2016 Impact Report

Our Mission

We conserve and promote America’s culturally diverse but endangered garden and food crop heritage for future generations by collecting, growing, and sharing heirloom seeds and plants.

Note from the Executive Director

A few weeks ago, staff completed transferring more than 25,000 varieties of seed into our new seed vault. The new vault was funded by a digital fundraising campaign launched after our existing seed vault developed a potentially fatal fracture in its floor.

Campaign donations ranged from $10 to $10,000. Each dollar given is an investment in the future of our seed collection and our food heritage because each variety stored in our gene bank is on a 100-year plan, meaning that the seed will be viable a century from now.

And yet, at -18 Celsius, most varieties in our collection will stay alive much longer than that. For example, corn will be viable more than 1,000 years from now, peas more than 9,000 years, sorghum more than 19,000 years.

Wow, what a return on investment!

Our conservation motto is, “Grow. Save. Share.”

Seed Savers Exchange is a community of supporters—members, volunteers, donors, gardeners, and seed savers—people like you devoted to saving America’s heirloom seeds. This 2016 Impact Report reflects the support given and the outcomes achieved over the past year. On behalf of the board of directors and staff, I want to thank you for investing in the future and for supporting our important work today.

With gratitude,

John Torgrimson

Our Impact By the Numbers



individuals supported Seed Savers Exchange through membership, a donation, or planting seeds from


U.S. States





community churches, schools and other nonprofits received donated seeds for community gardens


community groups mentored through the Community Seed Resource Program


The Collection

We care for more than


varieties in our living collection


varieties of seed, apple trees, and plants are offered through our catalog

Backyard Gardeners

Have access to


collection varieties shared through the Seed Exchange


unique varieties are shared by members

Our Supporters



hours sorting seeds, researching seed stories, and helping in our library

Joined In


members learned about seed saving, sharing seeds and supported our mission

Our Work

We care for a living collection of over 25,000 open-pollinated seed varieties that have dropped out of circulation in the seed trade (historic varieties) or have been shared within families or communities for generations (heirloom varieties). Many of these varieties are regenerated at our 890-acre headquarters, Heritage Farm.

We grew more than 5,000 biennials from root cellar storage.

Last year we started more than 110,000 transplants in our greenhouses.

But we can’t save these open-pollinated vegetables, flowers, herbs, and apple trees alone.

We depend on a two-pronged method of conservation, known as participatory preservation, through which our collection is regenerated at Heritage Farm and in backyard gardens everywhere.

Team Updates

Rowen White

Rowen White was elected chair of the board of directors of Seed Savers Exchange in July 2016. White — a seed saver, farmer, educator, and a passionate activist for seed sovereignty — is from the Mohawk community of Akwesasne and curates an extensive collection of rare northeast native seeds. She is the director and founder of Sierra Seeds, an innovative organic seed cooperative in Nevada City, California.

New to the Board:

Sean Sherman

Chef, educator, and founder of The Sioux Chef, Sherman focuses on revitalizing indigenous food systems in a modern culinary context in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Beth Lynch, PhD

Lynch serves as associate professor of biology at Luther College in Decorah, Iowa. Her research focuses on the conservation of native plant communities in northeastern Iowa.

Program Highlights

Internship Program

Thanks to the generous support of Mike and Simone Chilton, we launched the Mike and Simone Chilton Horticultural Internship Program, welcoming two full-time summer interns. Evan and Alexandria describe their experience with the program:

"Working as an intern was a genuinely progressive experience that I value as a stepping stone toward my professional career." - Evan

"Each new experience has shaped and given me more appreciation for the work that Seed Savers Exchange is doing. These experiences have also changed the way that I am seeing my future and the direction that I want to go into... I cannot imagine a better internship." - Alexandria

Community Seed Resource Program

Funded by Seed Matters of the Clif Bar Family Foundation, the Community Seed Resource Program began in 2014 and now serves 400 community partners in 48 states. The program provides mentorship, seed saving tools, and an online network to up-and-coming seed groups that are getting organized in their home communities.


M-GEN, our Member-Grower, Evaluation Network, works closely with our preservation staff and evaluation team at Seed Savers Exchange to test how varieties grow in different climates. The program's 63 participants are located in various climates ranging from Hawaii to Quebec, Canada.

Herman’s Garden

Over 707 communities received donated seeds through the Herman’s Garden Seed Donation Program for gardens planted at churches, schools, and other nonprofit organizations.

"Your generous donation of seeds goes such a long way toward our continued growth. This year we added three new gardens to our community, which means that every elementary school has a school garden - that is a milestone for us. That's 17 school gardens in our keeping and care, and a grand total of 137,780 square feet of garden space." - Lower Columbia School Gardens

Our Membership

Seed Savers Exchange serves as a resource for nearly 12,000 backyard gardeners and farmers for growing, saving, and sharing open-pollinated varieties. We connect with our membership via e-newsletters and our quarterly membership magazine, The Heritage Farm Companion. We also facilitate the Seed Exchange, allowing our members to share homegrown open-pollinated seeds with each other.

We hosted nearly 300 members and supporters at our annual Conference & Campout in July for a weekend of learning, hands-on workshops, seed swaps, vegetable taste evaluations, and more. Keynote speakers included David Shields, University of South Carolina professor; Glenn Roberts, founder of Anson Mills; Carol Deppe, author and plant breeder; Aaron Keefer, culinary gardener of The French Laundry; and Rowen White, founder of Sierra Seeds and director of the Board of Seed Savers Exchange.

Co-founder Diane Ott Whealy leads a personal garden tour at the Conference & Campout.

Project Highlights

Withee Bean Collection

After a year of research and development, Seed Savers Exchange launched its first-ever digital exhibit about the life of folk hero John Withee and the collection of 1,186 bean varieties that he donated to Seed Savers Exchange in 1981. The exhibit, "From Maine to Main Course", recounts Withee’s life of adventure and how he came to be famously known as “the Bean Man”. With support from The 1772 Foundation, seed historians interviewed Withee’s living relatives, as well as the decedents of bean stewards who gave seeds to Withee, in order to honor his legacy and excite the next generation of seed stewards.

Improvements at Heritage Farm

Thanks to the support of the Lillian Goldman Charitable Trust, Seed Savers Exchange made many site improvements:

Evaluation gardens (where we grow seeds from our vault to see how they grow and taste) are now located next to the Visitors Center for our visitors to walk among.

The “South Farmhouse” has been completely remodeled for intern housing.

A seed annex was constructed to provide space for germination chambers and freezer storage.

Seed Vault

In early spring of 2016, our seed vault developed a crack in the floor that created unstable conditions. The Seeds for Tomorrow fundraising campaign raised $83,389 from 857 donations to completely fund a new seed vault to preserve our living collection for generations to come.

The new seed vault provides more stable conditions and more space for our collection to grow in the future.