The Conservatory of Heirloom Seeds is a structure that aims to provide ancestral knowledge about this heritage of humanity, which is in danger of disappearing.
It brings together in one place a permanent exhibition of ancient seed varieties, a library, and seed gardens where numerous conserved varieties are reproduced each year.
The Conservatory of Heirloom Seeds is also a space for transmitting disappearing know-how, through training courses open to the general public.
The challenge of the Conservatory of Heirloom Seeds
What is the basis of our alimentation?
The challenge of the Conservatory of Heirloom Seeds is to raise awareness about the importance of seeds as the basis of our food.
Many people will respond that it is vegetables, fruits, and cereals, but in fact, it is the seeds that are the first link in the human food chain.
The importance of the origin of the seeds used in our vegetable gardens, the mode of cultivation that produced them, and their quality is a fundamental but often overlooked subject.
Food autonomy depends on the diversity of cultivated varieties, the quality of the seeds, and their fertility.
The Conservatory of Heirloom Seeds contains over 1800 organic, certified ancient seeds, cultivated in the Farm-Conservatory, which has been preserving and reproducing these varieties for 50 years. Some surprising specimens include black potatoes, strawberry spinach, perpetual leeks, 4.5-meter-tall giant sunflowers, and 300 kg giant pumpkins.
The Conservatory of Heirloom Seeds participates in humanitarian programs to regain food autonomy for populations in difficulty in South America, Madagascar, Africa, as well as with institutions like Doctors Without Borders in Southeast Asia, or with international organizations. It also aims to support citizen initiatives of shared, family, rural, and urban gardens, which are constantly developing, by enabling them to access “native” seeds adapted to each soil, climate, and latitude, which will provide high-quality, flavorful, and nutritional vegetables, promoting healthy food for all.
The work of a Conservatory
“Seeds live in the soil and die in the seed banks.”
The work of a Conservatory is firstly to multiply seeds in collections, as seeds have a limited lifespan: one year for parsnips, 2-3 years for parsley, 4 years for carrots, 5 years for beans, 5 to 10 years for grasses, etc. It is therefore essential to be able to sow each variety in a timely manner, so as not to risk seeing a species disappear.
The second task is to rediscover endangered species. Many amateur gardeners unknowingly cultivate an ancient or endangered species, such as a fruit, vegetable, or herb that they harvest and replant mechanically year after year. Endangered species are often cultivated by elderly people, and these species will disappear when the gardener can no longer cultivate them.
It is rare to be able to recognize a species solely from a seed, so it is necessary to try to gather as much information as possible: Is it a native plant? An import? How long has it been cultivated in your family or environment? After an initial examination, the received seeds or plants are cultivated, and an observation notebook is opened. Photos are taken regularly, and observations are recorded. Species are recognized based on the distinctive signs described in botanical encyclopedias. The work of the botanist is then coupled with that of a historian, as ancient species are often only partially described, and sometimes the experience of universities and research centers must be called upon to identify a rediscovered species. It is always a great joy to rediscover a lost variety. With the ease of communication it brings, the internet opens up unexpected exchange possibilities.
When a new species is of interest, the harvest and conservation process is initiated.
Seed conservation is the Conservatory’s third mission.
This is preceded by meticulous work of cultivation, harvesting at optimal maturity, drying, sorting, and storage in the best preservation conditions.