Gold may be rare in the north Georgia mountains, but now the region boasts a seed bank that might be worth just as much to Appalachian natives and local gardening enthusiasts.
Becky Griffin, community and school garden coordinator for University of Georgia Cooperative Extension, has partnered with the University of North Georgia (UNG) to host a secondary site for heirloom seeds from the mountain region at the UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences Mountain Research and Education Center in Blairsville.
Beginning in 2006, UNG’s Saving Appalachian Gardens and Stories project has collected, grown and shared seeds to preserve the area’s heritage as part of the Appalachian Studies Center in UNG’s College of Education.
“The Upland Mountain South is home to some of the highest levels of agrobiodiversity in North America,” said Karrie Ann Fadroski, the project founder and UNG senior lecturer in biology. “Here, many gardeners continue to maintain their folk crop varieties that have been passed down through their family and community.”
Seeds for cultivars like ‘Mr. Lovell’s Wintergreens’, ‘Aunt Cora’s Sunburst Tomatoes’ and ‘Lillian Marshall Bean’ that have been passed down for generations will now be stored in refrigeration at UGA's Mountain Research and Education Center.
Expanding to a second location is critical to ensure there are plenty of seeds available as a backup.
“Some of these seeds that have been collected might be the only ones that are left,” said Griffin, an active seed saver and part of the Seed Savers Exchange and Community Seed Network nonprofits.
“Seed saving and sharing can be an important way for many cultures to preserve their heritage,” she explained. “What makes people feel like they’re at home is what’s in their garden.”
Seed saving can also be taught in collaboration with school gardens and intertwined with history lessons, Griffin noted.
Blairsville's Georgia Mountain Research and Education Center is an hour north of UNG’s main campus in Dahlonega. It’s been a center of agricultural research since the 1930s and is a fixture of the mountain community.
“We have a long history in preserving our mountain heritage with native plants and promoting their use in the landscape through social programs,” said center Superintendent Ray Covington. “It is our pleasure to continue this tradition by providing a secondary site to save and preserve historic Appalachian seeds.”
Learn more about the CAES Mountain Research and Education Center at gamountain.caes.uga.edu. For more information about saving and storing seeds, see UGA Extension Bulletin 1486, “Variety Selection and Seed Saving for Organic Growers,” at extension.uga.edu/publications.