Ireland has gone back to its roots – literally.

The Irish Seed Savers Association, a nonprofit organization located in Scarriff, Co. Clare, wants to get its hands dirty to replenish a sense of Irish heritage. The work they do promotes biodiversity and the importance of preserving what natural Irish heritage they can find through soil.

Since 1991 Irish Seed Savers has prioritized biodiversity by collecting and preserving different Irish varieties of heritage vegetables, fruits, flowers, herbs and Irish apple trees. Although many Irish and European varieties of vegetable have been lost, Irish Seed Savers hopes to cultivate many of the remaining types to save them from extinction.

The founder of Irish Seed Savers, Anita Hayes, started to collect and grow Irish heritage crops that seemed to be fast disappearing. Now the organization is Ireland’s only seed bank, boasting 800 heritage varieties of seeds, at a time when 80 percent of Irish and European heritage fruit and vegetable varieties have already been lost.

Modern farming practices have contributed to the decline in cultural variety. The hope is that the public’s rising interest in growing their own foods will lead to awareness of the threat to heritage varieties. Seeds that have been saved from extinction and preserved are made available for customers to purchase online so that the country can grow rich in heritage varieties again.

The organization has expanded past Irish-only heritage vegetables and is now striving to preserve heritage varieties from all over the world that are best suited to Ireland’s climate. Their focus is to cultivate and foster biodiversity.

All of Irish Seed Savers’ income comes from sponsors who donate funds by subscribing to a membership or attend fundraising events. It is a charity that relies on the generosity of others, and the hope that passion for their cause is contagious. Every year one percent of the organization’s income goes to help other organizations with similar environmental goals in Ireland and around the world.

Their facility currently preserves, stores and distributes seeds of 800 heritage vegetable varieties, 48 heritage grain varieties, a heritage potato collection of over 50 varieties, and maintains over 140 different varieties of native apple in their orchards. On the Scarriff site alone, they house the largest collection of self-rooting varieties of apple tree in the world.

All of their varieties are grown organically on site. The ethos of the Irish Seed Savers project is sustainability and working with nature to preserve. In this sense, keeping the heritage vegetables all natural and chemical free is extremely important.

Visitors are welcome to explore 20 acres of working seed gardens, walk through heritage orchards and experience native woodlands.

Environmental education is a top priority in the organization. Tours and community groups are given the opportunity to learn about the rich history found in the fruit of Irish soil by visiting the facilities and exploring the grounds.

Teams from the Irish Seed Savers go to schools and give demonstrations to children on the importance of biodiversity and the preservation of the earth. A new seed bank facility opened in 2012 allows visitors to view the processing of 800 varieties of seeds.

Through supporters and subscribers a new educational facility was built which houses various workshops focused on environmental education. The classes may vary from lessons in organic farming, the dos and don’ts of bee keeping, cheese making and how to start your own orchard.

The goal of Irish Seed Savers is to preserve a part of Irish culture. Americans looking to connect can visit and become involved by subscribing to a unique experience of contributing to a living legacy.