MacArthur Fellows Program

MacArthur Fellows / Meet the Class of 1990

Kent Whealy

Plant Collector and Preservationist

Decorah, Iowa

Age: 44 at time of award

Published August 1, 1990

Kent Whealy is the director of the Seed Savers Exchange (SSE), an organization he founded in 1975 with his wife Diane to preserve the seeds of endangered traditional food crops.

SSE is a grassroots network of gardeners, orchardists, and plant collectors who maintain and distribute heirloom vegetable and fruit varieties.  SSE’s publications offer more than 18,000 rare varieties to its 8,000 members, annually.  Whealy has also developed Heritage Farm, a 170-acre educational facility near Decorah, Iowa, where collections of 15,000 rare vegetable varieties, 700 nineteenth-century apples, and herds of extremely rare Ancient White Park cattle are permanently maintained and displayed.  He is the editor of The Garden Seed Inventory and The Fruit and Nut Tree Inventory, which list all the non-extinct, open-pollinated varieties in the United States and give sources for obtaining seeds or saplings.

In 1991, Whealy established Seed Savers International, a network of plant collectors in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union who are rescuing traditional food crops that are rapidly being lost as Western agricultural technology and “improved” seeds flood into fragile, genetically rich areas.  Seed Savers International has sponsored collecting expeditions in Russia, Ukraine, Poland, Romania, Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan, and Kazakhstan.

Whealy received a B.S. (1969) from the University of Kansas.

Last updated January 1, 2005

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