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Diane Ott Whealy "Memoirs of a Seed Saver" book signing

When Dec 01, 2011
from 07:00 PM to 08:00 PM
Contact Name
Contact Phone 563-382-3717
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Join Seed Savers Exchange co-founder and Vice President of Education Diane Ott Whealy to learn about her recently-published memoir, “Gathering: Memoirs of a Seed Saver,” at 7 p.m., Thursday December 1, at Decorah Public Library. The event is free and open to the public; books will be available for purchase for those who wish to do so.


It’s a hackneyed truism that from little seeds, great things grow. But who could imagine that a handful of morning glory seeds brought over in a 19th century Bavarian immigrant’s pocket would one day lead to the preservation of thousands of varieties of heirloom plants? Or that the simple kernel of an idea—to save our unique agricultural heritage from extinction—would germinate into Seed Savers Exchange, a large and respected nonprofit dedicated to safeguarding biodiversity?


Such growth requires supremely fertile ground, and Diane Ott Whealy was just the one to provide and nurture it. In “Gathering: Memoir of a Seed Saver,” she documents the remarkable history of SSE as well as the creativity, dedication, and sheer gumption behind its rise. From its early days in the VW Bug-driving, back-to-the-land era to the modern-day growing pains of an expanding organization, “Gathering” details both personal and professional triumphs and tribulations, its author’s love for work and family resonating through every page.


Ott Whealy reveled in the glorious bounty of the land from a young age, when her grandparents’ farm fairly burst with spinach, potatoes, peas, and rhubarb; the yard lush with lilacs and hollyhocks—the products of loving care and long, hard toil. Those were times when “store-bought seed, like store-bought anything else, was a luxury,” and seeds were passed down from grandparent to grandchild, neighbor to neighbor. Later, as bright-eyed young homesteaders with a passion for planting, Ott Whealy and her then husband cherish their morning glories, grown from Grandpa Ott’s carefully collected seeds. Suddenly it dawns on them: allowing this strain to die out would mean losing diversity, tradition, and the stories of her grandfather and all those who had grown it.


Thus was born Seed Savers Exchange, the brainchild of two enthusiastic individuals imbued with can-do spirit and a deep-rooted appreciation of our natural and cultural heritage. “Like propagating seeds, the word began to spread,” writes Ott Whealy, as like-minded seed savers banded together to share their treasure. “Gathering” recounts how, little by little—by “rooster steps,” as Ott Whealy’s grandmother used to say—the organization swelled from its inception in 1975, adding acreage, gardens, members, and recognition. Ott Whealy’s family grew in tandem with SSE, adding five children, dogs, and countless friends and supporters who shared their hearth and their ideals. That she managed all that while maintaining her grace, sanity, and humility is awe-inspiring in itself.


“Gathering” is, at heart, the story of many remarkable individuals—true heroes of the land, including Merle Van Doren, preserver of the evocatively named Moon and Stars watermelon; Dan and Eli Zook, two Amish brothers who lovingly handcrafted many of SSE’s buildings; and Ole O. Lomen, aka Apple Lomen, whose 1898 orchard boasted 100 varieties of the fruit. And, of course, Ott Whealy herself, whose passion and perseverance helped what is now a major organization take root and flourish. “To us,” she writes, “seeds were always connected to people—people whose stories, no less than good soil and spring rains, brought those seeds to life.” In “Gathering,” she brings to life her story, so richly entwined with that of SSE.


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Diane Ott Whealy is Co-Founder and Vice President of Education at Seed Savers Exchange, the nation’s leading nonprofit organization in the field of genetic diversity. She is an experienced gardener and still manages to escape to Heritage Farm for weeding and inspiration. When not traveling, she lives in Decorah, Iowa. “Gathering: Memoir of a Seed Saver” is her first book.


Contact Kristin at Decorah Public Library for more information: 563-382-3717 or