In order to continue plant diversity, various commercial and private organizations have created seed banks to collect and preserve heirloom seeds. The Cherokee Nation’s seed bank is where native seeds used by the tribe for generations are preserved. Seeds from the bank are planted, crops harvested, and fresh seeds stored to ensure the tribe’s unique strains of ancient foods continue to be handed down from one generation to the next.

Tucson’s Native Seeds/SEARCH is a non-profit organization that collects and sells native southwest seeds. Their store, located at 3061 N. Campbell Ave., also sells a variety of food products and other items related to desert plants.

Seed-Savers Exchange is one of the best known sources for heirloom seeds in the U.S. Members from every state save and share heirloom seeds from their gardens through this organization whose goal is to preserve as many heirloom varieties as possible.

The organization was started when Diane Ott Wheatley’s terminally-ill grandfather gave her seeds from a morning glory and a German pink tomato grown in his garden. The seeds had originally come from Bavaria and were carried by her grandfather’s parents to Iowa when they immigrated in the 1870s.

Diane and her husband planted the seeds and shared them with other gardeners. From that handful of heirloom seeds, Seed-Savers Exchange began. It now maintains 890 acres of heirloom plants.

The most famous worldwide seed saver organization is sponsored by Norway and is called the Svalbard Global Seed Vault. It was opened in 2008. The vault is the ultimate safety net for one of the world’s most important natural resources – the world’s seed collections. The vault is located on the Norwegian island of Spitsbergen in the Arctic Svalbard area, 1,800 miles from the North Pole.

It is managed by the Global Crop Diversity Trust, Nordic Genetic Resource Center and Norway. Presently, Norway pays the costs of maintaining the vault. The Global Crop Diversity Trust sends representatives around the world educating countries about the need to store seeds in the vault.

The vault provides a back-up for seeds that are already stored in seed banks throughout the world in case those seed banks are lost because of natural disasters, war, or mismanagement of crops. The vault works similar to a bank where individual countries deposit seeds and retain ownership. Countries who deposit seeds can access their deposited seeds only if a stored variety becomes endangered or extinct.

Donated seeds are kept in sealed packets and stored in “black boxes” at -18 degrees C (-0.4 degrees F). The underground facility is dug into the side of a mountain and can hold several million seed varieties. The permafrost and thick rock surrounding the building ensure seed samples will remain frozen even if power is lost at the facility.