Kent Whealy (April 27, 1946 – March 23, 2018) was an American activist, journalist and philanthropist who co-founded Seed Savers Exchange and promoted organic agriculture and the saving of heirloom seeds.[1] Raised in Wellington, Kansas he was inspired by the works of agricultural geneticists Jack Harlan and H.Garrison Wilkes to use his training in communications to promote the protection of genetic diversity in agriculture.[2]

Kent Whealy
BornApril 27,1946
DiedMarch 23, 2018
EducationUniversity of Kansas
OccupationPhilanthropist, Activist
Dianne Ott
(m. 1973⁠–⁠2004)


Kent Whealy graduated from the University of Kansas in 1969[3] with a degree in journalism.[4] He started a family garden in 1975 which through various land acquisitions he helped developed into the Heritage Farm[5] six miles north of Decorah, Iowa growing nearly 2,000 varieties of vegetables.[6]

In 1990, Whealy received a Fellowship from the MacArthur Fellows Program for his work in agriculture.[7] Whealy was also awarded the N. I. Vavilov medal from the Vavilov Institute in St. Petersburg. In 1981, Kent Whealy first used the word 'heirloom' in regard to seeds, using it to describe beans that his friend gave him.

Seed Savers ExchangeEdit

Whealy co-founded Seed Savers Exchange, Inc. in 1975, with then wife Diane Ott publishing an annual yearbook identifying heirloom seed varieties available for sale in North America.[8] The organization evolved into a private seed bank, collecting and saving heirloom varieties of vegetable, fruit and grain seeds. In 1985, the group extended its reach to include maintaining an ancient rare breed of White Park cattle.[9] Whealy left Seed Savers board in 2007.[10] By the time of his split with the organization Whealy and then former wife Dianne Ott were credited with helping to create one of the largest nongovernmental seed banks with more than 25,000 varieties.[11][12]

Ceres TrustEdit

In 2009 Whealy became a trustee with the Ceres Trust. Via the Ceres Trust Whealy funds research and advocacy campaigns in support of organic agriculture.[13][14] Their initiatives include academic research and consumer education campaigns including funding for the production and promotion of documentaries including Sandra Steingraber's movie Living Downstream[15] on the dangers of pesticides and The Vanishing of the Bees[16] on the role pesticides play in Colony Collapse Disorder, and other advocacy in partnership in support of organic agriculture with the Pesticide Action Network advocacy group.[17][18]

JAK KAW PressEdit

In 2015 Kent Whealy formed his own publishing company (JAK KAW Press, LLC) to ensure that Dan Bussey's extensive research on apples and the appropriate pomological watercolors are recorded for posterity. This new publishing venture is dedicated to creating books that celebrate the diversity of our food crops. The Illustrated History of Apples in the United States and Canada, already being heralded as a pomological classic, is designed to comprehensively record and illustrate our food crop heritage in rich detail, thus helping to rescue and popularize the historic varieties that still exist.


Whealy was an outspoken supporter of organic agriculture and the Slow Food movement[19] and critic of pesticides and genetically modified crops calling their use "immoral."[20] In 2012, he was listed among the largest financial donors in support of a California ballot initiative campaign to label foods derived from genetically engineered plants and animals.[21]


  • Whealy, Kent; Fearing Burr (1988). The Field and Garden Vegetables of America. Chillocothe, IL: American Botanist. ISBN 978-0-9293-3200-0.
  • Whealy, Kent; Sue Stickland (1998). Heirloom Vegetables: A Home Gardener's Guide to Finding and Growing Vegetables from the Past. New York: Touchstone. ISBN 978-0-6848-3807-6.
  • Whealy, Kent; Carolyn Male (1999). 100 Heirloom Tomatoes for the American Garden. Decorah, IA: Workman Publishing. ISBN 978-0-7611-1400-0.
  • Whealy, Kent; Suzanne Ashworth (2002). Seed to Seed: Seed Saving and Growing Techniques for Vegetable Gardeners. Decorah, IA: Seed Savers Exchange. ISBN 978-1-8824-2458-0.
  • Whealy, Kent; Joanne Thuente (2005). Garden Seed Inventory: An Inventory of Seed Catalogs Listing All Non-Hybrid Vegetable Seeds Available in the United States and Canada. Decorah, IA: Seed Savers Exchange. ISBN 978-1-8824-2460-3.
  • Whealy, Kent (2009). Fruit, Berry and Nut Inventory, 4th edition: An Inventory of Nursery Catalogs and Websites Listing Fruit, Berry and Nut Varieties by Mail Order in the United States. Decorah, IA: Seeds Savers Exchange. ISBN 978-1-8824-2461-0.[22]


  1. ^ Genetic erosion threatens crop strains, by Greg Smith, Los Angeles Times, May 7, 1989.
  2. ^ Saving of Seeds of the World, by Kent Whealy, Earth Island Journal, 1999.
  3. ^ Seeds Savers Week Proclamation, Office of the Mayor of Lawrence, Kansas, April 19, 2005.
  4. ^ The Plowboy Interview Kent Whealy, Mother Earth News, January/February 1982.
  5. ^ Food Ark, by Charles Sieber, National Geographic Magazine, July 2011.
  6. ^ Seeds of promise, by Alan Pell Crawford, Vegetarian Times, April 1, 2005.
  7. ^ "Meet the 1990 MacArthur Fellows". August 1990. Retrieved 18 November 2012.
  8. ^ The Plowboy Interview, Mother Earth News, 1982.
  9. ^ Ancient cattle breed preserved at Seed Savers, by Marlene Lucas, Associated Press, April 12, 2004.
  10. ^ Kent Whealy’s Speech at the Land Institute September 26, 2010: The Documenting of Heritage Apples – Part 2, by K. McDonald, Big Picture Agriculture, October 5, 2010.
  11. ^ Sow What? Savings Seeds Ensures Plenty, by Barbara Damrosch, The Washington Post, August 6, 2009.
  12. ^ Controversy With The Doomsday Vault, by Deniza Gertzberg, GMO Journal, March 22, 2012.
  13. ^ Ceres Trust announces competition for $500,000 in organic research grants Archived 2010-06-09 at the Wayback Machine, New Agriculture Network, June 9, 2009.
  14. ^ Ceres Trust Mission Statement, Ceres Trust website, accessed December 2012.
  15. ^ Living Downstream in the Community, The People's Picture Company, 2012.
  16. ^ The Vanishing of the Bees Archived 2013-10-05 at the Wayback Machine, Grantmakers in Film & Electronic Media, 2010.
  17. ^ National Organic Coalition 2012 budget[permanent dead link], National Organic Coalition, February 9, 2012.
  18. ^ Kent Whealy’s Speech at the Land Institute September 26, 2010: The Documenting of Heritage Apples – Part 1, by K. McDonald, Big Picture Agriculture, October 5, 2010.
  19. ^ Generosity to farmers crops up, by Shiela Stroup, Times Picayune, June 15, 2006.
  20. ^ New Technology Would Help Seed Companies Protect Research Investments, by Lance Nixon, Knight-Ridder Tribune Business News (Aberdeen American News), August 8, 1999.
  21. ^ Prop. 37 backers vow to continue food regulation efforts, by Marc Lifsher, Los Angeles Times, November 7, 2012.
  22. ^ Books by Kent Whealy,, author's page accessed December 2012.