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Seedtime: On the History, Husbandry, Politics and Promise of Seeds

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Scott Chaskey—working farmer, poet, and spiritual father of the community farming movement—considers "the web of biodiversity and resilience at the heart of our cultural inheritance" by masterfully weaving history, politics, botany, literature, mythology, and memoir into a beautiful and instructive book. It's hard to think of a subject more fundamental to the sustenance of Scott Chaskey—working farmer, poet, and spiritual father of the community farming movement—considers "the web of biodiversity and resilience at the heart of our cultural inheritance" by masterfully weaving history, politics, botany, literature, mythology, and memoir into a beautiful and instructive book. It's hard to think of a subject more fundamental to the sustenance of the human race than seeds. Having coevolved with the Earth's plants, insects, and animals, seeds are entwined with the core myths of ancient cultures and the development of human consciousness. Their story remains vitally important today, as the corporations that manufacture GMOs threaten our food security and the future of seed-cultivated agriculture. The stakes, for those concerned with preserving biodiversity and ecological integrity, are high. Balancing a wide view of politics and history, Chaskey alights from life on the farm he has cultivated for 25 years to conjure Gregor Mendel's breeding experiments that yielded our modern understanding of genetics; he also introduces us to several "bioneers," such as the geobotanist Nikolay Vavilov and agriculturalist Cary Fowler, who are preserving global biodiversity through seeds. Integrating scholarship with accessible storytelling, Seedtime is a celebration as well as a call to action urging us to renew our role as citizens of nature, in ecologist Aldo Leopold's phrase, not as conquerors of it.


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Scott Chaskey—working farmer, poet, and spiritual father of the community farming movement—considers "the web of biodiversity and resilience at the heart of our cultural inheritance" by masterfully weaving history, politics, botany, literature, mythology, and memoir into a beautiful and instructive book. It's hard to think of a subject more fundamental to the sustenance of Scott Chaskey—working farmer, poet, and spiritual father of the community farming movement—considers "the web of biodiversity and resilience at the heart of our cultural inheritance" by masterfully weaving history, politics, botany, literature, mythology, and memoir into a beautiful and instructive book. It's hard to think of a subject more fundamental to the sustenance of the human race than seeds. Having coevolved with the Earth's plants, insects, and animals, seeds are entwined with the core myths of ancient cultures and the development of human consciousness. Their story remains vitally important today, as the corporations that manufacture GMOs threaten our food security and the future of seed-cultivated agriculture. The stakes, for those concerned with preserving biodiversity and ecological integrity, are high. Balancing a wide view of politics and history, Chaskey alights from life on the farm he has cultivated for 25 years to conjure Gregor Mendel's breeding experiments that yielded our modern understanding of genetics; he also introduces us to several "bioneers," such as the geobotanist Nikolay Vavilov and agriculturalist Cary Fowler, who are preserving global biodiversity through seeds. Integrating scholarship with accessible storytelling, Seedtime is a celebration as well as a call to action urging us to renew our role as citizens of nature, in ecologist Aldo Leopold's phrase, not as conquerors of it.

30 review for Seedtime: On the History, Husbandry, Politics and Promise of Seeds

  1. 4 out of 5

    Erin Eldermire

    I read this book because Mann Library at Cornell University was running a super sweet Valentine's Day promotion where they matched you up with a "blind date" book in their collection, and this book was my blind date. As I started to read the book I was skeptical, but as I reached the middle of the book I really started to enjoy the waxing on about seeds, their remarkable and varied features, and their importance to us and to biodiversity in general. Chaskey would meander through themes in an unp I read this book because Mann Library at Cornell University was running a super sweet Valentine's Day promotion where they matched you up with a "blind date" book in their collection, and this book was my blind date. As I started to read the book I was skeptical, but as I reached the middle of the book I really started to enjoy the waxing on about seeds, their remarkable and varied features, and their importance to us and to biodiversity in general. Chaskey would meander through themes in an unpredictable manner, which grew on me as I progressed. One of the most profound things that I realized through reading this book is that for millions of years no soil existed on the earth. Just a simple fact that is pretty profound! It was a nice diversion to read this, especially as spring as coming on and we're getting ready to plant our garden for the first time in a few years. This year I had a much deeper appreciation of each seed that I started indoors, and the peas that we've put into the ground so far.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Kbg503

    My reaction towards this books so depends on my mood. First time learning about Nikolai Vavilov and am currently growing Moskvich tomatoes which was developed from a Russian Institute named after him. For a couple of years I've been growing/saving seeds from sunflowers and that is a fantastic labor of love. I go through 20 lb. bags of sunflower seeds rather quickly feeding the birds and squirrels, and wonder that if they grow and flower, will that pollen cross contaminate what I'm growing and re My reaction towards this books so depends on my mood. First time learning about Nikolai Vavilov and am currently growing Moskvich tomatoes which was developed from a Russian Institute named after him. For a couple of years I've been growing/saving seeds from sunflowers and that is a fantastic labor of love. I go through 20 lb. bags of sunflower seeds rather quickly feeding the birds and squirrels, and wonder that if they grow and flower, will that pollen cross contaminate what I'm growing and results in a patent lawsuit. Just realized that when my high school Asian History class covered the Green Revolution, some issues were not covered! And his writing affects how you perceive time because of his age and experience, believing that the seed has memory, and how to care for the soil because there is so much going on under our feet.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Wrdwrrior

    Fabulous book on seed saving. Lyrical and informative

  4. 5 out of 5

    Zade

    I received this book as a giveaway through the First-Reads program. It is always exciting to get a new book in the mail, but this time I got a treasure. Scott Chaskey is a writer, poet, and farmer who runs the Peconic Land Trust's Quail Hill Farm in Amaganesett, New York. The farm is one of the oldest examples of Community Supported Agriculture in the nation and Chaskey has worked this land since the farm's establishment in 1990. As his previous work has clearly illustrated, he has a deep underst I received this book as a giveaway through the First-Reads program. It is always exciting to get a new book in the mail, but this time I got a treasure. Scott Chaskey is a writer, poet, and farmer who runs the Peconic Land Trust's Quail Hill Farm in Amaganesett, New York. The farm is one of the oldest examples of Community Supported Agriculture in the nation and Chaskey has worked this land since the farm's establishment in 1990. As his previous work has clearly illustrated, he has a deep understanding of the land and the plants growing there. He also has a poet's heart and love for words, as well as a broad and deep education in history and literature. With amazing fluidity, he combines science, memoir, poetry, history, and philosophy into a complex and coherent whole. Reading his work is challenging and enrapturing at once. In _Seedtime_, Mr. Chaskey turns his considerable insight and talent to the unlikely subject of seeds. From the beginning, however, he makes it clear that even the smallest seeds play a vital role in our lives and in the future we build. The introductory chapter lays out the basic facts: that the diversity of seeds available for food crops has declined catastrophically in the last century and the resulting loss of diversity puts our entire food production capability at risk. In this chapter, Chaskey also entices the reader with his ability to turn a phrase that embodies perfectly his Romantic attachment to the land, plants, and animals amongst which he works. His gift for imagery and awareness of the resonance of words in the ear and their feel on the tongue makes reading his work a sensual pleasure as well as an intellectual enrichment. This connection between the artistic and the practical, between the spiritual and the earthly, lies very much at the heart of the story Chaskey tells and in which he invites our participation. Subsequent chapters cover the evolution of angiosperm seeds (the kind from which most of our food grows), the history of seed saving, and the causes and effects of seed company monopolies and the privatizing and patenting of seeds in the twentieth century. Chaskey is at his best when he is telling stories. His account of the work of Nikolai Vavilov proves both educational and touching. The more purely didactic sections of the book—the chapter on seed evolution and the long, central chapter on hybrids, GMOs, and the erosion of diversity—lack the charm and warmth of other parts of the book, and yet they are never boring. Of particular note, unlike others of an activist bent, Chaskey maintains a moderate and reasonable tone throughout. The final chapters of the book return to the farm and the plants Chaskey loves and bring his case full circle. As he describes the history of the humble potato, for example, he also illustrates the points made earlier about the need for diversity and a shared cultural story that values stewardship of the land above exploitation. In these chapters, stories from Chaskey’s life blend seamlessly with the poetry of his language, the passion of his politics, and the natural history of his chosen subjects. The reader comes away from the book inspired and optimistic, even in the face of the daunting situation Chaskey reveals. Finally, a note about the physical book itself: Rarely does a book so aptly embody the message it carries. Inside, each chapter is graced with a detailed and beautiful illustration of a plant drawn by Chaskey’s adult son. Besides adding a visual boon to the book, these illustrations exemplify the sense of community and enduring cultural value Chaskey describes. The book’s cover bears the image of a milkweed seed, suspended and apparently adrift on its fluffy sails. No better analogy could apply for Chaskey’s book—a self-contained world of energy and nourishment just waiting to alight in the right hands, where its contents will sprout and bring forth actions to nourish future generations.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Jessica

    I won my copy from Goodreads Giveaways! This was a beautiful, thoughtful book on par with commentary of great works of literature but concerning garlic, wheat, and clover. The very idea of a book devoted to discussing seeds can cause some people to laugh and others to yawn, but they are too quick to dismiss what are essentially integral foundations of life on earth. I immensely enjoyed Scott Chaskey's voice as he worked through thousands of years of evolution that present us with today's agricult I won my copy from Goodreads Giveaways! This was a beautiful, thoughtful book on par with commentary of great works of literature but concerning garlic, wheat, and clover. The very idea of a book devoted to discussing seeds can cause some people to laugh and others to yawn, but they are too quick to dismiss what are essentially integral foundations of life on earth. I immensely enjoyed Scott Chaskey's voice as he worked through thousands of years of evolution that present us with today's agriculture. It is too easy to take for granted what can readily be found year-round at the grocery store, and Chaskey's voice is light enough to touch on matters of global concern without instilling the reader with a need to prepare their own doomsday bunker. Fans of Michael Pollan, Rachel Carson, and William Shakespeare will find beauty in Chaskey's homage to the earth and its biology. I appreciated how incredibly well-read Chaskey is and how quick he is to give credit to authors and explorers who have come before him. The only small critique I have is that the end gets a little political, but gets back on track by the final page and the reader can resume sharing in seed culture and going forth into the world more appreciative of this world. Happy Reading!

  6. 5 out of 5

    Srujana

    ~A First Reads Review~ Seedtime is part-memoir, part-science lesson, and part-history lesson. Scott Chaskey not only spends a significant amount of recounting his own experiences as a farmer, but he also traces the history of crop plants from the evolution of angiosperms to GMOs to today's organic food movement. Perhaps the most annoying thing about Chaskey's writing is that he has a tendency to talk slowly. He'll often interrupt the narrative he is trying to build in order to relate his own semi ~A First Reads Review~ Seedtime is part-memoir, part-science lesson, and part-history lesson. Scott Chaskey not only spends a significant amount of recounting his own experiences as a farmer, but he also traces the history of crop plants from the evolution of angiosperms to GMOs to today's organic food movement. Perhaps the most annoying thing about Chaskey's writing is that he has a tendency to talk slowly. He'll often interrupt the narrative he is trying to build in order to relate his own semi-related experiences to the reader. I kept wishing that he were next to me so I could nudge him to get on with it already. In fact, it takes him until Chapter 4 to really get the ball rolling. But when he does, the book becomes extraordinary! Chapters 6 and 7 were the highlight of the entire book not only because they were so well-researched but because of the relevance of the material to today's problems. Chaskey makes a very solid case for the need for biodiversity among crops, and growing fight against the large corporations that are (not so) inadvertently trying to stamp it out. He also spends a fair amount of time discussing initiatives by different groups from around the world to restore the health of their native environments. You might need a bit of patience, but overall, this book is a great read for those who are looking to learn more about the politics of agriculture today.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Stephanie

    As the title suggests, this book is a complete study on seeds: their history and the science behind them, how humans have depended on and interacted with them, how they are in the middle of political debates, but most of all how they "hold promise" for all future life. Told in a hopeful and poetic manner author, Scott Chaskey uses storytelling inter-weaved with factual evidence to tell the incredible story of seeds on Earth. I enjoyed the first several chapters on the history of seeds and their in As the title suggests, this book is a complete study on seeds: their history and the science behind them, how humans have depended on and interacted with them, how they are in the middle of political debates, but most of all how they "hold promise" for all future life. Told in a hopeful and poetic manner author, Scott Chaskey uses storytelling inter-weaved with factual evidence to tell the incredible story of seeds on Earth. I enjoyed the first several chapters on the history of seeds and their interactions with humans the most. Some of the middle chapters, that talked more of politics and raw data were a little tedious to me, but still worth being told. Seedtime was provided for free as an Advanced Reading Copy in return for an honest review.

  8. 5 out of 5

    ADD

    Interesting. Some good informative bits; however, the author seemed to wander aimlessly in several chapters where the introduction of the topic didn't hold for the remainder of the chapter. But it did provide a few intriguing topics and titles worth future investigation. Interesting. Some good informative bits; however, the author seemed to wander aimlessly in several chapters where the introduction of the topic didn't hold for the remainder of the chapter. But it did provide a few intriguing topics and titles worth future investigation.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Luke Reisdorf

    It took a while for Scott Chaskey to catch his grove, but once found this book was immensely enjoyable. This well researched read takes one from the ancient begins of seed to the modern age of GMO’s.

  10. 4 out of 5

    S Holthaus

    Informational and entertaining.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Diogenes

    This is a beautifully researched and written book about the nature, history, and human implications of seeds sown (snicker ;) wonderfully together.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Ann

    Top 5 Science and Nature - PLA

  13. 5 out of 5

    DeLoria

  14. 4 out of 5

    Trevor Hipp

  15. 5 out of 5

    Fabiola Rivera (Amrit Sukhmani Kaur)

  16. 5 out of 5

    Nancy Slotnick

  17. 4 out of 5

    Lan Dinh

  18. 4 out of 5

    Sean Barrett

  19. 4 out of 5

    Cammie

  20. 4 out of 5

    Greg

  21. 5 out of 5

    Brita

  22. 5 out of 5

    Msrobot0

  23. 4 out of 5

    Drusagii

  24. 5 out of 5

    Stefanie Garate

  25. 4 out of 5

    Michelle

  26. 4 out of 5

    Carolcc

  27. 4 out of 5

    Atosha

  28. 4 out of 5

    Matt

  29. 5 out of 5

    Holderofthemt

  30. 4 out of 5

    Pam Chun

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