000. Stolen Harvest: The Hijacking of the Global Food Supply. Boston: South End Press.

Steingraber, Sandra.  1997. Living Downstream: An Ecologist Looks at Cancer and the Environment.  Reading, Massachusetts: Perseus Books.

[i] “In the depths of winter, I finally learned that within me lay an invincible summer.” Lyrical and Critical Essays, 169.

[ii] Goodall, Seeds of Hope, 118.

[iii] Cowden, Plant, Grow, Harvest, Repeat. 161.

[iv] Despite the expiration date on my seed packets, this may be decades, or in the case of the date palm, “Methuselah,” thousands of years in the future. “Methuselah” – a Judean date palm found by archaeologists studying the ruins of Masada from the time of King Herod was planted and it grew from the oldest seed to be woken.  Others from 1300 years ago and 600 years ago have also bloomed.

[v] Shiva, Stolen Harvest, 79.

[vi] 447 US 303

[vii] 227 U.S.P.Q. 443 (Bd. Pat. App. 1985 granted patents on the tissue culture, seed, and whole plant of a corn line. It included 260 separate claims, granting the right to exclude others from use of all 260 aspects. Shiva, Biopiracy, 55. 

[viii] According to a Department of Agriculture report, more than 18,000 plant patents were granted to inventors between 1990 and 2014.

[ix] Global Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (1947). The World Trade Organization (WTO) is the successor to GATT.

[x] Shiva, Biopiracy, 54.

[xi] Shiva, Biopiracy, 79.

[xii] Bayer (which bought Monsanto in 2018), Corteva, ChemChina, and BASF. (Krause.)

[xiii] Shiva, Stolen Harvest, 80.

7 thoughts on “Seeds of Hope: Part One by Beth Bartlett”

  1. A beautiful and informative post! What struck me was your description of the seeds as so tiny. There’s a lot of food for thought in the idea that something that is so powerful that all plant and animal life depends on it is so tiny and delicate. At my local library there is a “seed library” where you bring your extra seeds in the fall and take other people’s seeds from their gardens for use in the spring – something that could be replicated in every location if we chose.


  2. Like You I have always loved seeds… made beds for them as a toddler in a doll’s crib!…. the seeds of becoming…. in my winter terrarium I scatter all manner of seeds to see what will appear – nature decides – as you note she loves diversity….what we are doing to our seeds/plants is beyond the pale….even with heirloom seeds contamination is rife – no one tells you that… In my old age I have turned back to the forest and scatter seeds that are already wild….my personal antidote to agribusiness control…. my way of not giving up.


  3. PS materialistic science would have it that DNA – a protein – structures form – It does not – there is something like a pattern of becoming that informs the seed of the actual form it will take – another both and – rejected by the culture, of course.

    Liked by 1 person

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