In my foray into the world of kitchen gardening, I have undergone many eye-opening changes along the way. In the early days I would buy seeds wherever I got them, and I would still recommend this to beginners as it can get a bit overwhelming at that stage to try to search for a particular type or origin of seed. With a bit more experience under my belt, I began to realize why it is important for farmers (even small time ones like us) to opt for native or heirloom varieties. The No. 1 reason for this of course being seed saving! Saving seeds from an heirloom variety assures you of carrying on the exact same variety in the next generation.
The reason why many people talk of avoiding hybrid seeds, and especially why it is not sustainable for farmers is that a seed saved from a hybrid plant/fruit will not give you the same variety in the next generation. You will instead get a plant of type Parent 1 or Parent 2 that may have some characteristics of the child plant you used, but will be distinctly different in some ways as well. Once again I would mention that where home gardeners are concerned and especially if you are just starting out, there is nothing like just crushing that overripe tomato that you bought from the market and seeing what comes out of it :).
The other big reason (in fact many might say this is even more important) is to preserve our native varieties, and it is amazing to see the varieties we have locally. Take for example the bean variety known as the winged bean. This was something I had never heard of before until I saw photos posted by some gardener friends from my FB group @Organic Terrace Gardening. I found that the seeds are propagated by Annadana, which assured me that it is very much a hardy variety that would grow well locally, and I took the plunge and ordered them (along with many others of course ;)). These are now growing at my patch at Green Thumbs Mini Farms. (Note: More about Green Thumbs at the end of the article). Only later, I found information that nearly all parts of this plant and not just the bean are edible. The leaves and flowers are used in different preparations and even the roots can be used like potatoes. What more can you ask of a plant? :).
In this context, I was thrilled to attend the Seed Festival recently held at the University of Agricultural Sciences (UAS) campus at Hebbal. The focus was on farmers who could display the diversity of rice, millet, wheat and other varieties of seeds. For an urbanite like me, I hadn’t even heard the names of most of these! There were also a few who had catered to the growing urban gardening market and had packaged small packets of vegetable and other seeds, and once again I was amazed at the diversity of varieties that dedicated farmers have grown locally and propagated wonderfully to make it available to all of us.
*Note: Green Thumbs Mini Farms is run by Anand Maddur, who provides patches of land on lease to urban farmers like me who want to try their hand at growing on land without the limitation of containers.