Glenn Drowns’ passion for gardening started when he was two and a half years old. “I used to crawl through the fence to our neighbors’ to escape from my mom, and help [Evelyn, the neighbor] plant her garden,” recalls Glenn, fondly. Although Glenn’s family later moved across town, Glenn and Evelyn Armstrong stayed good friends, and Evelyn even taught him to save his first seeds at seven years of age.
Ten years later, Glenn Drowns stumbled upon a magazine blurb about Seed Savers Exchange while researching a senior class project. “When I found that, it opened up a whole network of people!” remembers Glenn. “All my very closest friends started as connections with the Seed Exchange.”
After years of searching for a watermelon that would ripen in his short Idaho growing season, Glenn decided to breed one himself. By the time he was 20 years old, Glenn had stabilized the ‘Blacktail Mountain’ watermelon. It has since become a SSE favorite, and has been listed in the Exchange/Yearbook almost every year since he introduced it in 1983.
After graduating from college in 1984, Glenn assisted SSE co-founders, Kent Whealy and Diane Ott-Whealy, with the first preservation garden in Decorah. He later settled near Calamus, Iowa on the farm that’s been his home and the headquarters of his seed and heritage poultry company, Sand Hill Preservation Center, for over 30 years. “I think it’s my promised land!” he beams. Since then he has held a myriad of positions: he regenerated cucurbits and corn for the SSE collection from his Calamus, Iowa farm, has given lectures and written articles, and been on the SSE Board of Advisors. In all, Glenn has donated nearly 600 varieties to Seed Savers Exchange.