Saving Seeds – As if our lives depend on it. ~ Dan Jason
Sharon Neufeld opened Seedy Saturday on April 14 with a presentation on seed saving.
“My family came to Clearwater in the 1950s and I was raised from the soil,” Sharon told the audience. “We would save and can our food for the whole year.”
“Our ancestors treasured their seeds as their life line,” she said. They saved their seeds and they would share them freely. Survival of people was linked together. It was not competitive. Saving seeds was a human right and seeds could not be owned.
In the 1980s the government gave seed saving to the big companies for profit, something that has greatly affected diversity and farming.
The statistics are frightening. During the Great Depression in the 1930s, 46 per cent of the population was involved in agriculture. Now, only one per cent of the population grows food and 75 per cent of them work for big companies growing only one type of crop – mostly from genetically modified seeds, a practice that has not only greatly affected us but also the bees.
Bees can only eat and cross-pollinate crops once a year. This has become increasingly harder when, for example, the only crop grown on 600,000 acres is almonds. As a result the bees are being moved around in trucks, which is hard on the bee population. Also, bees are extremely sensitive to the pesticides that have to be used on genetically modified crops.
Fortunately, in recent years people are slowly reclaiming seed saving as their basic human right and the government is stepping up to save seeds through seed banks. Upon request the seed banks will send you a package with seeds that you can grow for them so diversity is encouraged.
“The importance of moving seeds around is that diversity is maintained,” Sharon said. “This diversity allows the farmer to maximize output under the varied conditions of climate, slope, soil, altitude, fertility, water availability and water temperature.”
Diversity is needed to ensure our survival. The great famines in history, such as the Irish potato famine, usually occurred when people relied on monoculture.
The promises of genetically modified seeds (i.e. growing more food with more disease and drought resistant crops) have not come true. The dangers of genetically modified foods are the loss of diversity, extremely invasive super weeds, and potential health problems for people. Because of patenting of genetically modified seeds, the farmers are not allowed to save their seeds anymore. Farmers from neighboring farms face big fines when genetically modified seeds are found in their crops. When these plants get away in nature – which is unavoidable – changes to the natural power system occur.
“It is dangerous and wrong because we do not know what effects this will have on the environment,” Neufeld said. “We need to ensure health and environmental safety.”
The message from Sharon Neufeld is that we need to be growing our own food and if we are unable to do so, buying organically grown produces is the better choice. However, this is still oil driven. We also need to pay farmers a good wage and to have Seedy Saturdays.
There is an urgency to act as our climates are shifting rapidly. Neufeld has noticed the climate changing in her own backyard.
“So how do we save ourselves?” she asked. “One of the answers is by knowing the difference between hybrids, F1, perennial, annual species, recognizing a non-conforming plant and knowing how to save seeds.”
Seeds don’t live forever. An experiment testing seeds stored for 70 year in a seed bank was done to see which ones would still grow into a plant. The only species that did was mullen. All the others turned out to be worthless.
Sharon Neufeld ended her presentation with how to ensure purity of seeds, how to pick the plants to save the seeds from, and how to save, dry, and store seeds. She also emphasized the importance of determining the germination rate of one’s seeds. She reminded everyone, “Label, label, label, because all seeds look the same.”
With the newly acquired seed saving knowledge in mind the audience went on to enjoy Seedy Saturday and to what promises to be an interesting new growing season.