Tahlequah Daily Press

February 5, 2013

Sowing the seeds

By RENEE FITE
Staff Writer

TAHLEQUAH — As food prices climb, more people are tilling up corners of backyards and other property for gardens.

Seed-saving can be about plant roots as much as people’s roots, said a speaker Saturday at a Seed Saving workshop.

More than 40 people attended a workshop Saturday to learn more about successful gardening. The event, sponsored by the Tahlequah Food Policy Council,  featured Michelle Moulton, registered dietitian for Reasor’s Inc.; seed saver George McLaughlin, engineer and dietitian Rita Bergman; and Sandy Mueller, horticulturist.

McLaughlin, a retired pastor, now farms near Moodys. He has farmed in New Jersey, where he grew up, and in parts of Mexico, where he served as a missionary. He learned the value of hard work and producing for himself early on, having 23 types of trees, bees and a garden on one acre.

“Mom was never still; she was always peeling, washing and canning,” said McLaughlin.

He charmed his audience with his soft-spoken comments, sharing stories and food facts.

“Seed-saving is any kind of propagation by which one reproduces plants for future use,” McLaughlin said. “You can have a cycle of production forever by saving seeds.”

McLaughlin has kept seeds from batches he got 40 years ago, heritage seeds from family and friends. He even gardened while he was in seminary.

About 1984, he joined the seed-saver exchange, in which he still participates by making seed available to others.

“I spread seeds around, give them away, and when I have a crop fail, I ask for some back,” he said.

Seed-saving appeals to McLaughlin on a number of levels.

“The economy [is one reason],” he said. “It’s not cheap to buy seed now. It allows for self-sufficiency and curiosity. It’s so interesting; I like it, especially rare seeds.”

Variety is another reason.

“There’s probably 1,000 times more variety if you have the ability to get a hold of something and reproduce for the future,” he said. “I’ve gotten seeds before that I couldn’t get again now.”

He cautioned gardeners about genetically modified organisms.

“There are agrochemical companies planting genetically modified crops,” said McLaughlin. “We don’t know what all they’re putting in them, and there aren’t studies about their effects.”

He told a story about a farmer who was growing a crop, and nearby agrochemical crops eventually contaminated his crops. When the culprit company had the farmer’s crops tested, they sued him, when it was actually their seed that had done the deed.

“It’s getting harder to keep pure seeds and crops, and to maintain purity and prevent cross-pollination,” McLaughlin said.

He isolates by distance, time and barriers.

“I plant in different gardens, at different times of year and with tall plants, like corn, separating some varieties,” he said. “My garden looks like a cross-work quilt.”

His vision is for people all over the world to grow and save some seeds.

“People need to keep in touch with one’s own roots, for a sense of stability,” he said. “I grow stuff I’ve been given for 20 years.”

One variety he’s proud to have kept growing is Cherokee squaw corn.

“It’s pretty much what they brought on the Trail of Tears,” he said. “Corn can be a vegetable or a grain. Large varieties can be used to shade out Bermuda grass, and many varieties work as support for vining crops.”

Michelle Moulton, dietitian for Reasor’s, said her goal is to help people get involved in healthy lifestyles.

“I do individual consulting and store tours,” Mounton said. “I love my job. I like educating people and helping them make good choices for a longer and healthier life.”

Reasor’s has a new NuVal Nutritional Scoring system that helps customers determine the nutritional value of their selections.

“NuVal is nutrition at a glance,” Moulton said. “The numerical rating 1 is bad for you; 100 is the highest it can go, like fresh foods. The higher the score, the better the nutrition.”

NuVal scores are posted next to the product price.

Wayne Gourley, one of the workshop attendees, always plants a big garden every year and came to get more ideas.

“For about 20 years, we’ve had a big garden,” said Gourley. “We’ve started using barrels, too, with water in the bottom and the plant on top,” he said. “This workshop is a good idea. There’s a lot of talent here today.”

Janice Keeley, master gardener and member of the Nasturtium Garden Club, said she was interested in just about every topic covered.

“I wrote some varieties down I’m going to try, like PacMan broccoli that was spoken highly of,” she said. “The NuVal at Reasor’s sounds helpful for people who don’t take the time to read labels.”

 

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