The Comox Valley Seed Bank – A CVGSS Project

[important]Why do we need a Seed Bank?[/important]

A display of various small sealed plastic boxes, hand labelled, with precious seeds inside; a blue binder, and a few beans sprinkled on a persian carpet

Comox Valley Seed Bank, January 2013

If we had been asking this question ten years or so ago, when Seedy Saturday was a new event here in the Comox Valley, some of the answers would be different than they are today.

Some would be the same:  growing heritage seeds and saving them for the next year, sharing them with other gardeners – this helps to maintain the biodiversity of plant varieties.  Biodiversity has plummeted in the last 50 years with industrial agriculture.  Over the last 100 years, we have lost 96% of commercial vegetable varieties.  Industrial agriculture requires mono-culture plantings, to enable machinery to fertilize and apply pesticide, and to harvest and transport. The percentage of people gardening and saving their own seeds has also dropped over this time, although there is more interest in recent years.  Gardeners have kept alive many of the old varieties, selected them for certain advantageous traits, and shared them with other gardeners.

These seeds are called Heritage, Heirloom, or non-hybridized seeds.  When they are planted, they grow true.  Their popularity is increasing, because they are intriguing, tasty, different, and it is satisfying to keep them alive.  They are also free.  CVGSS members have been encouraging more people to grow and save these seeds.

But since Seedy Saturday began here, there have been some very serious changes to local food security, and food production.  Large corporations realised early on that control over seeds was key to domination of food supplies.  Dozens of small seed companies have been bought up as Monsanto and DuPont compete for market supremacy.  Monsanto now sells 27% of total seed sales worldwide.  A huge part of their strategy is to promote Genetically Modified seeds and seduce farmers into committing to using them, along with pesticides.  Local food security is also endangered by economic breakdown, environmental destruction, and climate change.

One of the key elements to a healthy local food situation is a Seed Bank.  Seed Sovereignty means that seeds should stay in the public domain, and permit grass-roots preservation of our seed heritage.

Just after Seedy Saturday in March this year (2012), a group of about 15 people met to talk about starting a Community Seed Bank in the Comox Valley.  Some people in the group had been saving seeds through CVGSS for several years and had built up a wealth of knowledge and experience.  Others were fairly new to saving seeds but curious about the idea of a seed bank and what that would entail.  We agreed also that the increased level of threat to seed sovereignty and the need for locally grown seeds that could adapt to changes in climate, called for a stricter scientific approach and a wider level of understanding of seed saving than many of us had been practising up to now.

Since our beginnings in March, the Seed Bank Team has accomplished a number of steps towards setting up a structure that will give us good guidelines and protocols for keeping records: a mentoring system, a list of resources, and networking with the wider scene of community seed-saving on the Island.  We have also planted, grown and saved our first batch of seeds, and we are about to store and label them.  All of this took a lot of discussion of course, and many great suggestions were shared and taken up.  We could see clearly that being a member of the team, contributing seeds each year and keeping good records of them, required commitment.  We are discovering how we can approach seed-saving scientifically while working with the limitations of back yards or small acreages.

Our goal at this stage  is to establish a Living Seed Bank and gradually build it up,  increasing the number of seed savers and the varieties of seeds.  Every year, we will grow out some of the seeds we saved the year before, and see how they perform with each season’s conditions.  It is an organic process, in every sense of the word!

If you are considering starting a Community Seed Bank in your area, we would be happy to share our experience so far, the procedures and forms we have developed, and any other help.

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