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Whealy to read at Prairie Lights

BY HANNAH KRAMER | SEPTEMBER 08, 2011 7:20 AM

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A morning glory seed and a German Pink tomato seed brought from Bavaria to the U.S. in the 1870s were passed down by generations of family members into the hands of Diane Ott Whealy. From that moment, she felt a need to preserve and grow these seeds into something more.

Those two seeds are now part of a collection of over 25,000 harvested by the Seed Savers Exchange, co-founded by Whealy. Since 1975, the non-profit organization has worked to identify, save, and distribute heirloom seeds around the world.

Diane Ott Whealy will read from her newly published memoir, 8Gathering: Memoir of a Seed Saver, which chronicles the history of the organization, at 7 p.m. Friday at Prairie Lights books, 15 S. Dubuque. Admission is free.

"I remember thinking that I had a story to tell, and felt lucky that I had a story," Whealy, a former attendee of the Iowa Writers' Workshop, said. "Before I felt like my life wasn't so full of adventure, but this is a real gift that I have a story to tell."

Whealy called Gathering: Memoir of a Seed Saver a "human" story. She said that the memoir is a combination of her personal journey of coming into the organization, as well as a story about the life of the organization itself.

"Since I've been affiliated [with the organization], it was really exciting to read both about people and events that I knew about but also circumstances of their occurrence that I didn't know about," said Borad of Driectors member, Laura Merrick. "But [the book] enriches my awareness of what happened over time."

Whealy agreed about the value of the memoir as a way to educate people about the spirit and passion behind the continuously growing organization.

"Growing up in Northeastern Iowa (Sestina), I felt all of the care and respect for the land and food that my grandparents and my parents showed me," Whealy said. "I grew up always respecting land, stories, and gardening."

Respect for the land and a drive to educate about the importance of heirloom seeds with people is a goal that some 12,000 supporting members of the Seed Saver Exchange share.

"We take our responsibilities highly and we try to continue to make the agency develop in new and important ways," said Executive Director of the Seed Saver Exchange, John Torgrimson. "Our mission is not just maintaining seeds but to educate the public about genetic diversity."

The Exchange's home base rests just outside of Decorah, Iowa at the Heritage Farms. Whealy said education about the importance of preserving heirloom seeds begins there. Preservation gardens, a historic orchard, and ancient White Park cattle are some of the components that make up the farms

"When you can actually see, taste, and understand the diversity we are trying to save then it is much easier understand what we are trying to do," Whealy said. "The farm is a wonderful outdoor classroom."

Members of the organization including Whealy, Merrick, and Torgrimson said they work to keep the personality and family feel of the organization alive by focusing on the local community as well as reaching out nationally and internationally.

Since its start in the mid 70s, the success of the Exchange has grown as well as the seeds that the organization supports. Whealy said she sees opportunities like writing Gathering: Memoir of a Seed Saver as a way to encourage the corporation to flourish.

"I'm hopeful that the book will be inspiring to other people who have dreams," Whealy said. "Don't give up on your dreams and don't think that they are too grand, because there's a process to get to your dreams."


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