Tucked away in the rolling hills of South West England, a quiet revolution is taking place. A group of small scale, agro-ecological vegetable growers have joined together to form a seed savers cooperative through which they can exchange seeds and share knowledge and experience about seed production.

The motivations behind forming the group are numerous: some want to develop a new horticultural skill; others want to cultivate varieties which are more adapted to their local climate and many are simply fed up with the limited variety of organic vegetable seed available to them and are ready to do something about it.

Training by Kate McEvoy from Real Seeds in Wales. Photo: Jason Taylor
Trainees on Shillingford Organic Farm in Feb 2018. Photo by Jason Taylor

In autumn 2017, the South West Seed Savers Cooperative (SWSSC) met up to plan the growing season ahead. Following an engaging workshop led by Ashley Wheeler of Trill Farm Garden which covered the basic principles of seed production, the SWSSC discussed how they wanted to develop their experience of seed production and how the Gaia foundation can support them through the Seed Sovereignty programme. The most significant thing to come out of the discussion was a massive appetite for more in-depth training. To help focus the learning within the SWSSC, the group is concentrating on growing two crop groups (Brassicas and Lettuce/endive) for seed in 2018 in the hope that this will provide a focus for training sessions and allow growers to better share their seed saving experience.

With these aims in mind, as regional coordinator for the West of England for the Seed Sovereignty programme, I organised a training workshop with experienced seed grower, Kate McEvoy from the Real Seed Catalogue. Taking place on a bright February day at Shillingford Organics in Devon, Kate led an informative and interactive session on the practicalities of Brassica seed production such as isolation distances and seed harvesting. This was followed by a farm tour led by Dave Parry and a grower-led question and answer session where growers could troubleshoot seed production problems and ask Kate for more specific advice. Everyone left the training workshop full of useful information and feeling much more confident about producing seed in 2018.


Ellen Rignell, Regional Coordinator for Western England. Photo by Jason Taylor