We learned recently that Seed Savers Exchange
cut off funding to the Scatterseed Project. Scatterseed
maintains a collection of more than 700 varieties of potatoes.
Every one of those varieties must be grown out each year.
There is no long-term storage in a vault on an Arctic island
for potatoes. Consider making a donation to Scatterseed
(send a check to us or directly to Scatterseed) or donate
your refund to help keep Will’s potatoes alive.
to visit Scatterseed's website.)
1971 Will Bonsall moved to Industry, Maine, to live simply and self-sufficiently.
From the beginning, he realized one of the cornerstones of self-reliance
was saving his own seed. He discovered that older farmers and gardeners
in his area grew varieties of their own that had never been in any
seed catalog. Some of these varieties were in danger of extinction
as their keepers died and no one else grew the seed. Will became
the guardian of these heirloom varieties, among them Cowhorn potato,
Orange Sweet apple, Orlando’s Horticultural pole bean, Boothby’s
Blonde cucumber, Waldoboro rutabaga and Byron flint corn. The genetic
diversity he encountered inspired him to start saving plants such
as biennial outcrossers that are more difficult to propagate.
Naturally, Will became involved with the Seed Savers Exchange;
his Scatterseed Project is now by far the largest member. In addition
to serving on SSE’s Advisory Board, he is also its central
curator for potatoes, peas, jerusalem artichokes, fava beans, runner
beans, radishes, turnips, rutabagas, leeks, parsleys, parsnips,
carrots, beets, chards and brussels sprouts. In addition to the
varieties he curates, Will saves and reoffers seed for most everything
that comes his way including hundreds of beans and tomatoes. His
collections comprise 3-4000 varieties; he’s lost track of
The Scatterseed potato collection requires a complete grow-out of
all 700-800 varieties every single year. Biennial crops such as
parsnips, carrots, leeks and turnips need to be stored over winter
in a protected cellar and then replanted. Will keeps each variety
pure by a combination of caging and planting in isolated plots.
All of this is very labor intensive and demands attention to details
like introducing pollinators into the cages or controlling pest
Lack of funds for labor means these details sometimes don’t
get done in a timely manner and results in the loss of varieties.
Scatterseed may be the only place on the planet where some of these
varieties are still alive. Here a little more labor can mean huge
success. Any time a variety is rescued, Will has more diversity
to scatter. He thinks farm fields and backyard gardens are ultimately
the safest place to preserve crop genetic diversity. Your donations—almost
$2600 in 2008, enabling him to hire and train more workers—have
made a very real impact! We thank everyone who has donated in the
past; those planning to support Scatterseed this year, please see
the Moose Tubers order form.