Gene Banks, Seed Libraries, and Vegetable Sanctuaries: The Cultivation and Conservation of Heritage Vegetables in Britain, 1970–1985
Individual seed saving and exchange are considered important components of contemporary efforts to conserve crop genetic diversity, which ramify at local, regional, and global scales. Yet the very fact that the contributions of these activities to conservation need to be made explicit by seed savers and those who study them indicates that the practices of seed saving and exchange may not immediately be recognized as conservation-oriented activities. This article investigates why and how individual seed saving came to be aligned with a broader conservation agenda in Britain through an historical examination of the promotion of seed saving by the Henry Doubleday Research Association (HDRA) in the 1970s and 1980s. It demonstrates how several HDRA initiatives that aimed to preserve vegetable diversity also re-inscribed British gardeners' ordinary labor as conservation work. This historical study complements sociological and ethnographic studies, highlighting the role of a prominent organization in creating pathways for individuals to engage in local, national, and international conservation through seed saving. It also serves as a reminder that the connections between these activities had to be made explicit—that is, that there was (and is) work involved in connecting individual acts of seed saving to conservation outcomes at different scales.