Banking on seeds for food security
A new seed bank in Ottawa will promote, store and share seeds that are adapted to growing conditions in Eastern Ontario and Western Quebec. The seed bank is part of Just Food's Regional Seed Program, which is also helping area farmers and food growers increase their seed-saving abilities.
Just Food has established the Regional Seed Program in collaboration with the Bauta Family Initiative on Canadian Seed Security, which supports the conservation and use of ecologically grown seeds, and Seeds of Diversity, which encourages the exchange and cultivation of heritage and heirloom seeds. The Bauta Family Initiative is funding a range of regional seed initiatives in Canada, including the one at Just Food.
The program intends to increase the quality, quantity and diversity of seeds available in the region. It will work with local vegetable and grain producers, eventually setting up a seed bank at the Just Food farm site near Green's Creek. The bank will house seeds adapted to the climate, soils and other growing conditions in Eastern Ontario and Western Quebec.
"The focus is to increase the scale of seed saving," says Amber Westfall, co-ordinator of the Regional Seed Program at Just Food. Initiatives such as seed saving workshops, "Seedy Saturday" events and seed libraries have sprouted up in and around Ottawa and across Canada, but most are at the community level, Westfall explains. Nationally, Seeds of Diversity manages a library which stores almost 4000 regionally adapted and rare seed varieties. The Regional Seed Program will complement these efforts, making a greater variety of seeds more widely available to local growers.
Regional Seed Program coordinator Amber Westfall at the Just Food farm. Photo: Denise Deby
"There are no Canadian seed producers--there are Canadian seed companies, but they're sourcing their seeds usually from the States. And there are small-scale seed producers, but nothing really at that kind of large farm-scale level. So this project is really geared towards ensuring seed security, with regionally adapted seeds," says Westfall.
Just Food is identifying people who are interested in getting involved as seed savers or volunteers, and hosting workshops to help build seed-saving skills. "There's quite an art and a science to it to ensure that [the seeds] will be viable for a long time. And there's a fairly extensive level of quality control and record-keeping that needs to be maintained," says Westfall.
The workshops are intended for people who already have some seed-saving knowledge, particularly farmers and "serious backyard gardeners" who are willing to grow one or more varieties out over a few seasons so they're adapted to local growing conditions.
"We do need volunteers at all levels," adds Westfall. "If people are really interested in seed security in general and want to help out, there are other roles besides saving seeds," including record keeping and other seed bank duties.
Adapting seeds to regional conditions means they're more resilient-and that's important in terms of food security. "When you save those seeds and then have them available, it increases local seed diversity," says Westfall.
The UN's Food and Agriculture Organization states that globally, 75 per cent of food comes from only 12 plant and five animal species, and in the last 100 years the earth has lost 75 per cent of its agricultural biodiversity. Just three companies control more than half of the global commercial seed market, according to ETC Group research. USC Canada notes that 95 per cent of the seeds used in growing Canada's major food crops are bred for uniformity and controlled growing conditions. The Bauta Family Initiative on Canadian Seed Security, housed at USC Canada, cites these and other statistics in explaining why they're supporting a more biodiverse and ecologically appropriate seed system.
Just Food Regional Seed Program workshops start in May, on topics including vegetable crop planning and selection, introduction to grain growing, and intermediate/advanced seed saving.
Information on upcoming workshops, volunteer opportunities and program updates will be posted in Just Food's newsletter, available at Just Food.
Seeds of Diversity: https://www.seeds.ca/