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In Celebration of Seed

"Each seed held a trace of life that would spark when given water, when given the appropriate conditions. Everywhere I […]

In Celebration of Seed

"Each seed held a trace of life that would spark when given water, when given the appropriate conditions. Everywhere I […]

"Each seed held a trace of life that would spark when given water, when given the appropriate conditions. Everywhere I looked, I saw how seeds were holding the world together."

Diane Wilson, author of "The Seed Keeper"

Take a moment to think about what you've eaten so far today, or what kinds of fabrics you're wearing. Now consider where that food and fiber came from. 

Most of the raw ingredients that meet our basic daily needs start with seeds, tiny but powerful players that deserve to be celebrated. A seed that grows into a mature plant can generate hundreds or thousands of more seeds for you to save and share next year. Also, seeds are in a constant state of adaptation. They have evolved in tandem with the natural environment for millions of years, and, since humans began practicing agriculture, we've helped to shape the Earth's seeds, and be shaped by them.

If you have a green thumb and a bit of garden space, sowing seeds is a fascinating and frugal way to fill your yard. Did you know growing and saving seeds can also help build strong communities, help expand genetic biodiversity and generate locally-adapted crops? 

Partners in diversity

People have been planting, growing, harvesting and selecting seeds for around 12,000 years, giving rise to countless new crop varieties. The power of seeds combined with the impact of human intervention have laid the foundation for a resilient agricultural system. All the different kinds of crops, from wild relatives to natural varieties to more recent cultivars, contribute to diversity — specifically, agricultural biodiversity. Agricultural biodiversity is the variety and variability of animals, plants, and micro-organisms that are important to food and agriculture. It results from the interaction between the environment, genetic resources and the impact of human intervention. 

Seed diversity is, quite simply, the difference between fortune and famine. We mentioned above how a single seed can generate hundreds or thousands more — that is wealth generation, right there! The converse is also true: When we rely on too few crops or too few varieties of crops, our agricultural systems become precarious, and could be wiped out by a single pest infestation or disease. In a diverse system, many different crops are grown together, each with its own strengths and weaknesses. The variety makes it harder for a single pest to cause devastation.  

Diversity also helps crops adapt to extreme weather events, which are occurring with more frequency as the climate changes. Through each growing season, seeds adapt a little to the particular microclimate, soil conditions and external stressors they experience. Skilled farmers and seed breeders carry the strongest seeds forward, encouraging helpful traits such as tolerance of drought or poor soil and the ability to grow on uneven terrain. Traits are carried forward into the next generation, and so on.

When it comes to seed and food, diversity is most definitely our strength.

Use it or lose it

"More than 90% of crop varieties have disappeared from farmers' fields."

United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization

However, diversity must be nurtured. During the last century, the rise of industrial-style agriculture has undone a shocking amount of the previous 12,000 years of work. An estimated 75-90% of plant genetic diversity has been lost because farmers were encouraged to give up locally-adapted, regional seeds in favor of hybrids and GMOs, which can't be saved. Farmers have to purchase new seed every season from the multinational corporations that own them. A global market of privately owned, unsaveable seed makes farmers dependent on external inputs, on supply chain disruptions and corporate greed. In most of Canada and the US, seed saving is a thing of the past. 

A loss of diversity is apparent on the corporate landscape, too. After decades of mergers and acquisitions, 60% of the global seed supply is now owned by just 4 corporations. 

What you can do

There are many ways to celebrate the wonder of seeds at home.

If you have space for gardening, this is the perfect time of year to get sowing! Here are some resources to get you started:

  • Learn more — The Organic Seed Alliance offers fantastic resources for home growers interested in growing and saving seeds. We recommend their Seed Saving Guide.
  • Find seeds — Seeds are for sharing! Exchanging seeds with friends and neighbors is a fantastic way to build community and share the wealth. Or, check out your local seed library. Seed libraries are often affiliated with regular public libraries, and they work in basically the same way — search this map to find one near you. The Seed Savers Exchange helps you share seeds online with other growers. If you decide to purchase seeds, seek out products from smaller-scale seed companies. Feed stores and food co-ops often carry seed from regional companies who work in your area. Our favorites, such as Botanical Interests and High Mowing Organic Seeds, include midsize companies with products available nationally. 
  • Practice landrace gardening — "Landraces" are seeds that are adapted to their local microclimate through the efforts of the gardener or farmer who grows and saves them (that could be you!). Landrace gardening is open to everyone, and Joseph Lofthouse's book will help get you started. 

If you aren't able to sow seeds yourself, you can still support people who do. Here's how: 

  • Join a CSA — CSA stands for Community Sustainable Agriculture. It's a subscription service where people buy a share of a local farmer's produce before the start of the season. Farmers use that money to grow the freshest and bestest produce, delivering boxes to shareholders over the following months. CSAs are a win-win because they provide financial security to local farmers and fantastic food to subscribers. Local Harvest operates a database of thousands of CSAs across the US. 
  • Visit a farmers' market — Meet your farmer at the local farmers market! Many of the same growers who operate CSAs can be found at farmers markets on the weekends — find out where here.
  • Listen to seed stories — Seeds offer much more than food, fiber or fuel. Seeds are a crucial part of cultural identities and traditional practices. One of the many gifted storytellers who use their work to feed the spiritual side of seed stewardship is Diane Wilson, activist and author of "The Seed Keeper" — you can listen to our interview with Diane here.

Just like a seed, our actions in supporting agricultural diversity can start small. If we all choose seed saving over corporate seed ownership, together we can move towards a more secure food system that supports all life on earth. 

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