The Untold Story of Disappearing Seeds

by Bruce E. Boyers

When filmmakers Taggart Siegel and Jon Betz (Queen of the Sun; The Real Dirt on Farmer John) recently set out to make their next documentary, the subject of seeds seemed to jump right out at them. “A little over a year ago I read an article in National Geographic about seeds,” Taggart told Calmful Living. “An image that specifically struck me was the Svalbard Global Seed Vault in Norway—often called ‘the doomsday seed vault.’ In that article they said that some 93 percent of seed diversity has disappeared since the turn of the century. I came into the office and I said, ‘Jon, this could be the next film.’”

“For me it was a real aha moment,” Jon confirmed. “It was like, ‘Whoa! What’s going on?’ I’d never thought about this. Of course GMOs are a big topic; of course patenting seeds is a big topic. But to get that it was all connected, to get that the loss of diversity is connected with agribusiness and chemical companies patenting genetically modified seeds—and that’s all because of the consolidation of seed companies in the last hundred years.”

The Untold Story

The new film—entitled Seed: The Untold Story—got quickly off the ground, and primary shooting is now completed. In it, Taggart and Jon are detailing the care and devotion of those who are fighting against staggering odds to preserve the heritage and diversity of our seeds.

“Our mission with the film is to raise awareness on why seeds matter so much, and why we should be keeping them free and unpatented,” said Jon, “why we should be actually working with seeds again, understanding that seeds are culture. As with Queen of the Sun, we’re not just going out in one direction; we’re weaving together cultural stories, character stories and history alongside the political turmoil and the big issues.”

While there are some familiar faces in the film that have appeared in other documentaries of this genre—such as noted activist and attorney Andrew Kimbrell, Indian activist and author Vandana Shiva and legendary naturalist Jane Goodall—there are others that have never been given exposure at all. “Those are real gems,” Jon continued. “People like Will Bonsall, curator of Seed Savers Exchange, who says humans are obsessed with sex, even if it’s rutabaga sex—that’s why they love seed saving; others such as botanical explorer Joe Simcox, who wanted squashes for his seventh birthday because he wanted to save seeds; and Jere Gettle of Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds [link to our article], who at five years old was learning to read from seed catalogues. At seventeen he started his first seed company, and now he’s in his thirties and responsible for having saved hundreds of different varieties of heirloom seeds.”

Taggart added, “Those are the kind of people we’re discovering, and they’re saying, ‘Thank you! We’ve been doing this since the sixties and we’re finally being heard!’ They’ve been quietly holding the seed world together.”

Living Seed Banks

Another discovery Taggart and Jon made as they were shooting the film was that in addition to seed banks and exchanges, there are also living seed banks out there.

“An example is Native Seeds/SEARCH in the Southwest,” Jon explained. “Their mission is to have a place where the seeds of the Southwest can be stored. But then they distribute them—many of them freely back into the indigenous tribes to make sure that these southwestern communities are all able to reconnect with their seed heritage.”

“They not only save the seeds, but they grow the seeds out,” Taggart remarked. “It’s a living seed bank. They are growing out the seeds to keep them alive; otherwise they could die.”

Seed Libraries

It has now come to pass that you can check seeds out like library books too. “A number of public library systems have started to offer seeds just like they would books,” Jon said. “You check them out, you grow them out, you save the seeds from those and check them back in at the end of the year. It’s a very cool system; it’s community building and it’s really bringing us back to a culture that has been forgotten around seeds.”

Marisa Tomei

The executive producer on Seed: The Untold Story is Academy Award–winning actress Marisa Tomei, who rather surprised Taggart and Jon as a fan. “Marisa put on a conference in Los Angeles called Reclaim Real Food,” Taggart related. “As part of the conference she flew Vandana Shiva in from India. Possibly from Vandana Shiva or someone else, Marisa heard about Queen of the Sun. She watched it and fell in love with it, then wrote us basically a two-line e-mail saying, ‘I loved your film Queen of the Sun. How can I help?’ We were like, ‘What?!’ That doesn’t happen every day. Usually we have to go after people and then see if they’re open.”

“As an executive producer, she’s very supportive of the film and is working with us to get it out there as broadly and widely as possible,” said Jon.

Raising Funds for Last Stage

Taggart and Jon are now launching a Kickstarter campaign to complete Seed: The Untold Story. “We’re probably 90 percent shot at this point,” Jon reported. “We’ve filmed most of the material we need. Now it’s really that monumental task of going into the edit room for the winter and building these amazing stories into a completed film.”

“When I saw Queen of the Sun, I fell in love with the bees,” Marisa Tomei says in the trailer for Seed: The Untold Story. “When I heard that Taggart and Jon are making another film called Seed, I called them. I wanted to help because seeds are sacred, and our food supply, our seed supply, is being denigrated. I felt that if anyone could make a great film about seeds, and articulate the timeliness and importance of this issue, it would be Jon and Taggart.”

To view the trailer for Seed: The Untold Story and learn how you can help in its completion, visit the Kickstarter page: www.kickstarter.com/projects/collectiveeyefilms/seed-the-untold-story-the-final-push