Virginia Gewin
Photo of Virginia Gewin

An Alabama native, I've lived in the Pacific Northwest for the last 20 years.

I write about how humans are profoundly altering the environment - and undertaking extraordinary endeavors to preserve natural systems.

My work has appeared in Nature, Science, Discover, Slate, Washington Post, Modern Farmer, Portland Monthly and many others.

In 2014-2015, along with five colleagues, I was part of a crowd-funded reporting project called "Bracing for Impact" to chronicle efforts to adapt to climate change.

In recent years, I've focused on stories about food and agriculture. In 2016, I was awarded an Alicia Patterson journalism fellowship to spend the year reporting on seed sovereignty, gene banks, crop diversity and food security. Check out my seed-centric stories here:

Re-wilding the Banana

OPB: NOVA NEXT
Nov. 3, 2016
In central mainland Malaysia, as the cleared oil palm plantations are readied for a new crop, decaying fronds litter rolling hills of rust-colored soils. Amid the detritus, a verdant wild banana clump sits in a nearby roadside ditch. The six-foot long leaves shiver as Anuar Rasyidi emerges drenched in sweat, his machete in one hand and a decaying stalk of tiny fruit in the other. Passersby would never guess that the seeds within these bananas are on a global most-wanted list... [link to article]

The Other Cannabis

MODERN FARMER
Dec. 21, 2016
Even in Colorado, breeding hemp means grappling with all sorts of legal red tape. One plant biologist hopes to beat the odds.

Bear Reel cuts a tiny figure on the vast Colorado plains, but she lives up to her name in ferocity of spirit. She has to. The 34-year-old occupies a decidedly unorthodox niche: a 21st-century scientist breeding new varieties of an ancient plant that’s also a controlled substance... [link to article]

Rice rewrites slaves agricultural heritage

SAPIENS
Jan. 12, 2017
Did slaves contribute more than solely their labor to the success of rice plantations in the New World? In pursuit of the answer, one researcher is extracting little bits of memoir trapped inside rice grains.

When Tinde van Andel purchased a small bag of unmilled rice from a market in Paramaribo, Suriname, she had no idea it would offer a novel peek into slavery’s past. The Dutch ethnobotanist, currently based at the Naturalis Biodiversity Center in Leiden, Netherlands, was in Suriname in 2006 to inventory medicinal and ritual plants for her postdoctoral research. She found a capital city market buzzing with hundreds of Maroon women selling herbal medicines and ritual plants, including rice... [link to article]

Climate Change Adds Urgency To Push to Save World's Seeds

YALE ENVIRONMENT 360
April 21, 2016
During the 872-day German siege of Leningrad in World War II, in which an estimated 1.1 million civilians died, a small band of workers devoted themselves to safeguarding a priceless trove of 200,000 seeds at the Institute of Plant Industry. Then the world’s largest seed bank, the collection had been amassed, in large part, by famed Soviet botanist Nikolai Vavilov during expeditions to 64 countries... [link to article]

Wild relatives of key crops not protected in genebanks, study finds

SCIENCE MAG
Mar. 21, 2016
The wild, sometimes scraggly cousins of grains and vegetables have a role to play in food security, but urgent action is needed to conserve them, says a new study published today in Nature Plnats. The first global survey of the distribution and conservation of 1076 wild relatives of 81 crops finds that more than 95% are insufficiently safeguarded in the world’s gene banks, which store seeds and other plant tissues that can be used for future breeding efforts.... [link to article]

Crop gene banks are preserving the future of agriculture. But who's preserving them?

ENSIA
May 21, 2015
During the past few years of civil war in Syria, rebel fighters have destroyed Shia mosques and Christian graves, and burned and looted Christian churches while the Islamic State group has demolished priceless artifacts in the region. Nothing seemed sacred to the disparate groups vying for control of the region. Yet, so far, a store of ancient seeds has been left alone... [link to article]