Food & Drink » Glenda Bartosh on Food

A seed of a notion

Saving and planting seeds may be one of the sweetest deals around



The virus is called Chung-Li. It starts in China, wiping out rice crops. All rice crops.

Despite assurances by leaders in the U.S. and Europe that hybrids able to resist the virus can be developed in time and food stores can bridge shortfalls, Chung-Li spreads more quickly than anticipated, decimating wheat, rye, oats and every other member of the grass family around the world, including grasses that cattle and other domesticated animals eat.

But in a small, narrow valley protected by mountains — this one in England — one farmer has been planting non-grass crops like potatoes that can feed people and animals, like pigs.

In The Death of Grass, the wrath of Chung-Li virus and the fallout — in a nod to morality plays — posits what would any of us do facing a world without food, where we've been the collective greedy bastards wrecking the land for selfish gain. This eerily prescient sci-fi gem, named a top 10 out-of-print book on one list or another a few years back, was written in 1956 by Samuel Youd under the pseudonym, John Christopher.

John also happens to be the name of the book's protagonist. His brother, David, who saves pretty much everyone's bacon, at least everyone's worth saving, is a potato farmer in that protected mountain valley. If that doesn't send everyone living in Pemberton to their local library or Amazon to order it, I don't know what will.

Besides all the Pembie seed potato farmers — who you can bet your bottom potato on don't view themselves in the same heroic cast as the novel's David, but could — one of the first to hunker down with The Death of Grass may be Jesse Fromowitz.

Jesse, who's known in Sea to Sky's farming circles as the No. 1 seed saver, has been fascinated by plants and the idea of growing things that you eat to stay healthy since he read Nicholas Culpeper's 17th century Complete Herbal, and dug up a corner of his parents' backyard near Toronto when he was 14.

Now Jesse runs Goodfield Farms from several sites around Pemberton, using super-healthy farming methods to supply beautiful fresh veggies from leeks to zucchinis to restaurants like Araxi and Bearfoot Bistro as well as eager customers at the Squamish, Whistler and Pemberton farmers' markets.

Although Jesse wouldn't be driven by a sense of heroism, either, given his passion for saving seeds and sharing them, The Death of Grass would be right up his curiosity alley.

"My vision is to pass on seeds to everyone," says Jesse, who named his farm for his mom's serendipitous surname, Goodfield.

"It's a passion of mine to collect seeds — I've always found it interesting how amazing a seed is. You can take this tiny little thing and plant it into the soil, and it grows into this giant plant. It's fascinating!"