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Community Seed Saving and Safe Seed Sources with Russ Bedford

Russ Bedford is the creator and director of the Flint Seed Democracy. He maintains a forest garden at his home in Flint, MI with over 100 edible species on less than 1/12 of an acre. Russ teaches seed saving classes for Edible Flint’s Garden Starters Class. His garden was a stop on Edible Flint’s 2013 Food Garden Tour.

Edible Flint Garden Tour 2013 Russ Bedford

Russ (right) receiving his 2013 Edible Flint Garden Tour site paver from Terry McLean (middle) of MSU and Edible Flint.

Flint Seed Democracy

Though efficient in a limited way, our system of consolidating seed production into the hands of fewer and fewer companies is destroying the resiliency of our food supply. It was while reading Carol Deppe’s Breeding Your Own Vegetable Varieties that I conceived of a way I could help build the genetic diversity that would help ensure my community’s access to healthy, culturally­ appropriate produce.

Seed Saving needs to be a basic practice for the annual vegetable gardener. The necessity of regular grow outs to maintain seed vigor, however, limits the number of varieties gardeners can realistically grow, especially on the small lots available in the urban gardens of Flint, Michigan.

I realized that a distributed model would make it possible for far more varieties to remain in the local foodshed, genetically accessible to local gardeners. This was the germ of The Flint Seed Democracy.

seed saving: Alaska pea

Alaska pea, a rare heirloom variety, drying on the vine. A few varieties of pea are purchased every year.

FSD takes donations of vegetable seed, repackages them by species, and makes them available free of charge to the garden community at local events. We accept seed of any age, whether commercially grown or saved by the donor. Due to limited capacity, we do not maintain named vegetable varieties.

Our tomato packets, for example, can contain as many varieties as they do seeds. To the gardener, this has the benefit of ensuring a greater chance of plants that will perform well under any environmental conditions. It also gives them a wider selection of varieties to choose from when they practice seed saving.

They can send us seeds from all the plants that succeed, or from those they favor for their own reasons. These second­ generation donations represent both the preferences of our participants and the self-selected ideal varieties for our soils, weather, pests, and diseases.

saving seeds parnip heads

hundreds of parsnip seeds can be collected from these heads for planting next year

The most vigorous plants will have the most opportunity to produce seed, and the weakest and most poorly­ adapted will not survive. In this way, our gardeners and our gardens each vote for the makeup of the seed stock we maintain. This is why we are called a Democracy.

Our goal, ultimately, is to establish a sense of place through the breeding of locally­ adapted vegetable varieties. This may include a widening of the concept of a variety, since many vegetables will not cross­pollinate. Our packets will always contain at least a few distinct varieties, in the traditional sense of the word.

After approximately 7 years, we hope to be able to offer distinctly improved strains of seed to the community. Those strains will have been democratically chosen. Really, it’s a practice that was once commonplace, even default. We are bringing it back to public awareness, at least in Flint, and improving it by facilitating and coordinating.

Safe Seed Sources

In the past month, we sent seed donation requests to 167 seed companies, all of whom have signed the Safe Seed Pledge from the Council for Responsible Genetics. Here are the currently operating pledge signers from the Great Lakes Region (Entries in BOLD sell seeds or plants):


  • Borries Open Pollinated Seed Corn Farm (Teutopolis) Tel: 217 857-3377
  • Safeguard Seeds (Mokena) Tel: 855-730-7333


saving potato seeds

New varieties of potato can be created by planting seeds from their fruit.



New York:

RAFT Strategem peas

Strategem peas are on the RAFT list of endangered foods. They were obtained through the USDA




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