Did you know that some vegetable seeds can be traced back to the 1700s and that that you can still grow the same kind of pepper that Thomas Jefferson gave to Bernard McMahon in the early 1800s? Seeds saved through generations are called heirloom seeds, because they are most often passed down through families. Organizations like the Seed Savers Exchange in Iowa maintain extensive libraries of seeds from all over the world, each with their own history and story.
Saving seed helps to ensure food security, allowing the gardener to choose which characteristics of the fruit they want to keep and providing a healthy, meaningful gift to pass on. On a larger scale, vegetable diversity is protected when many families save their seeds. Today, you can find seeds for all colors and sizes of vegetables because they have been preserved and refined for so many growing generations. Even for those without gardens, trying heirloom vegetables from the market can be an adventure in diverse flavors and appearances.
There are plenty of resources online and at your local library for those who would like to learn how to save seeds. The Seed Savers Exchange (http://www.seedsavers.org/) and the International Seed Savers Institute (http://www.seedsave.org/issi/issi_904.html), for instance, each have a wide array of online educational tools, and the Partnership for a Sustainable Methow has created a detailed yet easy-to-follow but chart with a number of different seed types and their characteristics (http://sustainablemethow.net/documents/SeedSavingGuide.pdf). So, this summer, begin to think about which vegetable varieties you would like to pass on, and share the wealth!