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Longread

Join the seed revolution

Longread

Words by Alicja McCarthy

Illustrations by Stephanie F. Scholz

In the 20th Century, we lost 94% of our seed varieties and a further 100,000 are now endangered. Startling facts. But why is this happening? Large seed conglomerates, natural disasters and lack of public education are partly to blame. But one of the greatest threats to seed biodiversity is the genetic modification in the commercial seeds business. Whilst Mother Nature has an incredible ability to adapt to natural environmental changes, she can’t keep up with human intervention.

We have reached a critical stage

It’s time to act. “So many crop varieties have been irreversibly lost,” says Charlotte Dove, founder of London Freedom Seed Bank. “But it’s not too late to do something about it if we act now. There is growing awareness amongst organic and small-scale farmers about the importance of seed sovereignty, but the industrial corporations still hold the power. At the London Freedom Seed Bank, we teach seed saving skills to gardeners and home growers because we believe that this is an essential part of securing greater seed variety in the future. By learning to save our own seeds we are resisting the corporate control of seeds and building resilience and self-reliance into our local food system. Seeds form part of our common heritage and should not be privately owned”.  

It's easy to become a seed saver

London Freedom Seed Bank runs educational events for all age groups, workshops and actively encourages individuals, groups and schools to become seed savers by harvesting and donating their own seeds;

If you start with the easy crops like tomatoes, peas, beans and lettuces, you can’t go far wrong. These crops are predominantly self-pollinating which means that you can save the seed from a single plant and you will get the same plant when you sow the seeds in the following season”, says Dove.

Horticulturalist Marco Bottignole assures that if you know how to grow a plant, you are 90% there. “In order to save seeds, you just need to leave some of your plants in the soil and let them end their life cycle. Most of the plants that we grow are annual, which means that they will end their cycle by producing seeds. We choose the best fruit or the healthiest plant, collect the seeds, preserve them for three or four months, then share them with other growers to start the cycle again. If you enter the loop, you are contributing to the biodiversity of our food in a very significant way”.

"If you enter the loop, you are contributing to the biodiversity in a very significant way”

It’s societal, not ecological

Bottignole is a community gardening officer and seed saving expert at St Luke’s Community Centre. He believes that the diminishing of the biodiversity is a societal issue that we are facing;

“The biggest problem lies in the huge inequality that affects societies which is something profoundly non-ecological. If our civilization was able to tackle global inequality, we would see local communities thriving again, and this would result in an opposite trend for biodiversity. We should take action! Growing our own food, saving local seeds, creating strong networks and educating young people are all excellent starting points for a global change”.

There are now just over 1,000 global seed banks and cooperatives that save, preserve and exchange seeds. The Millennium Seed Bank run by Kew Gardens has the largest collection of wild seeds, and Svalbard Global Seed vault in Norway contains the largest seed back up on the planet. The main aim for these banks is to save as many non-genetically manipulated, agricultural and indigenous varieties of seed from across the globe as possible.

Even if your town or city doesn’t have a seed saving bank or growing group it is possible to set up your own seed swap or seed-circle. Simply assign one fruit or vegetable per person, and then share the seeds after drying.  Most community gardens will have access to knowledge and information on the subject.

 

Read incredible seed stories in our interview with the Plant Messiah, Kew Garden’s maverick conservationist. 

More on the magic of seeds

Svalbard Global Seed Vault