Nestled among the forested bluffs of northeast Iowa is a different kind of seed company. Sprawling across 800 acres of gardens and orchards is the Seed Savers Exchange. Unlike most seed companies that aim to advance the prolificacy and mass production of seeds for croplands, Seed Savers Exchange works to preserve thousands of heirloom varieties, from oats and onions to cabbage and corn.
Started in 1975 by Diane Ott Whealy, the creation of Seed Savers Exchange was inspired by a packet of tomato seeds. The founder received heirloom tomato seeds, as well as a packet of morning glory seeds, from her grandfather, who had inherited the seeds from his grandfather.
Whealy's determination to keep these German heritage varieties alive motivated her to find other gardeners who had seeds they wished to pass on to others. After placing advertisements in numerous magazines, she found a handful of individuals with a similar passion; the groundwork for Seed Savers Exchange was laid.
This small group of growers began to share seeds and a passion for gardening. Over the next decade their network grew. Hundreds and eventually thousands of growers who had their own heritage seeds to share joined the Exchange.