Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Science


Plant Sciences

Major Professor

Susan L. Hamilton

Committee Members

Annette Wszelaki, Jon Shefner


Heirloom seeds continue to be grown in home gardens of Tennessee, an area of high agrobiodiversity, but are rapidly declining in local communities. Individual seed savers in communities have been replaced by formal networks that include seed swaps and national and regional seed saving organizations. Seed saving organizations grew out of an increased interest in heirloom vegetable production over the last forty years as a result of the expanding local food movement and concerns of loss of biodiversity. This study uses a multidisciplinary approach in plant and social sciences to document seed saving, the motivation of seed savers, and the role of heirloom seeds in agriculture. Through ten in depth interviews, 99 varieties of heirloom vegetable seed selections varieties of seeds were documented being saved with beans being the predominant seeds saved (61%), comparable to an earlier study in western North Carolina. Ten local varieties were repeated in multiple collections, including the regional variety ‘Turkey Craw’ bean, which appeared in four collections. Seed savers focused on the following areas for their motivation: preserving unusual forms or rare seeds; perceived taste preferences; concern of loss; and, the ability of the varieties to adapt to local environmental conditions. Seed savers keep minimal records on the local varieties with much of the knowledge being shared person to person. The study also examined primary historical documents from early settlement to 1860 to reinterpret assumptions of economic and agricultural isolation as it relates to the movement and introduction of edible plant varieties in Tennessee’s agricultural history. Though primary documents, such as farm journals, gave insight to early agricultural methods, little specific variety documentation is available.

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