The local food movement is useless if we don’t have these seeds
Jill Bishop, Community Food Cultivator for Nourish
Nourish is a collaborative project, which brings together gardeners and growers throughout Peterborough, Ontario, for networking and education. Its activities, including the Seed Savers Collective, are coordinated by Jill Bishop, who also runs a small heirloom seed company called Urban Tomato. Jill has used her own experiences, of learning how to save seed and developing her business, to help her to understand how to encourage seed saving more widely. The Seed Savers Collective aims to bring together people who already have seed saving skills with those who want to learn in order to increase the amount of local seed and the number of people who feel confident with the skills.
I thought there’s never going to be too many seed savers; we need to get more people involved in this
The Seed Savers Collective started working together in early 2015 and consists of a network of 32 growers, including urban gardeners and organic growers. The first step of the network was to agree on a list of varieties to grow and steward. The initial list contains about 60 varieties including those that were already being saved by members and some that members wanted to learn how to save. Over the growing season, the group arranged an informal calendar of events so that network members could visit each other’s projects and learn from each other’s methods.
Our main focus is getting more people to feel confident and comfortable with the skills and ideally sharing them
Jill has created a simple seed storage facility in downtown Peterborough so that a portion of seeds of each variety can be stored centrally and made available to community gardeners and, in time, the public more broadly. In addition to the seed grown by network members, Jill has also established a number of seed gardens on vacant community garden plots – an ingenious use for land that would otherwise go wild. The seed gardens have been used to cultivate grain crops, such as barley, wheat and quinoa, which work particularly well in an urban environment where there is good isolation from the GMO-crops that dominate rural settings. As the seed gardens are located in community gardens where there is always a flow of people, they have also been useful for raising the profile of the project and educating about some of the basics of seed saving.
When you talk to people and you tell them you grow quinoa, it’s like an immediate buy-in, they’re like “that’s so cool!” and they want to talk to you about everything else that you’re doing, so it pulls people in in a different way
Quinoa growing in one of the member’s backyards
Like many towns across Canada, Peterborough holds an annual Seedy Sunday, a one-day community festival, where seed vendors set up shop and gardeners come to buy their seeds for the season and usually to exchange seeds as well. Jill Bishop set up Peterborough’s Seedy Saturday ten years ago and has seen it grow and grow each year. In the first year they had about 50 people, mainly local farmers; now they have over 1500 people, mainly backyard gardeners, who are only growing a small amount of veg, and yet are prioritising buying local seed. Jill credits this growth to the explosion of interest in the local food movement and also, in part, to the work of the Bauta Family Seed Security Initiative.
The Bauta initiative provides small grants, training and networking opportunities to seed growers and farmers across Canada. It has spread awareness of seed saving issues, but perhaps more importantly it has enabled growers to connect with each other and to increase their production through sharing skills and resources. The Seed Collective used funding from the scheme to purchase seed processing equipment, which is now shared by network members.
The more we can support those people that are skilled in getting those seeds out, the better
The Peterborough Seed Savers Collective replicates the national work of the Bauta initiative by connecting skilled seed savers with eager novices in a local setting. By working as a network, it allows the members to focus on their strengths, such as growing a particular crop, whilst also benefitting the collective as a whole. For now, the seeds grown by the network will be circulated to network members and made available to the public via the Seedy Sunday event. As the amount of seed that the network is able to produce increases, there is great potential to circulate more widely, and also to use it as a means of inspiring more seed saving.
Even if they are not saving the seed, people are starting to see that, if you start with good seed, you are going to get better food, and if you want to save the seed, then you are going to get better seed too
All quotes from an interview with Jill Bishop, 9th November 2015