Ohio University Press · Swallow Press ·

Saving Seeds, Preserving Taste
Heirloom Seed Savers in Appalachia

By Bill Best
Foreword by Howard L. Sacks

“In this simple paperback I've learned more about beans and their evolution at the hands of American farmers than anything else I've read over the past 35 years.”

Maureen Gilmer, “Yardsmart”, Charlotte Observer

In Saving Seeds, Preserving Taste, Bill Best has captured in words his passion and dedication for perpetuating heirloom vegetable and fruit varieties in Appalachia. This has been his life’s work…. At seventy-nine, he continues to promote the saving of heirloom seeds, seeds that hold the potential for flavorful, nutritious food; seeds that if saved, can be grown year after year; seeds that hold a part of the history of Native American and Appalachian cultures.”

Journal of Appalachian Studies

“This animated narrative offers a glimpse into American folklore, migration patterns, and the glory of the family farm as it is known through its seeds, which live on season after season, offering distinctive local flavor.”

Publishers Weekly

“Best’s book depicts the alternative to corporate farming as unveiled in Karl Weber’s Food, Inc. (2009), discussed in Michael Pollan’s In Defense of Food (2008), explored in Sally Fallon, Pat Connolly, and Mary G Enig’s Nourishing Traditions (1995), and revealed in Robyn O’Brien and Rachel Kranz’s The Unhealthy Truth (2009).”

Journal of American Culture

The Brown Goose, the White Case Knife, Ora’s Speckled Bean, Radiator Charlie’s Mortgage Lifter—these are just a few of the heirloom fruits and vegetables you’ll encounter in Bill Best’s remarkable history of seed saving and the people who preserve both unique flavors and the Appalachian culture associated with them. As one of the people at the forefront of seed saving and trading for over fifty years, Best has helped preserve numerous varieties of beans, tomatoes, corn, squashes, and other fruits and vegetables, along with the family stories and experiences that are a fundamental part of this world. While corporate agriculture privileges a few flavorless but hardy varieties of daily vegetables, seed savers have worked tirelessly to preserve genetic diversity and the flavors rooted in the Southern Appalachian Mountains—referred to by plant scientists as one of the vegetative wonders of the world.

Saving Seeds, Preserving Taste will introduce readers to the cultural traditions associated with seed saving, as well as the remarkable people who have used grafting practices and hand-by-hand trading to keep alive varieties that would otherwise have been lost. As local efforts to preserve heirloom seeds have become part of a growing national food movement, Appalachian seed savers play a crucial role in providing alternatives to large-scale agriculture and corporate food culture. Part flavor guide, part people’s history, Saving Seeds, Preserving Taste will introduce you to a world you’ve never known—or perhaps remind you of one you remember well from your childhood.

Bill Best was a professor, coach, and administrator at Berea College for forty years, retiring in 2002. Since that time he has continued his seed saving and work with sustainable agriculture and for several years has been director of the Sustainable Mountain Agriculture Center located near Berea, Kentucky. The center makes heirloom seeds available to a wide regional audience and to the nation in general. In addition, through special arrangements, the center also ships seeds to many other countries.   More info →

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Retail price: $22.95, S.
Release date: April 2013
224 pages · 5½ × 8½ in.
Rights:  World

Release date: April 2013
224 pages
Rights:  World

Additional Praise for Saving Seeds, Preserving Taste

Saving Seeds, Preserving Taste is a practical and useful handbook for good garden husbandry but as it unfolds before your eyes, it reveals as well a vital world of southern Appalachian people, plants, food, and practice to nourish both body and soul.”

Appalachian Heritage

Saving Seeds, Preserving Taste is a fascinating read. If you have never saved seeds yourself this book will make you want to do so.”

Home Greenhouse magazine

“Perhaps only once in a lifetime, we read a book that is a true treasure of American lore, one that no other person could write. Bill Best should be considered a National Treasure Keeper, for his beans, tomatoes, and corn — as well as his stories — are irreplaceable and therefore of immeasurable value.”

Gary Nabhan, author of Coming Home to Eat: The Pleasures and Politics of Local Foods

“If you're interested in history and enjoy reading first-person accounts, this is a wonderful treasure. Bill has taken the legacy of these wonderful seed-savers one step further than the seeds. He's collected the stories and biographies into this great little book to preserve the ‘how and why' behind some of our beloved seeds and plants. In the past, oral tradition was good enough for the family of ‘Aunt Bessie' when they saved her seeds, but with the growing interest in heirlooms, getting it down in print makes sure that gardeners world-wide have access to the record.”

Dave’s Garden

“With a resurgence of interest in homegrown heirlooms, (Saving Seeds, Preserving Taste) offers new gardeners a peek into what they've been missing, and a few hints about how to connect with cultivating the incredible diversity of edible treasures that are available…. New gardeners looking for guidance and knowledgeable gardeners wanting to try a few new heirloom varieties will benefit from Best's years of experience.”

Lexington Herald Leader

“This is a worthy read for everyone—whether they're lifelong lovers of heirloom varieties or have just started on the road to growing their own flavor-packed tomatoes.”

Edible Columbus

“The magic in the greatest of all Jack tales is that what appears to be a mere handful of seeds turns instead into a giant beanstalk leading to riches beyond measure. That same sort of alchemy is at work here in Bill Best's Saving Seeds, Preserving Taste. Yes, it's a practical and useful handbook for good garden husbandry, but as it unfolds before your eyes, it reveals as well a vital world of southern Appalachian people, plants, food, and practice to nourish both body and soul.”

Ronni Lundy, founding member of the Southern Foodways Alliance, author of Shuck Beans, Stack Cakes, and Honest Fried Chicken

“I love how Bill Best ‘stirs the pot.’ Going to his house and sitting at his table after a walk through the garden will reveal the best-tasting tomatoes and, likely, some Turkey Craw beans -- my personal favorite. But Bill also stirs the pot metaphorically by showing the Appalachian region and the world how place matters in a transnational political economy that has long said otherwise. For all the talk and attention given to globalization, Bill Best in his life's work and especially in this delightful book proves that place matters. The local is the place of deep abiding but also fragile knowledge. If you doubt it, ask your heart and your tongue. They know.”

Chad Berry, Goode Professor of Appalachian Studies and Professor of History at Berea College, author of Southern Migrants, Northern Exiles

“It was a simple packet of beans purchased from Bill Best that restored my restless spirit. Last winter, we finally met. I could not tell him how I felt because I knew I would cry. But watching the elder Bill Best instruct the youthful Chef Jeremy Ashby in the finer points of heirloom seed saving and history, I found my heart was filled with boundless joy. The legacy will continue! That one moment was worth the trip up the Mountain Parkway. God Bless you Bill Best…for you have blessed me and the people of Appalachia for generations to come. May your harvest always be plentiful and the bean beetles few!”

Joyce Pinson, Edible Ohio Valley

“In the broadest sense, this is a book about the sustainability of our food system, culture, and communities. With beans, as in much of life, maintaining and cultivating diversity improve our lot.”

Howard L. Sacks, Professor of Sociology and Director of the Rural Life Center at Kenyon College

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