‘The Man Who Saved the World’ as seed saver to visit IU Cinema, Wylie House Museum

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American agriculturist Cary Fowler was instrumental in establishing the Arctic seed vault that aims to protect diversity in the earth’s food crops. He visits IU this week.

Newsroom intern Amanda N. Marino contributed to this story:

Cary Fowler is on a mission to save seeds — and quite possibly the human race.

The American agriculturalist and humanitarian who helped found Svalbard Global Seed Vault will appear at IU Bloomington on Monday. Fowler will participate in a question-and-answer session following the sold-out 7 p.m. screening of “Seeds of Time” at IU Cinema. A stand-by line will be recognized at 6 p.m.

Wylie House Museum and IU Libraries have jointly sponsored the screening and the appearance by Fowler.

The documentary directed by Sandy McLeod focuses on Fowler’s epic effort to preserve crop diversity around the world.

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Wylie House Museum is holding a public seed-saving workshop at 3 p.m. today. Participants will learn how and why to save seeds. They also can sign up for the new heirloom “seed library,” which allows participants to “check out” a pack of seeds, grow plants and later return seeds.

In the recent past, a shift to large-scale commercial agriculture and other market forces have greatly reduced the number of plant species grown as food. And today, climate change presents an additional threat to the planet’s food supply.

“Seeds of Time” tells the global story by sweeping from the Peruvian potato farmers trying to preserve their way of life to the “doomsday vault” of seeds carved deep into an Arctic mountain half a world away.

And here in Bloomington, biodiversity remains just as relevant.

Once home to IU’s first president, Andrew Wylie, the Wylie House Museum on Second Street maintains its own heirloom garden of flowers and vegetables. It strives to keep alive the plant varieties the Wylies themselves might have seen on the property.

While he is in town, Fowler is scheduled to make private visits to Wylie House and its heirloom seed-saving program, in addition to the Hilltop Campus Garden and the Bloomington Community Orchard. He also will meet students and faculty from many different departments and organizations, including the Ostrom Workshop, the Food Institute, the Hutton Honors College, IU’s Sustainability Scholars and Wells Scholars.

Under the leadership of outdoor interpreter Sherry Wise, students and other volunteers work in the Wylie House garden to search out, propagate and sell seeds in an effort to the preserve heirloom varieties of plants in danger of disappearing forever.

The museum plans to spread its seed-saving knowledge through an on-site workshop at 3 p.m. today. The event also will allow them to introduce their new seed library program. Wylie House also shares tips on seed saving on its website.

Wylie House maintains an heirloom garden intended to preserve the kinds of plants grown there in the Wylies' time.

Wylie House maintains an heirloom garden intended to preserve plant varieties from the Wylies’ time.

On a much larger scale, Fowler is doing the same work.

“It is not every day in a house museum and archives that we find a connection between our work and current scientific happenings,” Wylie House director Carey Beam said.

“One way in which we have found our work at the Wylie House connected to the outside world is through the practices of Dr. Cary Fowler. Much like the museum, Dr. Fowler’s history is both varied and nuanced, in terms of contemporary value with a historical link,” she said.

The leader of several global initiatives in biology and an acclaimed author, Fowler is chair of the council that oversees the worlds largest repository of crop diversity.

The Svalbard Global Seed Vault has room for more than 2 billion seeds and 4.5 million different samples.

Almost every country in the world has deposited seeds in the facility, which was built by the Kingdom of Norway and functions as a backup for the world’s other seed banks. It currently holds 860,000 seed samples for food staples including corn, wheat, rice and various vegetables.

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