Sunday, 6 February 2011

Seedy Sunday

The start of the Strebergarten planting season was marked today by my first visit to Seedy Sunday at Hove Town Hall.

Launched 10 years ago as a way for gardeners in and around Brighton and Hove to swap seeds not listed on the National Seed Lists, it has become an important fixture on the East Sussex horticultural Calendar.

As well as the seeds available for swapping ( for your own seeds or for a 50p donation) there were various stalls with gardening related goods for sale (bird feeders, wormeries), talks and demos (ideas for dealing with gluts, how to save seeds) and of course, the crew from Climate Connections promoting interaction between the many environmentally minded people of B&H. Some pictures of the delights on offer:

The seed packets were adorable. I bought far more than I have room for on the plot, so there will be plenty leftover for my other allotment keeping friends. Here are some of my favourite packets:

Seedy Sunday is without a doubt a fun day out for the entire family, but the importance of Seed Swapping is highlighted by the “Outlawed” stamp that each visitor has planted on their hand on their way in. The sale of seeds is so closely regulated, that it is illegal to sell any seeds not registered.

Around half of the world’s seed supply is controlled by three multinational corporations (Monsanto, DuPont and Bayer). You may know these companies better as Chemical Producers. Not only do these corporations supply chemical weedkillers to a large section of the world’s farmers, they also supply the only crops to contain a gene making them resistant to these specific pesticides. And since the creation of the WTO in 1995 made seeds liable to patent rights, the chemical giants also own these seeds, meaning it is against the law for farmers to save their seeds and forcing them to buy new batches from the same multinationals year after year.

Initially viewed by farmers as advantageous – they could spray whole fields to remove weeds and not damage their crops; the corporations claim to be feeding the growing world population by increasing the yield of crops through genetic modification. But how ethical is it to make farmers completely dependent on an outside source, and unable to sustain their own supplies of seeds? And when you factor in the dangers of soil erosion, decreased soil fertility and the need for ever increasing volumes of fertilizers (guess where these come from) due to the over cultivation of the land, the picture doesn’t appear so rosy any more.

The idea of huge corporations effectively "owning nature" is something that Caroline Spelman would likely approve of and as the threat of climate change looms, the need for farmers to have as diverse a range of crops as possible, becomes imperative. In this context, that the world food supply relies on such a small number of crops (of half a million known species, just 15 variants provide 90% of the world’s food crops) begins to seem spectacularly unwise.

The importance of seed saving only came to my attention in September, when the New Internationalist covered this subject in some detail, especially in this article by David Ransom, which has provided most of the information I mention here.

Organisations like La via Campesina - the International Peasant’s Movement, and, campaign for community-controlled and decentralized food production in their mission to defend the way of life for farming communities around the world.

And community Seed Swaps, by encouraging people to keep swapping seeds and by increasing awareness of the unjust system, allow us to continue growing all the magnificent varieties of flowers, and fruit, and vegetables, that this planet has to offer.

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