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Heirloom Corn, The Criminal’s Choice

I was robbed. Under cover of darkness, the gang attacked. Masked bandits carelessly rifled through my belongings, pillaging and breaking, leaving little untouched in their destructive wake. To make matters worse, I think they enjoyed the assault. Judging by evidence left at the crime scene, they probably danced as they carelessly plundered what I worked so hard to produce. Daylight revealed the devastation, but by then, the bandits were long gone.

Davis corn, decimated

Adding insult to injury, the crop I grew was a special corn, produced from seed shared with me by a fifth-generation seed saver. The Davis family corn, multicolored and delicious, grows in the northwestern corner of Caldwell County, North Carolina, the same geographical location where this crop thrived for more than 100 years. My planting was well on the way to maturing when a pack of marauding raccoons attacked, leaving the heavy ears stripped of tender kernels and the tall stalks bent at the waist.

Barely visible in right bottom corner, a telling tail of a robber

This tale began with a gathering of gardeners, seed savers, agricultural extension agents, and public library personnel. We met and exchanged ideas and plans for establishing a lending seed library for our community. Similar entities exist throughout the United States, but Caldwell County, with five, six, and seven generation seed savers, presents a unique opportunity to continue a tradition of passing along special food and flower crops to future generations. As one of the lucky ones to inherit seeds from my grandparents, passed to me through several generations, I accept the obligation to preserve these special life forms and do all in my power to ensure their health for future generations. When I received the Davis Corn seed, I pledged to grow a crop and return seeds to the Caldwell County Seed Library to allow others to grow this special corn. Little did I know, when I tucked the small envelope of seeds into my bag, the fate that awaited the heirlooms.

Outwitting, combating, and confusing predators is the organic farmer’s plight. Successful rewards are delicious, chemical-free produce. Farming failures include withered plants, decimated crops, and low yield. Year to year, it’s a crap shoot. Roll the dice and predators overlook a crop, resulting in a bountiful harvest. Another season, every eating machine known to man (and plant) shows up, leaving nothing behind but compost. Such is the farming life.

Fortunately, my crops include several of my grandparents’ seeds, passed to me by many generations of Caldwell County growers. I will share those special seeds with our newly established seed library, in hopes other gardeners will continue growing these geographically acclimated, hardy crops. Mountain White Half-Runner beans, pumpkins, summer squash, white cucumbers, peanuts, local tomatoes, and other vibrant plants will thrive in community gardens, thanks to my grandparents and ancestors who saved and shared those special seeds. While I lament the loss of Davis corn seed, I celebrate heirloom seed varieties I harvest and pass along to future growers.

Granny’s Heirloom Seeds

Remember that story about Jack? The boy who traded his family’s precious cow for a handful of bean seeds? Those beans grew into vining stalks that led Jack to treasures and adventure. Heirloom seeds are like Jack’s beans. They connect us to history, to imagination and to sustenance, both physical and spiritual. Plan to include heirloom seeds in your next garden planting and reap the rewards of continuing tradition and imagination, along with palate pleasing flavor.

Meanwhile, I continue to mourn the loss of Davis corn, but accept my place in the food chain and remain grateful for the opportunity to trial this special seed, repeating the gardener’s optimistic mantra: “There’s always next year!”

Published on Oct 13, 2017

Mother Earth Gardener

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