Saving seed is one of the most important things you can do as a gardener. Caroline Hsu, writing for the U.S. News and World Reports, offered this sobering assessment from the United Nations: “[A]bout 75% of the world’s garden vegetables have been lost in the past century because of consolidation of seed companies and the replacement of small, varied family farms with single-crop industrial farms.”

In America, that figure is even more staggering: “[S]ince 1900, 92% of the fruit and vegetable varieties used to feed the country have disappeared.”

Yes, you read correctly. Ninety-two percent. The genes gone. Vanished.

Monoculture farming, or relying on just one variety of one plant is a sure path to ecocide. When a culture relies on just a handful of varieties of food crops for its nourishment, as the Irish largely did with the Lumper potato, the results can be catastrophic. Michal Pollan writes, “a vast field of identical plants will always be exquisitely vulnerable to insects, weeds, and disease.” In Ireland in 1845, ’46, and ’48, potato blight spores ravished the primary food crop to devastating effect — in those three years, one million people died of starvation while countless others went blind or insane from lack of nourishment. “Indeed,” Pollan writes, “Ireland’s was surely the biggest experiment in monoculture ever attempted and surely the most convincing proof of its folly.”

Increasing and preserving our genetic heritage in the vegetable garden is vital to the long-term survival of the human species. As weeds and pests have adapted to the chemical potions necessary for industrial farming, proliferating a diverse gene pool becomes increasingly important to our future.

Fortunately, saving seed from most of the common vegetable-types is not that difficult, and, with a little planning, can be easily sustained from season to season.

There has been an explosion in agricultural technology over the last 70 years. Some of it has been for the better. Much of it is proving to be as many things in our lives are now: good for the immediate future, but unsustainable in the long-term.

Although agri-corps like Monsanto, Cargill, and DuPont claim that we can eradicate these concerns through science, the fact is their solutions are profit-driven, often seeking to monopolize laboratory created strains of corn, rice, and other staple crops. Their “solutions” for the ills of monoculture are anything but — they are more like rickety bridges meant to get us from one unsustainable practice to the next without ever stopping to question the wisdom of growing one strain of rice, corn, or wheat.

And though it seems overwhelming, it doesn’t have to be. You can make a difference simply by growing a plant in your garden, propogating its seed, and sharing that seed your friends and other gardeners.