Seed Savers Exchange member Sara McCamant of Sebastopol, California, has never met a garden plot she didn’t like. “Gardening’s in my blood,” she says. “Growing up in a family of gardeners, I’ve always had a passion for planting things and digging in the dirt.”
And she has happily spent much of her life pursuing that passion.
As a college student in the 1980s, Sara grew her own food in between attending and studying for classes in political theory. In 1992 she added seed saving to her repertoire when a visit to the noted Occidental Arts and Ecology Center garden piqued her interest in the vanishing art. “Doug Gosling talked about diversity, the loss of diversity, and the importance of seed saving in fighting that loss,” she recalls. “I was immediately hooked—the only reason that we have the amount of diversity available to us right now is because people before us have saved seeds.”
That belief has guided Sara’s work throughout her impressive career as a food activist and garden educator. She has run an educational garden at the Shenoa Retreat Center in Mendocino County, California; managed the gardens at Emerald Earth, an intentional community in the hills above Boonville, California; overseen the gardens at the Boonville Hotel as well as at Lynmar Estate, a winery in Sebastopol; and developed the Community Seed Network at Seed Matters. Currently she serves as garden and youth program manager for the Ceres Community Project, an organization she describes as “bringing together all the right ingredients to make real magic happen.”
“We make healthy meals for people dealing with serious illness and work with youth to grow and produce those meals,” says Sara, who is on record as declaring kale among her own favorite vegetables. “I get to grow food that goes to people who really need nutritionally dense, love-grown food and work with amazing young people to do it. Most days I come home inspired and fired up—really, how lucky is that?”
In her “free time,” she blogs about gardening and seed saving for iGrow Sonoma and helps manage the Community Seed Exchange (CSE), a volunteer-run seed library and garden in Sonoma County, California, that she cofounded in 2009. One of the oldest seed libraries in the country, the organization offers almost 200 varieties of fruits, vegetables, and grains. CSE also maintains a community seed garden, where members grow seed for the library, and offers classes on how to save seed. Local seed sharing, saving, and swapping, Sara told Civil Eats in 2016 , is the key to increasing biodiversity not only in California but also globally: “Just one seed library can plant a variety that has almost disappeared and all of a sudden you can find it everywhere….The scale can be small, but the impact can be so large.”
It was that belief that first inspired Sara to join Seed Savers Exchange in 1993. “I have always felt that Seed Savers Exchange does revolutionary work—that saving seed is not only fun but also has a greater purpose of connecting people who are preserving varieties in danger of being lost,” she says. “One of the first things I offered through the Yearbook was Oca, a tuber from South America that my father who was really interested in Andean crops had given me—I think I may have been the first person to offer Oca in the United States.”
In 2013, after 20 years of active membership, Sara traveled from California to the organization’s Heritage Farm headquarters in Decorah to lead the "Building a Community Seed Movement" workshop at the annual Conference and Campout. “What a gift it was to be able to see Heritage Farm after all those years,” she says. “I was so impressed by the care and thought that was going into the collection. I glimpsed the bigger picture of Seed Savers Exchange’s work and realized it was so much more than the Yearbook….and I listened to Gary Nabhan share how he watched the seed-saving movement grow and how he could actually name seeds that would have been lost but for the work of an individual seed saver. That reminded me how impactful our work really is.”
If you are not already a member, please consider joining Sara McCamant and the rest of our member network. We need your support more than ever to preserve the world's endangered garden varieties for future generations.