I guess my passion is really for diversity and that is what has fired my enthusiasm for open pollinated seed and seed sovereignty. I have worked all my life in ecological systems where diversity is effectively nature’s programming language – without it natural systems breakdown. My work on nature reserves allowed me to see how establishing the right conditions enables natural habitats to be restored and enhanced as nature takes over. I believe this is the process that is now required for farming systems.
There is a wide appreciation of the losses in biodiversity. What is less understood is that there have also been huge losses in the numbers of varieties of our food crops and the genetic diversity that goes with them. Particularly within vegetable seed there has been a big change over recent decades towards the use of F1 hybrid seed that is well suited to large mechanised and chemical based agribusiness, but this also leads to less genetic diversity through the methods of in-breeding in parent lines that provide short-term advantages for intensive cropping. We have to remember that we are dependent on natural systems; this is our life support system. Food is obviously a big part of that and through our farming practices we need to enable a natural diversity on which we depend.
I would urge people to find out more about the origins of their seed (and their food). Where did the variety come from and how was it bred? Is the variety well suited to their growing system? If the seed is grown locally it is likely to be better adapted to those conditions, but it is not practically possible to grow all seeds everywhere so that is where research comes in. Our paper catalogue lists our growers and suppliers and shows where each variety comes from, and we are working to make this information available on our web site, although it is not there yet.
The Seed Co-operative evolved from Stormy Hall Seeds which for 20 years was the biggest producer of organic vegetable seeds in the UK, from just 7 acres. No seed is being grown at Stormy Hall now but we have 20 acres at our hub in Lincolnshire and a network of 15 growers from around the UK, and we are all working hard to grow more organic seed. The Biodynamic Association played a big part in establishing the Seed Co-operative. Globally, organic plant breeding and seed production has been led by biodynamic farmers. We are replicating the seed companies in Europe that we buy seed from. They all work with small scale biodynamic and organic farmers as their seed producers and work for open and transparent information in their business and farming practices, so we can be confident about where the seed we are selling is coming from.
We are very pleased to be selling the Burpees Golden beetroot this year. In the last two years we have had it in our catalogue but our German suppliers were unable to supply seed with a good enough germination rate. We managed to get some seed for our own use in 2016 and grew the roots, which this year we took to seed. We have harvested 40kg with 100% germination and so, at last, we will be selling a golden beetroot. It could also mean that we could supply this variety to Germany… it is an illustration for me of how seed sovereignty is not about nations it is about people! Seed Sovereignty gives people knowledge of how and where there seed is produced, and by whom, and in this sense they have a choice and some control.
The Seed Co-operative is a community-owned seed company who believe passionately in breeding open pollinated and affordable seeds that everyone can grow for the coming year. The Seed Co-operative was founded by David Price and Kate Ayre who share the responsibilities of developing the organisation, growing seed and managing their online shop. They sell a wide range of vegetables, flowers and herbs and green manures. They are committed to building a resilient food system that will benefit everyone through access to seed, advice and training. There are regular volunteering opportunities for people who live locally, or for those travelling from further afield.