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The First State of the Historic Seed Map

Page of old seed catalogue.Research, like any process has a life of its own. When I came up with the idea for the Historic Seed Map, it was a simple one. I thought a reference tool  for everyone to use for when and where vegetable seeds were sold, would fill in some gaps of missing information. Since a lot of varieties have vanished, this map could illustrate that be contrasting what was sold, and what is presently available. If a grower or a seed librarian wanted to procure available seeds of historically grown local varieties, then they had tool to use for that information.

The map will be a nice complement to seed banks and seed libraries. The tag line for the Library Seed Bank (LSB), seeds and knowledge, nourishment for your soul, focuses on seeds and knowledge. Seeds are the storehouse of knowledge about of the plants they produce. Libraries are the storehouses of the knowledge that society produces. It was natural for me to work with this duality because nature has many dualities, and nature is my ultimate inspiration.

Once that inspiration kicks in, and as with everything in life, once you're  start something new, you bring the energy, and the story brings the content. I had no idea of what the story of the seed map would tell me. I just knew I was fortunate enough to listen and become its storyteller.

Since the first seed library is going into the McCowan Memorial Library in Pitman, New Jersey, it was logical for me to start the research into what New Jersey seed companies offered to the public is bygone eras. Three miles from the McCowan library was Oral Ledden and Sons, a farmer supply company with a large seed room that I spent time in as a child. The foreshadowing of that a number of decades ago in this story is awesome, and not in the slang use of the word. I knew had to honor that, and the fact that suddenly, I just happened to procure two catalogs, each from a different decade. Wink.

Immediately, those catalogs dealt me a straight flush which in poker is the best hand possible. My inclination to see the biggest picture possible, and this time it seemed the picture was bigger then that. From there I pivoted to Wm. H, Maule Seeds, a seed company which had its seed farm seventeen miles to the south from the library in Newfield, New Jersey. Next up, the Johnson & Stokes Seed Company, which became Stokes Seed company with their seed farm twenty five miles to the northeast of the library in Moorestown, New Jersey.  And finally, I found that Burpee had their Sunnybrook Acres Farm in Swedesboro, New Jersey eleven miles from the library. Tomatoes, eggplants, and peppers were grown at Sunnybrook.

Quite a start, and a good one at that. Along with the way, I've found some great anecdotes about the history of farming and agriculture in New Jersey, and the map will feature this kind of information when possible.

As I evaluate what I've come across, and see the gaps in the knowledge that's been lost in the past, and plan for the future, I see this project as one that will thrive and flourish like plants that will grow from the seeds that's it's about.

The results of this process do far has led to the following;

  • A collection of authentic Jersey tomatoes seeds at the seed library in PItman. We burst with pride here in Jersey about our tomatoes. Every  gardener will tell you they grow THE best tomatoes in their garden. And they do. Seriously, they do. The tomatoes they grow reflect what delights their senses, so like all gardeners, they grew the best vegetables for themselves because they grow what they like. It's just that here in Jersey our tomatoes are the best, period.There were three major seed farms within 40 miles of each other. Each one had their own development team working on seed lines. This lead to a decent number of tomato varieties being developed. This collection of authentic Jersey tomato seeds will reflect that.
  • I found varieties of tomatoes that are no longer around, but their parent lines are, and were listed in some catalogs. That's some information I didn't expect to find. This offers an opportunity to revive some vanished varieties. That's exciting to me.
  • In this previous post, I wrote about the Garden Journal, which will capture current information about people grow. If they submit them to LSB, a collection of local journals will become a large source of information for research. It will help prevent the missing information gap in what's been grown locally, and hopefully help with preservation projects.
  • I found some interesting information about a growing community here in southern New Jersey that appears to have demonstrated the principles of social businesses today. I have to follow this up. I wrote a three-part series, here, here, and here about what Lavazaa coffee is doing on a global level, and what Valley Girl Foodstuffs is doing at a local level as social businesses. This growing community seems to have been ahead of the curve.

So there you have it. I'm in awe of where this project will go. For now, that's all I have, and I couldn't be happier.

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