Scientists and governments worldwide have, for decades, made mammoth efforts to “bank” agricultural biodiversity as an insurance policy against natural and manmade threats to the global food supply. Meanwhile, in recent years a perfect storm has been brewing: small-scale and midscale farmers are hungry for new market opportunities; consumers in more developed countries crave foods that come with a history and from a known place; and the concepts of biodiversity and terroir as applied to food are creeping into mainstream consciousness.
Using Greece as a lens for examining these issues and using seeds as a lens for understanding Greece, this article explores the country's myriad food-plant variety preservation initiatives, from community seed saving to government gene banking, and it asks: Could banked seeds be distributed to farmers who could cultivate them, regenerating the seed collections themselves, reintroducing consumers to old varieties and creating new market opportunities for struggling small and midsize farmers? Could seed bankers, plant breeders, consumers, seed-saving farmers, and innovative food businesses collaborate in a mutually beneficial way to preserve and promote heirloom seed varieties? What would it take to bring more heirloom seeds from the freezer to the field?