As Climate Change Threatens Food Supplies, Seed Saving is an Ancient Act of Resilience

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The Revolution Where You Live

In Norway, a high-tech seed vault flooded from melting permafrost. In Montana, locals share their seeds at the library.

Seed Library Volunteers and librarian at the Great Falls, Montana, Seed Exchange. Photo by Sarah van Gelder

On Feb. 26, 2008, a $9-million underground seed vault began operating deep in the permafrost on the Norwegian island of Spitsbergen, just 810 miles from the North Pole. This high-tech Noah’s Ark for the world’s food varieties was intended to assure that, even in a worst-case scenario, our irreplaceable heritage of food seeds would remain safely frozen.

Less than 10 years after it opened, the facility flooded. The seeds are safe; the water only entered a passageway. Still, as vast areas of permafrost melt, the breach raises serious questions about the security of the seeds, and whether a centralized seed bank is really the best way to safeguard the world’s food supply.

Meanwhile, a much…

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