‘‘Seed Saving is important to me to keep my great many varieties of heritage beans from becoming extinct. Other people are then strongly encouraged to save their own seed from growing mine. In this way, whatever weather patterns we have in the future, there will be varieties which are well adapted to our climatic conditions.’’
‘‘I am an Organic seed producer. My business, Beans and Herbs has had organic certification for 20 years for seed production and marketing. I employ a cultivation system which is also completely animal-free. All seed produced is open pollinated. My special areas of interest are climbing French beans, and culinary and medicinal herbs.’’
Katie manages the Productive Gardens at the Lost Gardens of Heligan, growing a wide variety of heritage fruit, vegetables, flowers and herbs using traditional skills.
‘‘Seed saving provides me with a direct connection to where my food comes from, literally in the palm of my hand! I love the independence this gives me, as well as the opportunity to share those skills, passion and seed with others. It’s a link to past, present and future crops, providing sustenance, resilience and the opportunity to grow delicious heritage produce. The essence of Heligan is very much about people, plants and a sense of place, all of which can be encapsulated by seeds and the stories sown by them.’’
‘‘I’m proud to be a seed saver. I have championed seed saving at Heligan, saving peas, dwarf beans and tomatoes this year for the Heritage Seed Library, as a Seed Guardian. The conservation of seed such as our scented Wallflowers ‘Giant Forcing Brown’ is part of why I love what I do. Sown from the very last bag available in the UK, it’s a joy to grow, preserve and share in the garden with our visitors. Our seed store is one of my favourite places. Precious seed stored in glass jars reminiscent of Roald Dahl’s fabulous Grubber sweet shop, ready and waiting to grow. I have been proactive in improving my own seed saving skills this year and look forward to sharing them throughout 2020 with our wonderful visitors.’’
Down Farm is a one acre organic, no-dig market garden in North Devon. New entrant farmers Liv and Henry started farming here 3 years ago. They grow a wide range of veg, salad and flowers for market, veg boxes and local shops and restaurants. They are at the beginning of our seed growing journey dabbling in growing seed for our own use (tomatoes, beans, herbs, flowers) and beginning to grow it for commercial use (herbs, beetroot, parsnips).
‘‘Seed production is important to us at Down Farm as it helps make us more resilient in an unstable environment and provides us with another income stream whilst learning a skill that is in danger of being lost amongst western people. Without seeds we can’t grow any food!
‘‘We hope to see a future full of small scale market gardens that incorporate seed saving into their growing operations to provide some seed for themselves and share amongst other local projects. If we were saving seed together it would be less work for all of us and protect or even increase the amazing variety of seed there is out there for generations to come!’’
Photo credit: Back Bark Films
Allotment Holder, home food grower and Seed Saver, Jane Brown, from Stratford Road Allotments, Stroud.
”I watched my grandfather grow our home vegetables, he was a great lover of large cabbages, a love not shared by any of us as I recall! I trained in Commercial Horticulture and wherever we lived, I had an allotment and started growing organically 30 years ago, having experienced excessive chemicals in my working life. It was a steep learning curve with slugs and snail’s way ahead of me.
”On my first plot in Somerset, an old man gave me a small handful of pink, mottled beans, I felt a bit like Jack! And I grew and saved these French climbing beans every year for 3 decades. Now called our Bridgwater French Bean (no idea of its real name) it is being saved by Stroud Community Seed Bank. Back then, I joined what was Henry Doubleday Research Ass (now Garden Organic) and their Heritage Seed Library.”
”In 2016, Gloucestershire based organisation, Down to Earth, a not for profit community company, had funds for a Seed Saving Coordinator, we had 25 turn up to our first workshop and about 20 of us are meeting for our 4th Seed Harvest this autumn. We know how to save good seeds and enjoy distributing the excess to people in the Stroud district, in little brown envelopes with labels telling folk they are part of the revolution, they are a guardian of living seeds, just by sowing them!
”Last year, one of our group said that she even wondered ‘If I was allowed to save seeds?’ It feels like that…saving seed is a pioneering, revolutionary act in todays world of (perfectly understandable and often necessary) rules and legislation. To think that is the aim of the big seed companies: to make saving our own seeds illegal! Seeds are so very small and yet enormous in what they hold and in their significance for self production, self resilience and for the simple but essential capacity for awe and gratitude for the gift of the plant world (plants are, mostly, hugely generous) and for keeping us awake to the environment and where our food comes from.”
Sarah has been the head grower at The Organic Herb Trading Co. for the last 10 years. OHTC has a 2 acre Biodynamic herb field where they grow over 60 different medicinal herbs and a few culinary herbs. They sell the herbs fresh or chop and dry them in their onsite drying barn.
‘‘Seed saving is very important for us as it is really hard to source organic or biodynamic medicinal herb seed. The majority of our propagation is done from seed although we do also do some plant and root division. But more importantly we love to save seed from the field as we then know that the plants will be acclimatised to our specific growing conditions and will be strong and healthy plants as we have saved seed from the very best plants. I don’t want to buy in seed form overseas which may not do as well in our climate. It’s also incredibly important to us to share our seeds and over the years anyone who has worked in the herb field goes away with a selection of seeds to carry on growing wherever they go next. I also think seed swaps are incredibly important and a fantastic way to share seeds and knowledge.’’
Mandy Barber runs a project called Incredible Vegetables in Devon. She is a grower, researcher of perennial edible plants, budding plant breeder and has a small permaculture plant nursery. She is passionate about researching sustainable food crops that have built in resilience as well as wild edibles that have the potential to become staple food crops.
‘‘Seed sovereignty is so important to me because I care deeply about protecting threatened varieties and preserving agro-biodiversity. We need to conserve and nurture our inheritance of plants as we are certainly going to need them as we look for crops that can survive all kinds of challenging conditions.’’
‘‘I am a market gardener, and also run a small business making a range of naturally fermented sauerkrauts. Having initially fallen in love with the winter job of pouring through seed catalogues and purchasing next year’s seeds, I have in more recent years been taking steps to make my own seed production an inherent part of my job. I have also attempted to bring in additional income to the market garden through seed growing ventures.’’
What’s my vision for local and national seed sovereignty?
‘‘On a regional level I picture several dozen organic growers producing a couple of seed crops every year, all of which are made available to the whole group. Growing seed is an enriching experience, connecting the circle of the veg growing year and facilitating a deeper understanding of the plants we work with. This sort of ongoing local production model will also allow for varieties to become better adapted to local conditions over time.
Nationally, I picture coordination of these regional groups allowing them to work together in productive ways. I picture a dozen small seed companies – each focusing on the production of excellent, organic, OP seed – and all working with growers in their region who wish to produce seed commercially. I picture well funded research programs, focussed on seeds most suitable for organic agriculture, and for a significantly less industrialised agriculture. This must be concurrent with a reduction in funding towards all that props up industrialised agriculture – a radical rethink of subsidies, a total ban on GMOs and diverting research money away from hybrid seeds.
In doing all this we can create a thriving agriculture in this country – one which stewards our countryside brilliantly, which puts a high value on biodiversity, has at its core the production of healthy food for local communities, and has the potential to bring thousands of people into meaningful, healthy work. This can and should all start with the seed, which has been lost to the large companies, and now needs taking back.’’