Melanie Fryer writes about our National Seed Week – from the 18th March.
As spring bursts forth our thoughts start to turn to outdoor work and sowing seeds. But have you thought about where the seed actually comes from?
As with food, we need a resilient agro-ecological seed system: seed needs to be organic or bio-dynamic and open pollinated. This means that seed produced by a plant is naturally pollinated by birds, insects or the wind. A grower can therefore buy open pollinated seeds and then save their own seed year on year; supporting seed sovereignty.
In contrast, an F1 seed is a hybrid and can be considered a dead end – you have to keep buying more F1 seed each year if you want to grow the same plant variety. This essentially hands control of seed to larger seed companies unless you start the process of de-hybridisation.
By growing and saving open pollinated varieties year on year, the plants and seeds adapt to the climate and conditions of the local area. This can result in more resilient seed that may have other benefits such as higher levels of nutrition depending on the broader land management practices and qualities of the plant.
To grow the UK’s seed saving movement, The Gaia UK and Ireland Seed Sovereignty (SS) Programme is training small-scale commercial growers in producing seed to sell to regional seed companies. In doing so, its aims to increase the amount of seed we produce in the UK and extend the varieties available. (It is estimated that only 3% of the food which is currently labelled organic, has its origins from organic seed).
The SS programme also supports gardeners and community groups to save their own seed and organise seed swaps.
Since its inception in 2017, it has concentrated on the saving of vegetable, herb and flower seeds. However in 2019 it will also include the saving of grains such as Heritage Wheat, Oats and Barley.
The SS programme’s future plans include supporting the creation of a database to hold information about seed varieties being grown across the UK and Ireland. This will enable growers to share knowledge about seed performance in different regions and conditions – a critical resource in the context of climate change.
Farm variety trials are also being established to explore the effectiveness of different seed varieties in various landscapes and across seasons. This includes supporting Participatory Plant-Breeding (PPB) – a process of plant breeding which begins with the farmer rather than larger institutions.
For people in Lancaster, you can access local open pollinated seed from the Lancaster Seed Library. You can also buy organic and open pollinated seed from Single Step Wholefood Cooperative off Penny Street.
Organic seed can also be bought online at:
If you are interested in seed saving training and project development in the North West of England please contact the Regional Seed Sovereignty Co-ordinator (Melanie) using [email protected]