The Cleveland Seed Bank (CSB) was officially founded in 2013, but the ‘seed’ of the initiative was planted as early as 2010. At that time, CSB co-founders Marilyn McHugh and Chris Kennedy were in India with their global non-profit, The Hummingbird Project. They were in the early stages of what became an ongoing collaboration with Dr. Vandana Shiva and her organization Navdanya to help local farmers transition from chemical to organic farming practices. Dr. Shiva, a leader in the fight against the industrialization of the global food system, has established over 110 seed banks in India. It was during their time with her that the founders saw, first hand, the importance of seeds and the devastating effects of losing control of the seed supply.
Back home in Cleveland, Marilyn and Chris continued to think about India’s lack of access to quality open-pollinated seeds and noticed that a similar system was developing here in the United States. The urban farm movement was growing, but plants were rarely grown from locally sourced seeds and few, if any, farmers were saving their seeds from year to year.
So they set out to try and build a different system. A system that would, in time, create a regionally adapted seed supply. Their goal was to provide people with a reliable source of heirloom seeds, the knowledge needed to save them, and a space in which to exchange them.
They began by traveling to Athens, Ohio to learn from Community Food Initiatives, an organization that has spent over 20 years educating communities about seed saving. Next they went to Decorah, Iowa, home of Seed Saver’s Exchange and the epicenter of seed saving in the United States. They toured Seed Saver’s Exchange’s 890-acre farm, saw their seed bank, and met with their seed savers, witnessing how professionals grow, preserve, store and share heirloom seeds. In addition, Marilyn attended Seed School, an intensive program on seed saving in Tucson, AZ, hosted by Native Seed Search.
Finally, they felt ready to launch the Cleveland Seed Bank. They began to look for collaborators, and in January 2013 they approached The Cleveland Public Library with a model for “Seed Libraries.” After hard work on both sides, Cleveland Seed Bank donated the seeds and “The Seed Library at Cleveland Public Library” was born. Five branch locations currently participate, and provide an in-person forum for local seed exchanges.
The Cleveland Seed Bank still needed its own, independent exchange space. This became a possibility when Cleveland GiveCamp awarded CSB a grant for a website, and a team began to create CSB’s online seed exchange. Marilyn and Chris envisioned a ‘members area’ where local growers could post offers to share or swap seeds, but quickly found that no existing web program provided this function. Thankfully, one of their team members was ‘cyber hacktavist’ Meitar Moscovitcz. He wrote a new, open-source WordPress plug-in that enabled people to join CSB and post offers. In addition, as it was open-source, the plug-in was available not just to Cleveland seed savers, but also to the world. Meitar’s free online seed exchange program has been downloaded over 500 times and been translated into 3 different languages.
Today, The Cleveland Seed Bank has 200 members with close to 700 seeds posted for exchange online.
Create. Inspire. Act. Grow.
Create an alliance of self-reliant seed savers who will collect, grow, and share open-pollinated seeds.
Present inspirational educational programs on the genetic diversity of plant varieties and
preservation of open-pollinated seeds.
Act as an accessible and independent source of locally adapted seeds that directly services
Cleveland’s organic growers.
Grow a successful seed saving program that can be adapted by communities around the world.
Dr. Alfredo Huerta
Ph.D., University of California, Riverside
Dr. Alfredo J. Huerta, an Associate Professor in the Department of Botany at Miami University, is the founder of Save Seeds Now!, a non-profit organization dedicated to working with farmers in the development of locally adapted varieties of crop plants for sustainable agriculture and promoting the saving of seeds for future generations. Starting in southwest Ohio, the immediate goal of Save Seeds Now! is to expand across the state, and eventually, the nation. He is currently involved in collaborative research with the University of Tamaulipas in Mexico to study drought and heat resistance in sorghum, corn and sugarcane. His work involves identifying useful physiological traits associated with drought resistance that can be used as selection criteria for breeding programs.
Rowen White is a seed saver, farmer and educator. She is from the Mohawk community of Akwesasne and curates an extensive collection of rare northeast native seeds. She is the co-founder of Sierra Seed Cooperative in Nevada City, CA, focusing on local seed production and education. White is a seed educator with Native Seed/Search Seed School in Tucson, AZ and has had a long standing relationship with Seed Savers Exchange. She is the author, along with Bryan Connolly, of “Breeding Organic Vegetables: A Step by Step Guide for Growers.”
M.S. Genetics, Case Western Reserve University
As an undergraduate biology student at the University of Vermont, Meg’s love of botany led her to study the ever-fascinating grassland biomasses surrounding Kenyan termite mounds before beginning her career as a field ecologist for the International Crane Foundation, an NPO dedicated to the study and conservation of the 15 species of cranes. During that time she focused on prairie restoration in conjunction with the Aldo Leopold Foundation, an organization that advances the understanding, stewardship, and restoration of land health. Meg earned her master’s degree in Genetics from Case Western Reserve University and maintains her love of botany through various gardening projects including the Shore Acres Community Garden, which she helped to found in 2010 in the Collinwood neighborhood of Cleveland, Ohio.
B.S. Botany, University of Hawaii
As plant propagator specialist, and later as permaculture curator at the Los Angeles Arboretum and Botanic Garden in California, Caitlin has direct experience growing rare plants from seed from across the globe. Holding certificates in herbalism, permaculture education and soil biology, Caitlin works with an array of students and organizations to advance their maturing practices using holistic design and healthy soil. On her 40 acres around Columbus, Ohio, Caitlin integrates market farming with biodiverse permaculture design, seed saving and educational courses.
M.A. Food Studies, New York University
Alison is a creative producer, food scholar and activist inspired by fair food systems. Her research has led her to different regions of the world, from Hong Kong to New York, to observe and compare organic consumer behavior. She recently returned from Dr. Vandana Shiva’s organic farm, Navdanya, in Northern India where she developed and led a month long course for international students that covered the practicals and politics of organic farming.
Alison has also been published in the latest leading food studies textbook, Taking Food Public: Redefining Foodways in a Changing World, for her chapter, “Will Tweet for Food,” and was a 2011 visiting guest artist at the James Beard Foundation Greenhouse Gallery for her solo photography show, “Hong Kong Foodscapes.” Through new and traditional media platforms, Alison is dedicated to inspiring and informing people about the integrity and joy of sustainable food systems.
The Cleveland Seed Bank is an initiative of The Hummingbird Project, a global non-profit based in Cleveland, Ohio, dedicated to building regenerative ecological systems and empowering individuals in areas with limited resources. The Cleveland Seed Bank works to inspire community members to join the worldwide food movement to protect seed integrity and promote our shared seed heritage.