BY ERIN HOLLINDEN
Growing interest in sustainability, food justice, and biological diversity — not to mention local history — has been good news for the Wylie House Museum’s annual Heirloom Seed Sale. For $2 a packet, visitors can buy not just flowers, herbs, and vegetables, but living links to the past.
Wylie House, 307 E. 2nd St., was built in 1835 and was the home of Andrew Wylie, the first president of Indiana University. It is administered by IU Libraries, and, says Director Carey Beam, the museum’s buildings, collections, and grounds serve as a resource for multiple IU programs.
The museum’s gardens and seed-saving program also serve as resources for the larger community. “We’ve seen a rise in interest as sustainability and local food movements are gaining attention,” Beam says.
Outdoor interpreter Sherry Wise and a half-dozen volunteers run the seed-saving program and sale. Wise says saving seeds is important for biological diversity and environmental protection. “When Andrew Wylie lived on the farm, he grew a wide variety of crops without chemical fertilizers and pesticides,” she says. “As we became more industrialized, we got away from growing all these wonderful varieties.”
Heirloom aficionados assert multiple benefits are gained by propagating strains passed down generation to generation. “The Cherokee Purple we grew last year was a wonderful tomato,” Wise recalls. “Large enough for slicing, excellent flavor, and disease-resistant.”
Hardiness is an important selling point. “We grow the seeds here in Bloomington, so they are going to perform well in our climate,” promises Wise.
The sale earns $2,000–$4,000 annually and garners community support because local gardeners appreciate its significance, says Wise. “People in Bloomington are interested in the big picture. They want to do what they can do for healthy local food and help to preserve our genetic diversity.”
Flowers like Amish cockscomb, Hopi red dye amaranth, and columbine will be available, as will herbs such as bronze fennel, clary sage, and feverfew. Vegetables, including easy-to-grow peas, Grandpa Admire’s lettuce, and zucchino rampicante squash, will also be for sale.
The 21st annual seed sale is Saturday, March 4, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. in the Morton C. Bradley, Jr. Education Center at the museum. After the sale, heirloom seeds will be sold in the gift shop. For more information, call 812-855-6224 or visit libraries.indiana.edu/wylie-house-museum.