Martha Stewart Leads Arctic Expedition For Crop Diversity

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The Svalbard Seed Bank buried deep in a mountain in Norway. Permafrost and rock ensure seed samples remain frozen even without electricity.

The domestic doyenne is raising awareness and funds for ‘doomsday’ seed protection.

What do Martha Stewart and a Norwegian Doomsday Vault have in common? They are both avid seed collectors.

Next month, the famous American lifestyle guru will lead an expedition to the Svalbard Seed Bank, a Norwegian storage facility buried deep in a mountain close to the North Pole. Safeguarding the world’s seed collections, with nearly a million seed samples stored in sealed three-ply foil packages at -18˚C, Svalbard represents the world’s largest collection of crop diversity. It is the first time the vault will be open to the public.

Stewart is raising funds for its non-profit parent, the Crop Trust, which she says is a cause close to her heart.

“I am a big gardener as you may know, and I’m very interested in growing heirloom seeds,” she told Billionaire. Stewart is a member of Seed Savers in the US, an organisation committed to keeping heirlooms around for generations to come, through which she heard about Crop Trust.

“I’ve met many people who, like me, have a passion for seeds and preserving the future of food. I am friends with Dr Cary Fowler, former executive director of the Crop Trust and who continues to do wonderful agricultural work, and I’ve known about the Global Seed Vault since its opening in 2008. It was these connections that led me to the Crop Trust and ultimately to the Svalbard Seed Vault team for this dream trip,” adds Stewart.

Along with a number of private individuals and celebrities, Stewart will be joined by the winner of a competition running now on crowd-funding platform Prizeo. The prize covers flights for two to Oslo, hotel and transport, an incredible private tour of the vault, intimate discussions with leading food scientists and global policy makers, Michelin-rated dinners and a Champagne reception to view the Northern Lights, and even a day of adventures, including a polar-bear tour, dog sledding, and exploring glacial caves.

“It’s a trip you’ll never forget!” says Stewart.

The Crop Trust has several heavyweight backers, including the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, but needs more; around US$34 million a year to safeguard “everything”, according to president Marie Haga. “That’s where the private sector can and must help us out.”

The largest numbers of samples stored in the Seed Vault are varieties of rice, wheat and barley crops. Other well-represented crops are sorghum; beans; maize; cowpea; soybean; kikuyu grass; and chickpea. Crops such as potatoes; peanuts; Cajanus beans; oats and rye; alfalfa; cereal hydrid triticosecale; and brassicas are also represented. These seeds originate from most countries in the world.

The importance of crop diversity to mitigate future food crises cannot be underestimated. “Temperatures may increase three to four percent in some parts of the world in the coming decades. We don’t know what that will mean for agricultural yields, we just know that it will be bad,” Haga says. “We will need to breed hybrids in future. Without diversity we can’t see how to best adapt to changes.”

To enter the competition requires a US$10 donation to support the Crop Trust’s work on the Prizeo page.

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