On 2nd September Embercombe hosted a day dedicated seed. The day comprised a diverse mix of activities including:
- theoretical sessions on how to produce top quality organic vegetable seed,
- a talk by Neil Munro from the Gaia Foundation about seed legislation and the Gaia Foundation’s ‘Seed Sovereignty – UK and Ireland’ program,
- practical workshops on seed processing and storage,
- and a screening of the new documentary, Seed: The Untold Story.
Around twenty participants attended for the whole day and a handful more came for the evening screening. Among the participants were professional growers, gardeners, small-holders, and people with a general interest in seed.
Why are we interested in seed?
Seed is our cultural heritage. Seed sits, dormant, at the interface between the past and the future. A small miracle waiting to happen. Waiting for the perfect conditions to germinate and reproduce itself once again, continuing the endless cycle of life.
Seed contains the genetic information which has been moulded and adapted to our needs over the last 10,000 years, since our ancestors first started to actively cultivate wild plants. However, in the last century over 90% of crop varieties have become extinct. Take a moment to think about that number. Each of these varieties is unique and may contain genetic information which could be vital to the future of food on our planet. Most varieties have been lost as they do not lend themselves to industrial scale production methods. Our crops need to be able to evolve and adapt to our changing planet as do all other life-forms. The wider and more diverse the gene-pool, the greater the ability to adapt, because different genes will respond to specific environmental conditions in different ways. So with each variety we lose, our ability to adapt decreases.
In the last century we have moved from a situation whereby the majority of agricultural seed was controlled and maintained by farmers and growers to a situation where over 60% of global seed supply is controlled by a very small handful of multi-national corporations, and this control is becoming increasingly concentrated with every merger that happens. When it becomes unprofitable for a company to continue to produce a variety they drop it from their books, this is simple economics. It does not matter if that variety was perfectly suited to a particular region or production style, if they cant make money from it, they wont produce it. This is what is happening to varieties every day, and the only way to ensure that these varieties are not lost is to take back control and stewardship of them ourselves. We cannot expect anybody else to do it for us!
We can only save reliable seed from “open-pollinated” varieties, not from “F1 hybrids”, so if you are saving at home then make sure that you check this beforehand, to ensure success. Saving seed is not only vitally important, but it is also fun and rewarding. It feels so natural to work with plants through their entire life-cycle, and it is fascinating to learn about how different plants breed and produce seed. Nothing quite demonstrates the generosity and abundance of nature as seeing the thousands (if not tens of thousands) of seeds that a plant makes from the single seed that was sown.