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He’s An International Seed Saver
For the past 35 years, documentary filmmaker Adam Alexander has traveled the world finding rare and unique vegetables. Rather than sell the seeds he finds, he grows them out, along with others from his collection of around 500 varieties, and shares the seeds with other collectors and everyday growers.
“This coming year, I plan to grow around 120 varieties of vegetables and about a dozen varieties of soft fruit,” says Alexander. “To bring them home and save seeds, they have to be delicious. Many are endangered and might have been lost if not for my intervention. I’m also sent favorites of other collectors and get seeds from seed-saving organizations and gene banks.”
Alexander grows out the seeds in his greenhouses and 3 1/2-acre garden in Wales. This year he hopes to return at least a dozen varieties of saved seed to the Heritage Seed Library. Around 70 varietal plantings will be used to refresh his stock and to share with others. He will also be growing about 20 Ukrainian heritage varieties to see how well they do in the U.K.
“I hope to bulk up the supply to give to displaced Ukrainians here and across Europe,” says Alexander. “I’ll also be sending around 10 Syrian varieties to refugee camps in Jordan and Kurdistan for displaced Syrians who want to grow vegetables that remind them of home.”
Alexander is rightfully proud of finding old varieties thought lost and returning them to production. While in northwestern India, he heard about a favored local chili pepper known as Mathania. Due to accidental pollination with hybrid chilis, the preferred flavors had been lost. Alexander began to search for it and found it in a remote part of the region. It had been grown by successive generations of a local family.
“My guide bit into one and tears of joy welled up, as he said he hadn’t tasted one for more years than he cared to think,” says Alexander.
Alexander has grown them since, but he also returned seed to the regional agricultural station. He tells similar stories about a landrace pea from Spain, a landrace lima bean from northern Myanmar, and more. He’s collected seeds from across the Middle East, Southeast Asia, and India, as well as across North and South America.
Peas and carrots are Alexander’s favorite vegetables. He claims at least 50 pea varieties in his collection. His number one shelling pea is Avi Juan, which he collected from a like-minded seed saver in Catalonia, in northeastern Spain.
“Avi Juan is a shelling pea that grows to well over 8 ft. with long pods containing up to 11 large peas that are sweet and delicious,” says Alexander. “Just getting them into the kitchen requires an iron will; they’re so gorgeous raw.”
Alexander covers his top 10 favorites on his website and details many of them and others in his recent book, “The Seed Detective: Uncovering the Secret Histories of Remarkable Vegetables.”
The variety of seeds available to share is posted on his website. They change each year and are available in limited quantities. Alexander does ask for a small donation and postage for each packet requested.
Contact: FARM SHOW Followup, Adam Alexander, Benson Bush, Itton, Chepstow, Wales NP16 6BZ (ph 44 7860 646613; adam@theseeddetective.co.uk; www.theseeddetective.co.uk).

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2023 - Volume #47, Issue #2