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INDEPENDENT LENS: Seed: The Untold Story

Louie Hena, elder and seed saver at the Tesuque Pueblo, stands next to his corn field and holds up the “Mother Corn,” the ancestor to the corn varieties he grows.
Courtesy of Collective Eye Films
Louie Hena, elder and seed saver at the Tesuque Pueblo, stands next to his corn field and holds up the “Mother Corn,” the ancestor to the corn varieties he grows.

Airs Monday, March 5, 2018 at 10 p.m. on KPBS TV

As many irreplaceable seeds near extinction, "Seed" reveals the story of passionate seed keepers as they wage a David and Goliath battle against chemical seed companies, defending a 12,000-year food legacy

Worshipped and treasured since the dawn of humankind, few things on Earth are as miraculous and vital as seeds. "Seed: The Untold Story" follows passionate seed keepers intent on protecting our 12,000 year-old food legacy.

Produced and directed by Taggart Siegel and Jon Betz ("The Real Dirt on Farmer John," "Queen of the Sun: What are the Bees Telling Us?"), the film premiered on INDEPENDENT LENS in April 2017 on PBS.

In the last century, 94 percent of our seed varieties have disappeared.

This once abundant seed diversity — painstakingly created by ancient farmers and gardeners over countless millennia — has been drastically winnowed down to a handful of mass-produced varieties.

Under the spell of industrial “progress” and corporate profits, family farmsteads have given way to mechanized agribusinesses sowing genetically identical crops on a massive scale.

But without seed diversity, crop diseases rise and empires fall.

More than a cautionary tale of “man against nature,” "Seed" reveals the work of the farmers, scientists, lawyers, and indigenous seed keepers who are fighting a David and Goliath battle to defend the future of our food.

In this story both harrowing and heartening, we meet a wide variety of reluctant heroes working to rekindle a lost connection to our most treasured resource, from the pueblos of New Mexico to a seed bunker in Norway, from India to America’s heartland, from Peru to Hawaii.

Women harvest basmati rice in Northern India.
Courtesy of Collective Eye Films
Women harvest basmati rice in Northern India.

Among the dozens of people featured are Will Bonsall of the Scatterseed Project, Dr. Jane Goodall, environmental lawyer Claire Hope Cummings, ethnobotanist Gary Paul Nabhan, botanical explorer Joseph Simcox, Andrew Kimbrell of the Center for Food Safety, and physicist/activist Dr. Vandana Shiva.

“'Seed' began with an article in National Geographic that reported that up to 96 percent of the vegetable seeds available in 1903 have disappeared. The speed and scope of this loss is staggering, and its implications for our future are stark,” said filmmakers Siegel and Betz. “In an era of climate uncertainty, this dearth of diversity is a recipe for catastrophic crop failure and human suffering – not unlike The Great Famine of Ireland that saw the starvation of nearly a million people when their sole crop variety, a potato, was wiped out by blight. "Seed" explores the hidden fabric of our food and the people that painstakingly and meticulously curate its diversity, fighting the immense corporate power of chemical companies that now control the majority of our food.”

Isa Jacoby helps celebrate seed diversity as she lays on the squash, gourd and pumpkin tower, built by Mac Condill and displayed at the Heirloom Expo in Santa Rosa Calif.
Courtesy of Collective Eye Films
Isa Jacoby helps celebrate seed diversity as she lays on the squash, gourd and pumpkin tower, built by Mac Condill and displayed at the Heirloom Expo in Santa Rosa Calif.

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CREDITS:

A Collective Eye Films presentation in association with Seneca Falls Picture Company. Directed, Produced and Edited by Taggart Siegel & Jon Betz. Executive Producers are Marc Turtletaub and Phil Fairclough. Original Music by Garth Stevenson. Additional Original Music by Benjy Wertheimer and Martin Watkinson. Cinematography by Taggart Siegel. Associate Producers are Darby Crouss and Jenny Siegel.