Canvas seed gathering bag with wooden hoop to keep the mouth open. The front of the bag is stamped “Green Circle Grass Seed Mixture”, and the back is stamped “Bedman Brothers, Rahway, N.J., East Grand Ave.” The practice of saving seeds, sometimes known as brown bagging, entails collecting the seeds and other reproductive material such as tubers from vegetables, grains, herbs, and flowers for use yearly with annuals or nuts, tree fruits, and berries for perennials and trees. The seed gatherers often wore a collection bag, such as this, tied around their waist or cross-body so that they were able to keep their hands free and work more efficiently.
Saving seeds is done both industrially for agriculture and gardening, but it is also done by amateur gardeners. Seed saving was the traditional way farms and gardens had maintained themselves for the last 12,000 years. In the nineteenth century, the commercial seed industry replaced most grassroots seed-saving practices. Rather than collecting and processing their own seeds, gardeners and farmers shifted to purchasing seed annually from seed suppliers. Seed harvesting is a carefully-timed and labor-intensive process, and many farmers and gardeners found relying on the seed industry to do this work for them much easier and more cost effective. The seed industry was essentially a centralized supply collected from individual raisers and sold to both local retailers and directly to the public. Seeds were grown on farms, harvested, dried, and cleaned. They were then sorted, categorized, stored, packaged, described, and mailed. These time- and labor-saving steps made the product of seedsmen more convenient and thereby more valuable than those saved from the previous year’s plants. This elevated their products over what could be found in one’s back yard. Originally in America, seeds had to be imported from Europe for agriculture and gardening, and not surprisingly, the long voyage by ship across the ocean compromised many of the seeds and stunted their successful cultivation. As early as 1780, the seed industry was established in America, and by the beginning of the nineteenth century, it was in full swing. The seed industry sold to home gardeners, professional florists, and market growers through stores as well as mail-order through catalogs.