When you think of “Svalbard”, that is, if you ever think of Svalbard, you probably think of polar bears, ice and snow. Svalbard is in Norway, only 810 miles from the North Pole and not terribly accessible. However, there’s interesting stuff going on up there. In fact, since 2008 Svalbard has been home the Global Seed Bank. The purpose of the Bank is to protect the genetic diversity of seeds from all over the world in case of a global disaster that threatens key food crops. There are actually thousands of “seed banks” around the world but many of them are in unstable geographic or political areas – and are regularly destroyed. Built into a sandstone mountain in an abandoned coalmine at the top of the world, the Svalbard seed bank seems like a pretty safe place already but it also sports high-level security systems in case some James Bond type decides to break in (or perhaps in case the seeds try to break out).
Svalbard isn’t just hard to get to, it’s actually a very safe place on all fronts if you’re a seed. If the ice caps melt, it will still be above sea level. It has no tectonic activity so there will be no earthquakes, humans aren’t likely to fight wars up there and it’s permanently frozen, which helps preserve things you want to keep for a long time even if the electricity goes out. Scientists estimate that seeds could stay preserved in the Svalbard bank without human intervention for hundreds of years, and some grains for thousands of years. These Preppers didn’t mess around during construction, either. The concrete entrance to the building is faced with highly reflective stainless steel, mirrors and prisms meant to reflect the arctic sun and act as a beacon.
Modern specialized labor and geographic concentrations of farms have put major food crops at risk. In the past, even just a hundred years ago, most families cultivated a small, diverse garden. Today most of us rely on massive farming operations in very concentrated parts of the country or the world. Soil contamination or a massive disaster could easily put the entire population at risk if essential food crops are extinguished. Having reserves as many varieties of food crops as possible acts as a hedge against this kind of disaster. It also protects varieties that have become rare due or on the verge of extinction.
The good news is, you don’t have to rely on Svalbard or any other seed bank in case of a massive global disaster. In fact, you shouldn’t. No bank can effectively preserve the diversity of plants on the earth – it’s up to individuals. You can put together your own seed vault or buy a kit. Make sure to include medicinal herbs and stash away a guide book such as National Geographic’s Guide to Medicinal Herbs. Seed “vaults” can be as simple as collecting seeds from local plants (don’t forget flowers) and storing them in envelopes in a cool, dry, dark place.
Meanwhile, you can read more about Svalbard Seed Vault here.