June 17, 2008
Valdosta - If Mother Nature wanted to take a vacation and see the fruits of her creations, she'd look up Donald Brown.
She'd recognize his home immediately. His neighbors have green lawns and a few flowers, but Donald's yard looks much different. A big tree obscures most of his home, a tree where birds feel so at home they raise their families in its limbs.
"There's a balance here," says Donald Brown, a self-described preservationist.
Insects fly around and walk up and down a peach tree limb uninhibited.
"I see diversity," says Donald as he explains the type peach tree, with one small peach hanging on a limb, goes back about 150 years. "It's an old fashioned White English Peach."
The tree itself isn't 150 years old, but the variety is. Donald planted the tree six years ago in his yard.
Two ordinary looking azalea plants grow the winding walkway. Instead of their blooms marking spring, Donald's traditional ones put on a show during the summer.
Donald's yard brings him a sense of peace. "There's something psychological about it, like part of our past. We were so in touch with what we are now separated from," says Donald.
He owns a treasure chest, a freezer full of envelopes with seeds, really old seeds going back literally centuries.
"Everything in here is edible," says Donald.
He calls them heirloom seeds from plants Mother Nature slowly improved over decades, not created quickly in a laboratory for mass marketing.
"Heirloom seeds have been through the test of time," says Donald.
With time, the plants adjusted to all sorts of environmental changes. "Lot of this stuff would handle the drought better than a lot of our modern varieties now," says Donald.
If Mother Nature wanted to stay the night, she'll have to move bags and bags of those heirloom seeds. Donald trades and sells them with people throughout the country. Dozens of letters sit in a dresser drawer waiting on him to respond.
"Those are letters from people who want to come and visit and want to talk about seeds," says Donald.
They will find him extremely knowledgeable.
In a corner, near the dresser, sits a small, healthy plant with light green leaves that looks out of place with the brown shipping bags.
"It's a rare American Chestnut. The variety almost went extinct in 1950 and I collected the seed and grew it," says Donald with pride.
A tape dispenser, markers and envelopes sit close to the tree, on the bedroom floor, as Donald opens a brown paper bag and pulls out a clear bag with seeds inside.
"They're Blue Mitchell corn seeds," says Donald. "The corn grew in Mitchell County about 300 years ago."
Donald sees more than seeds in a plastic bag.
"These saved seeds brought a lot of people through hard times," says Donald as he poured the Blue Mitchells from the big bag into a smaller one, writes a note to identify the seeds and puts it in a shipping bag.
He'll make numerous trips from one bedroom to another, knowing exactly where each bag of seed sits and telling the history of each seed type as if reading from a book. To him the old seeds represent the good old days where tough times created tough seeds naturally.
Contact Donald here...