Why Save Seeds?
By Glenn I. Teves, County Extension Agent, UHCTAHR
Our tropical climate on Molokai is unique compared to other parts of the U.S. and Europe, where most of our seeds originate. The warm nights in the tropics are brutal for many varieties developed outside of the tropics. What may grow well in those areas may not grow well here so we need to find varieties that grow well here, or we need to develop them. Tropically adapted seeds are difficult to access, such as those from Southeast Asia, South China and the Philippines. Seeds from Africa, India and South America are even more difficult to access.
Disasters in other parts of the world can wipe out the seed supply, and we’ve seen this happen many times. For example, monsoons in Southeast Asia can destroy Asian mustards such as pak choy, won bok, kai lan, and choy sum, crops important to our local diet. Present water shortages in the West and Southwest U.S. affect not only access to food produced in those areas, but also the quality of seeds grown there since seed crops need to be grown beyond the crop harvest stage.
No one is developing varieties specifically for the U.S. because we’re not an important market, and history has also shown that when we find a variety that grows well in Hawaii, these companies may discontinue producing them since we’re such a small market.
Anyone can develop new varieties. In the past, we’ve had gardeners and farmers develop superior vegetable varieties for our islands. A great example is Hirayama Kai Choy developed by the late Chik Hirayama of Kawela. Others include Molokai Eggplant, Manoa Lettuce and also Nitta Eggplant, which originated in a garden next to the old Neighborhood Store on East Molokai.
I saw an article from the 1950s when we were producing 50 percent of our food. What happened? We stopped growing food, shifted our focus to other things, and forgot that we needed to eat. We really need to grow more than just five percent of our food. We live in the most isolated place on this planet, 2500 miles from the West Coast, and it’s so easy for us to cut off from our food supply. Supply disruptions and disasters elsewhere can have a profound effect on access to food. We’re a cargo cult waiting for the next container ship to arrive. This dependence is not good.
The COVID experience as well as ongoing supply chain issues teaches us that we cannot depend on others. When disasters strike, no one is going to take care of us; we need to take care of ourselves. Food hubs like Sustainable Molokai’s Mobile Market are critical in moving fresh food around the island. The County of Maui has set aside funds to award grants to farmers and gardeners and I applaud the County Council and the Mayor’s office for this vision, a vital investment in food security. Soon we’ll be into the Makahiki season when we celebrate the harvest season, but if you have nothing to harvest, you have nothing to celebrate. If we strive for abundance, hopefully no one will go hungry and this all starts with seeds.