Last weekend was a watershed moment in the Eastern Canadian organic seedscape. A hundred or so seed growers, seed savers, farmers, gardeners, seed, seed sellers, seed buyers, academics, students, NGOs, and some folks who’d never even gardened met at Seed Connections 2012 in Ste-Anne-de-Bellevue.
Frank Morton (from Wild Garden Seeds in Philomath, Oregon) opened the event demonstrating where seeds come from and how we can create our own genetic future in farming.
With a slide show of the Wild Garden fields and crops, Frank illustrated all the potentials when farmers save their own seed. How with selection and some cross-pollination, farmers can dramatically adapt and improve varieties to their needs. And though farmers can do this alone, teaming up with a plant breeder can bring these varieties even further.
A number of the more experienced seed growers had come to this event specifically to hear Frank Morton and he delivered but the conference did not stop there …
Over the weekend a number of topics were covered. Some technical such as pollinators, seedborne disease, herb and flower seed production. Others addressed seed business management. A few sessions dabbled in both.
You can hear two interviews from the Seed Connections conference on CKUT’s Ecolibrium: Rowen White about her seed work (starts at 7 min 50 sec) and Kim Fellows about pollination (starts at 25 min.)
What really impressed me was the high caliber of presentation and discussion. Experienced seed growers and established seed companies were exchanging on the nuts and bolts of seed growing, seed breeding, and seed business. And even though some participants had limited seed experience, they were still welcome to be part of the discussion and did contribute to the discussion.
Rowen White wrapped the event up speaking about the seed wisdom of the Iroquois people. Rowen is from the Mohawk community of Akwesasne, curates an extensive collection of rare northeast native seeds, and is co-founder of the Sierra Seeds cooperative in California. (Rowen is also the author of Breeding Organic Vegetables – you can read my review.)
Rowen spoke about a number of different Mohawk varieties of corn and beans collected them from older members of the community, and how the cultural memory banking of these seed stories was just as important as saving the seeds.
These varieties were not always present in the Northeast. Corn first arrived 1200 years ago. Some varieties were brought with the Tuscarora people from North Carolina in the early 1700s. And other varieties might have been from commercial catalogs at some time in the last century but have subsequently been saved in gardens.
Independent of their origin these varieties have been selected over cycles of seed saving for short season, polyculture planting, certain storage straits (such as corn braiding), disease resistance, cold soil emergence, and different cultural connections. Rowen emphasized how this current diversity exists because farmers were willing to go in the field and mix it up. Seeds are dynamic, humans are dynamic, and the earth is dynamic.
Rowen stated that the work Frank Morton proposed is the work our agricultural ancestors have always done – adapting seeds to a place and to a people for growing characteristics, for culinary characteristics, and for aesthetics.
If you missed this event, don’t worry, we’re already planning the next Seed Connections for fall 2014 (likely in Ste-Anne-de-Bellevue again). Stay tuned for more details …