As we've come to depend on a handful of commercial varieties of fruits and vegetables, thousands of heirloom varieties have disappeared. It's hard to know exactly how many have been lost over the past century, but a study conducted in 1983 by the Rural Advancement Foundation International gave a clue to the scope of the problem. It compared USDA listings of seed varieties sold by commercial U.S. seed houses in 1903 with those in the U.S. National Seed Storage Laboratory in 1983. The survey, which included 66 crops, found that about 93 percent of the varieties had gone extinct. More up-to-date studies are needed.




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  • Very sad but not surprising in the age of the Coles and Woolies duopoly, and worse, where customers are still happy to pay extortionist prices for flavourless, old, terrible produce. "Fresh food people" indeed.
  • Very good graphic - very clear in it's message.

    Wow. I feel like I should have been part of trying to save heirloom seeds a long time ago.

    Problem for me learning to grow these things now is that the heirloom haven't been doing so great in my backyard. Maybe I just need to find the varieties that grow well for me and produce usable crop.

    • Spot on: like any plants, you need to grow the ones which do well here. And a lot of the heritage varieties are more suited to colder climes especially the Tomatoes. Sticking to buying seeds or seedlings of varieties from local suppliers or swapping among ourselves (or with other Seed Saver clubs in similar areas) will help to develop the heritage varieties by selecting for those which thrive here. It's very tempting to grow unusual plants and few of my attempts have been successful but some, like the Asparagus have proved themselves. The newly-won knowledge that Raspberries do well here is another example. It takes time and communication and sharing but we'll get there (wherever 'there' is!) in the end.
      • I've bought a Thai Pink Egg tom seed recommended by another gardening friend, which is supposed to do well in summer.

        Will perservere until I find stuff that grows well here, as I want produce all year.

  • Horrifying! What's gone has probably gone but what we have now we can save as we are. Some time back I watched a TV programme on a guy who hunted down traditional varieties of particularly the starch/protein staples. He found a very early Chick Pea in an isolated mountain area but this Chick Pea is more or less the grandma of every other Chick Pea variety. So plants like that with the original genetics are very precious. And let's hope there's more like that out there still.
    • it's probably pretty amazing how many of the old varieties are still in cultivation in people's backyards - just need to find them and breed them up. and no destroying old orchards without propagating first! (please)
  • great graphic. Donna I bet you like this one!
    • No bets Scarlett, it is a great image and clearly shows just why it is important to save (and share) seeds :)
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