Tactical Seed Banks

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Seed banks are supposed to ensure security - against food scarcity, against seed genetic homogeneity, against big agribusiness. All those societal, environmental, and economic boogeymen hiding in the empty grocery aisles of a post collapse world. They are part strategic thinking and part childhood binky - when the soil is dead and the seas are boiling what good will your 20,000 viable crop seeds be? Yet they’re still considered an actionable defense against an uncertain future, A Thing To Do when the chips - and the bread, and the fresh fruit, and the vegetables - are down.

However, seed banks, like the seeds they contain, are not a monolith. On one end of the spectrum are the impenetrable, physically vault-like seed banks funded by governments and research institutions for the sake of preserving broad plant genetic diversity. On the other are the personal food crop stockpiles maintained in the emergency supplies of “doomsday preppers”. Between are the plant breeders, community seed exchanges, and farmers who make up the bulk of the seed saving community.

For this series I wanted to create a hybrid seed storage solution that combined the aesthetic impact of a place like the Svalbard Seed Bank or the Seed Cathedral with the functional, actionable, and self-preservation focused scale of a prepper’s personal seed stash. Such a solution bridging the two ends of the community would need to be:

  • Beautiful/Ornamental - I wanted the seed banks to convey the significance and importance of their mission.

  • Functional/Portable - I wanted them to work under multiple circumstances, including that of displacement/resettlement.

I eventually coalesced around the concept of a wearable seed bank that mimicked the lines of military/police gear but was rendered as fine jewelry. A brass chain bandolier that maps out a complete garden bed. A silver shoulder holster that holds six strains of heirloom tomatoes. A gold accented thigh holster containing a whole suite of brassicas. These tactical seed banks bridge the divide between ever-fashionable and ever-ready, containing elements from both sides of the seed saving community in a blended homage to disaster preparedness. 

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But this seed saving solution brought up a new question for me, “How do we determine what seeds are worth saving?” Of course, in an emergency situation such as environmental catastrophe/collapse the emphasis would be on food crops, but which ones? Corn and wheat must be grown at scale. Lettuces are difficult to store. Broccoli and cauliflower require excessive water. And then there is the question of heirlooms, where an older breed might be more flavorful or nutritious but harder to grow or store.

AND WHAT ABOUT WEEDS! Outside of herbicide commercials no one likes to discuss these plants, let alone their right to coexist with our flowers and veggies. These low/no value interlopers would have no place in a standard seed bank; they would be seen as the worst form of competition, to be eliminated with the most extreme prejudice.

So I decided to make two anti-seed banks, ones anathema to personal or (native) environmental survival, using these perennial cast offs. Each would be made of glass, contain noxious invasive weed seeds (kudzu!), and rely on shattering that glass to disperse the seed/glass shard mixture into the soon-to-be-blighted environment. One would even contain a large amount of salt, for an extra dash of nihilism in the face of climate change and collapse.

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“Don’t judge each day by the harvest you reap but by the seeds that you plant.”
― Robert Louis Stevenson

As we hurl towards climate unknowns, the question of what we save in the face of catastrophe will become ever more important. Likewise, the distinction between being a prepper and being simply prepared will become ever more diminished over time (and chaos, and disaster). As institutions struggle to keep up, will we see a shift from institutional seed banking towards a more personal approach. If so, would orienting that even deeper into the personal - as in personal bodily space - be a valid tactic for seed saving and dispersal. I think it could be.


Tactical Seed Bank Gallery