Give, take, and share seeds
Withrow’s Community Seed Library
Why a Seed Library?
If we want a food system that’s clean, equitable, and sustainable, then we can’t forget about seeds! Seeds may be small, but they play a mighty role in determining what we grow, who can grow it, and how we feed ourselves amid uncertainty on a changing planet. Read on below to learn the surprising, often forgotten, importance of these little carriers of life, along with ways you can exercise seed sovereignty yourself!
The Mighty Seed
Somehow containing all the information and start-up nutrients to create anything from a towering sunflower to a vining bean plant, these magical repositories of life have been stewarded by humans for millennia. Historically treasured and traded between growers, each seed variety represents a plant uniquely adapted to thrive in its region and capable of evolving as conditions change.
Unfortunately, Seed Diversity is in Peril
The more diversity and free exchange the better. Yet, according to experts, the industry is becoming more consolidated globally, with just 4 seed/chemical companies controlling over 60% of proprietary seed sales. This contributes to the large-scale industrial agriculture model of mono-crops, synthetic inputs, and loss of agency on the part of farmers, just as we’re waking up to the vital importance of diversity, soil health, local knowledge and building a local food system we can rely on. Seed ownership in the hands of so few has led to declining diversity, more potential for blights wiping out entire species, less innovation, higher seed prices, and reduced seed saving opportunities due to legal restrictions. Monoculture has also increased the need for fertilizer inputs putting more strain on soil health and polluting waterways.
What Can We Do?
Seeds are all around us, spilling out of tomatoes on our cutting boards, piled in grocery bulk bins, and dropping from wild onions. It just takes a little intention, knowledge, and sharing to reclaim the wise stewardship of them. Exercising seed sovereignty yourself, or supporting others in doing so, can be a profound act that can shape the future of how we feed ourselves and increase food security. It’s hard to argue with the benefits of a free and open seed system.
Better Food Quality
When we’re not concerned about selecting plans for uniformity or transportability, we’re free to choose them for flavour, nutritional value, and beauty. Eating local foods in season also keeps us connected to the earth’s natural cycles.
Most heirloom food varieties have a story attached to them, sometimes even from our own ancestors, and it’s meaningful to be a part of that. Plus, locally saved seeds can be accessed by community members through the sharing and trading of seeds. By choosing the healthiest looking fruits and vegetables to save and share seeds from, you help to continue to propagate the most viable seeds for the following year.
What About Flowers?
Saving the seeds of flowers also plays an important role in supporting biodiversity. Flowers will attract pollinators that are necessary for some plants to pollinate. In Canada, there are over 1000 pollinator species, including bees, butterflies, wasps, flies, beetles, and birds. In Ontario there are over 400 bee species! Thanks to their existence, we harvest thousands of crops such as apples, pears, cucumbers, melons, berries, every year.
However, pollinator species have been experiencing significant decline since 2006 due to climate change, pesticide use and the introduction of non-native honey bees in North America. As a consequence, many other animals and plants have been affected by the change, putting the entire ecosystem in an alarming situation. Without pollinators, wild animals will suffer from loss of habitat, pests and diseases, pesticides, invasive species and climate change. In addition, the amount of food and plant products we enjoy may significantly decline.
Invasive vs Native Plants
When it comes to growing flowers, it is important to keep in mind that selecting native plants has much better benefits to the local ecosystem than non-native or invasive plants. Invasive plants can have negative impacts on native biodiversity by alternating existing ecosystems. In contrast, native plants support diversity of wildlife, including pollinators, by organically cooperating with native soil and climate. Native species are also adapted to local growing conditions and tend to need less water and fertilizer than non native species. Invasive species such as Dog Strangling Vine, Garlic Mustard, Japanese Knotweed and Common Buckthorn have had a significant impact on both local gardens, farmland and forests. Crowding out native plants, changing the soil composition and providing no food for local animals are some of the key issues with invasive species. Ensuring that you only plant non invasive plants in your garden can help ensure the viability of native plants and pollinators in the future.
Growing native flowers and saving & sharing the seeds will create a neighbourhood with a favorable environment for all kinds of pollinators that are necessary for our clean, fair and sustainable food system.
Tips to Practice Seed Sovereignty
- Purchase open-pollinated seeds from small local seed companies.
- Save some of your own seeds from year to year. Donate extras to your local seed library!
- Collect seeds from thriving native plants in the wild.
- Seek out heirloom vegetables from your local farmers market, and ask for them if they’re not available.
Tips for Donating Seeds
- Clearly label your seed packages with the type of plant and variety. Example: French Marigold or Yellow Pear Tomato
- Include the year the seeds were harvested so others will know how old they are.
- If possible, portion your seeds out into small packages that make them easy to share.
- If you know the ideal growing conditions, include those details on the package too.
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