The Seed Sovereignty Programme has been supporting the formation of a fledgling seed cooperative in Wales. Wales Coordinator Katie Hastings describes their journey so far.

Photo by Katie Hastings

Seed breeds cooperation. We have been training Welsh growers in seed production for four years now, and they come to class wanting to share stories of the varieties they are growing and leave wanting to share the seeds they have grown. The abundance of one seed crop isn’t meant to be hoarded; it’s meant to be shared.

As growers have progressed through our training to producing high-quality seed crops, they naturally want to make these crops available for sale. Selling seed adds income streams to land-based businesses, as well as addressing the dire need for more UK-grown seed adapted to our conditions and not stuck behind a Brexit border.

In 2020 we formed the Wales Seed Hub, a collective of growers working together to sell and distribute their seed. Inspired by our teachers at Real Seeds, we wanted to get more Welsh-grown seed crops on the market. What better way to do this than cooperatively? Growers can feel isolated, often working long days alone. Working together addresses this by giving seed growers a platform to share responsibility. Seed production is a marathon, not a sprint; once the crop is grown it must then be harvested, dried, processed, packed, stored, registered and sold. It makes sense to pool resources and share the task load.

Photo by Neil Moyse


But the need to grow seed crops cooperatively cuts even deeper than the human need to work together… open pollinated seed crops can cross-pollinate, so they need to be isolated from one another. It is very difficult to grow multiple crops of the same species on the same farm. Seeds are biologically suited to being grown on multiple farms and shared at the point of harvest. It’s as if they were divinely designed to encourage human networks to grow them in isolation and then actively come together to spread them across our communities.

The Wales Seed Hub is now entering its third season. We have moved from offering our debut two varieties for sale in 2021, to stocking our online shop with fourteen varieties in 2022. We have sat through hours of zoom meetings, discussing the intricacies of labels, the ethics of packet printing and the nuances of shared finances. We have learnt by doing, trialling systems as we have gone. But we are most certainly growing – literally and metaphorically – into a working seed-selling cooperative.

The time is ripe for boosting supply of UK-grown seed, and growers across our Seed Sovereignty networks are also looking to use their new-found skills in seed production to move into cooperative selling. In this article I offer our tips, fails and lessons learnt to help new seed cooperatives on their way. It’s important to point out that we cannot claim to be experts. We are toddlers in the seed-selling world, still finding our feet. For every answer we can offer, we also have more questions. But hopefully our experiences can give other fledging seed cooperatives a starting block to sprint off.


Photo by Andy Pilsbury


  1. Find your Varieties


It is stating the obvious to say that you cannot start growing seed for sale without the starter seed to grow your crops from. It didn’t become apparent to us quite how important this foundational principle was until we started looking at our variety list in our first year. While our members had access to some great open-pollinated seed, we quickly realised that we had bought this seed from other ethical seed companies in the UK. As a new seed-selling coop, we didn’t want to be replicating the catalogues of existing seed sellers. We needed to provide something unique and special to our region.

It’s not easy to find rare seed. It can take years to research, source the starter seed, bulk it out to sufficient quantities and trial it to see if it’s actually any good! Our friends at Real Seeds explained to us that for every ten varieties they trial, one makes it into their catalogue. Bringing new varieties onto the market is a long game and one you need to start potentially years before you can sell the crop.

Photo by Jason Taylor


Not totally defeated by this timeframe, the Wales Seed Hub has adopted a two-pronged strategy.

  • Firstly, we work to find and trial special varieties unique to Wales. Lucky to have a member who has been working with seeds for a long time, we have access to a few unique varieties with a story, which we have immediately started growing. Using shared online folders, members of the WSH grow these seeds in small quantities and record the crop’s health, performance and resilience. Although the work of trialling new varieties is unpaid (because WSH only pay growers for varieties sold), it is the foundation of a healthy seed catalogue and something which our members are building into their growing practices each year.
  • Secondly, we went for some initial ‘quick wins’ to get some crops sold. We grew some common varieties, already on the national list and widely available. Although this might seem counterintuitive for increasing seed diversity, there is still great value in producing locally-adapted and ecologically-grown versions of open pollinated varieties which might otherwise have been imported into the UK from warmer climates. We decided to offer some popular varieties for sale, with the added bonus of these varieties being grown close to where our customers would sow them.


Garden Organic’s Heritage Seed Library (HSL) works to steward hundreds of vegetable varieties in the UK and is a treasure trove of genetic diversity. Joining them as a member allows access to starter seed for some of these varieties. Understanding the work put in by HSL to keep varieties properly grown, selected and protected opened a Pandora’s box of seed ethics issues for us. Is it OK to take seed from a charity and sell it, without properly crediting the stewarding work that has been done to enable that seed to still be here? Having good conversations with the Heritage Seed Library, we have understood that it is ultimately their mission to see these seeds more widely available. We have been able to work with HSL to obtain starter seed from them, credit them in our variety descriptions and ensure we have permissions to sell the seed we got from their library. While much of the seed donated to HSL has been done so with the desire to see it shared, some donors may have indicated that they do not want to see this seed sold for money. It’s best to check. We have learnt the need to approach seed selling with delicacy and respect for the seed origin.

We have found that variety hunting is both a big challenge and a big adventure. Working together to track down seed stories and bulk up seed which has almost been forgotten can be exhilarating. We hope that the varieties we are trialling now will form the backbone of our seed catalogue in years to come.


Photo by Jason Taylor



  • A seed-selling coop is only as good as the varieties it offers, so chose your varieties well.
  • Community seed libraries, allotment groups and gardening clubs can be a source of locally specific varieties, but always be careful to ask permission to sell their seed and credit them in the descriptions. It might also be appropriate to ensure that some money from seed sales goes back to the communities who have stewarded the seed.
  • Plant breeders can be a source of new varieties and will often be keen to see these varieties sold. Some breeders are focused on creating varieties that work in specific conditions or for agroecological growing. Ensure breeders are credited and remunerated for the new varieties they have made available.
  • Genebanks can be a source of rare varieties but remember you will get starter seed in very small quantities and this will take years to bulk up.
  • Beware of replicating the catalogues of other small seed companies. Small seed sellers need to work together and avoid unnecessary duplication.
  • Trial new varieties every year, record the results and be prepared to drop those which don’t perform well.


Watch our webinar on “Accessing Agrodiversity: Finding and Using Rare Seeds” for more discussion on this topic.


This article is part of a full guide based off lessons learned from the Wales Seed Hub. The complete guide will be available in our Resources section, and will be updated regularly as the knowledge and experience of the Hub grows. This is just one example of setting up a seed cooperative, but we hope that by detailing the journey of the Wales Seed Hub we can help other groups looking to follow a similar path in the future. You can learn more about the Wales Seed Hub here and support them by buying their seeds here.