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Seed saving a sustainable way of life

Kris Sorgenfrei, left, and Nancy Gross, right, pose with Bevin Cohen, center, before his presentation on May 12. Sorgenfrei bought three of his books at the event, which was cosponsored by Stepping Stones Garden Club, Presque Isle County Garden Club, Presque Isle District Library, and Friends of the Onaway Library.

ALPENA — Seed saving is easier than you think, and it yields incredibly sustainable and sometimes historic results.

Just ask Bevin Cohen, author of four books, and owner of Small House Farm in Sanford.

Cohen visited the Rogers Theater the evening of May 12, speaking to an audience of nearly 100 people interested in learning about seed saving, herbs, oil pressing, and more.

The event was organized by Stepping Stones Garden Club President Jean Horrocks and the Presque Isle District Library, which owns the Rogers Theater.

“We need to get the word out about seed saving and sharing seeds, and to be aware of how agronomy really affects the holistic of our living,” said Horrocks, who is also the treasurer of Presque Isle County Garden Club out of Rogers City. Stepping Stones is based in Onaway.

Author Bevin Cohen talks to nearly 100 audience members about seed saving, gardening and sustainable practices on May 12 at the Rogers Theater in Rogers City. He owns Small House Farm in Sanford.

Agronomy is “the science of soil management and crop production,” as defined by the Oxford English Dictionary.

“It’s about growing,” Horrocks said. “It’s anyone that’s involved in the whole food system.”

That’s one reason more people should get into seed saving and sharing, because we all eat food. Cohen gave many more reasons, including historical preservation, which is why some seeds are referred to as the heirloom variety. Those seeds have been saved for decades, generations, and even centuries, to continue to produce the juiciest tomato, or to make sure to have the exact same cucumber Grandma used for pickling.

“I get carried away,” he said with a chuckle. “Once you get excited about seeds, it’s really hard to stop.”

Much to his wife’s chagrin, Cohen now has in his house 350 different types of beans. He’s all in.

Above is one of the boxes in the seed library at Alpena County Library. Over the past several years, seed exchanges and seed libraries have gained in popularity.

“I always say to my wife that she’s the most patient woman on the planet, I tell ya, because she’s got to deal with me every day,” Cohen told the audience.

Seed saving is a little different with every type of plant, Cohen explained, but some are easier to save than others. It basically involves allowing some of your fruits or vegetables to mature on the vine until they are past the point of good eating. It’s then they are getting better for saving. The seeds must be collected in different ways and dried out completely so that they do not spoil.

In addition to seed saving, he presses oils to create holistic products. He’s doing all he can to live a sustainable life off the land.

“My 9 to 5 job, I suppose, are these herbal products,” Cohen said. “We cold press seed and nut oils … some of our more popular ones are sunflower oil, hemp seed oil, that kind of thing … This is really the cornerstone of everything we do at Small House Farm, is this oil press.”

Cohen has authored the following books: “The Complete Guide to Seed and Nut Oils: Growing, Foraging, and Pressing,” “The Artisan Herbalist: Making Teas, Tinctures and Oils at Home,” and “Saving Our Seeds — The Practice & Philosophy,” and the latest, “From Our Seeds & Their Keepers — A Collection of Stories.”

Above, Tina Markowski, department head of public services at Alpena County Library, leafs through the seed library sign up folder at the library on Monday. A variety of seeds are available to patrons.

Kris Sorgenfrei bought three of his books, intending to give one to her granddaughter. She was excited to learn more about growing and saving seeds through Cohen’s engaging, educational, and enthusiastic presentation.

Cohen was on hand at the program to sign copies of his books and chat with attendees before and after his presentation.

Nancy Gross, president of the Presque Isle County Garden Club, attended with many other gardeners looking to take their knowledge to the next level.

To learn more about seed saving, herbal remedies, oil pressing, or to order Cohen’s books, visit smallhousefarm.com.

According to a bio on his website, “Cohen is a writer, poet, herbalist, gardener, seed saver and wanderer. He lives and works at Small House Farm with his wife, Heather, and two sons, Elijah and Anakin, on their family homestead in Sanford, Michigan. The Cohen family grows seed crops, herbs and flowers and keep a small flock of laying hens.”

Above, Nancy Gross, left, and her sister Barbara Harris, peruse the books available after the presentation on May 12 while author Bevin Cohen talks with another attendee in the background.

Cohen is also the founder of Michigan Seed Library.

“He spends his time outside of his gardens offering workshops and lectures across the country on the benefits of living closer to the land through seeds, herbs and locally grown food,” his bio adds.

Alpena County Library is one of many libraries across Michigan offering a seed saving library. The local library participates in the Michigan Seed Library Network’s One Seed, One State program, which promotes growing, saving, and sharing seeds.

“We started back in 2020,” said Tina Markowski, Alpena County Library department head of public services. “We got the provider beans from One Seed, One State, through Michigan Seed Library’s program. Then the pandemic happened, so that kind of stalled our actual creation of a seed library display.”

The 2022 seed for this program is the Boston Pickling Cucumber, which has been sent to libraries across the country for sharing with the community. The cucumber is an American heirloom with a Michigan connection.

Above, Bevin Cohen talks about Small House Farm, where he presses oils to make natural products such as the ones seen behind him on the screen.

“It was developed by Ferry-Morse out of Detroit, back in the 1850s,” Horrocks said.

The Michigan Seed Library Network’s mission is: “To strengthen our community by collectively growing one variety and providing a shared experience that teaches people how to grow nutritious food and save seeds.”

The current seed library at ACL includes a variety of beans, cucumber, and wheat, all free for patrons to check out.

Markowski said a patron took some beans last year and brought the seeds back this year.

“We do encourage seed saving,” she said. “Patrons, when they check them out, they are encouraged to let a few go to seed, so that we can get more for next year.”

She added that another patron donated some of her seeds as well.

“It’s important because we are trying to promote sustainability within our own local community,” Markowski said. “You can get a lot more from a few plants, and if we keep that going, we can build up our seed library, so that next year we’ll have more for more people to check out.”

To find out more about seed libraries, visit alpenacountylibrary.org or miseedlibrary.org. The PIDL also has a seed library at several locations, including Rogers City, Grand Lake, Millersburg, and Onaway. Visit pidl.org to learn more.

“When you’re at some of these libraries, feel free to take a look at which seeds are available there, and get to know the importance of not only planting from heirloom seeds, but also saving and sharing them with others,” Horrocks said.

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