Before the relatively recent advent of commercial seed production and distribution, farmers and growers freely saved and then shared or traded seeds from their crops with each other from season to season. These practices help to ensure the viability of seed stocks by promoting biodiversity, to preserve landrace varieties and are also an important part of human culture. Commercialisation and commodification of seeds now threatens these practices by discouraging (in some cases legally preventing) farmers or growers from saving seeds and requiring that new, commercially owned, seed be purchased from year to year. This commercialisation can create a relationship of financial dependence for farmers and growers which can be crippling in some circumstances. The genetic information in heirloom varieties is not exclusively owned or controlled by anyone and by growing, saving and sharing heirloom varieties, we can help to keep seeds freely available for anyone to grow and save.
Some good reasons for saving your own seed:
Saved seeds are suited to local conditions as they are sourced and swapped locally, this also means the seed is often fresher.
By continuously selecting the best plants to save seed from we promote strains suitable to our region, and possibly even create some local varieties.
Local seed saving can help to stop the erosion of our food crop diversity and increase the genetic base. Varieties of food crops are shrinking. In the last century 75% of garden varieties disappeared as fewer and fewer people grow and collect their own food and seed.
Large seed corporations produce ‘one size fits all’ seeds often grown in countries where the labour is cheap rather than in environments similar to our own.
Another threat to biodiversity is the patenting of plants by the Plant Breeders Rights Act (PBRs). Here plants are bred and the result patented and grown on a massive scale. The resilience automatically available in a more diverse system of food production becomes at risk as food biodiversity is reduced. The Irish Potato Famine is an example of the kinds of disaster that kind strike when all our ‘eggs’ are in one basket.
Farmers used to collect their own seed with many locally adapted varieties all over the world, now because of many pressures they have become dependent on seed companies.
Exchanging knowledge, swapping seed and feeling more self-reliant as a community is enriching, and eating fresh locally grown food is a delicious and healthy pleasure.
And it’s fun!
Contributors: Arian McVeigh, Bega Valley Seed Savers