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Why seed saving is important to Incredible Edible

By Sarah Ward

At Incredible Edible our vision is to create kind, confident and connected communities, that means that one of our core values is being local and finding local solutions to global problems.  Seed saving is a local solution to global challenges, which is why we support the Tree Council’s seed gathering season, which this year runs for one month from 23rd Sept.

In days gone by this abundant time of year, when crops are ready for harvest both in the fields and hedgerows, is also the beginning of seed saving time. Leaving a few beans on a plant to dry, peas in their pods, or processing the seeds from tomatoes or peppers, is important in order to close the loop and create sustainable food systems that support themselves as well as those benefiting from the food.

Traditionally this was important to ensure that seeds were available for the following years crops, but of course today it’s easy to just pop down to the garden centre to buy seeds, so why bother is a question that is often asked. But there are lots of reasons to collect seeds from your crops. We’ve been supporting the Tree Council’s Seed gathering season by sharing your stories.

Of course, we all live in very different areas and our climates, whilst overall being similar in the UK, can differ fairly dramatically from place to place. A hillside village in the north will, for example, have a completely different micro-climate to a southern city. Collecting seeds from your most successful crops will mean that those seeds are from plants that have done well in your micro-climate and hence are well suited to being grown in your area. And if you have one plant out of several the same which does particularly well, it’s the seed from that one which is saved. Plants often adjust to the climate in which they find themselves so a particularly successful plant needs nurturing and the seeds saving for future successful harvests.

Sharing seeds is a tradition that is centuries old.  From one seed, planted in spring, comes the promise of many seeds harvested in late summer and autumn, and usually far too many for one person, or even one community garden. In times gone by crofters and market gardeners would have shared seeds and supported each other with the knowledge of what grew well or what didn’t. The seeds of highly prolific plants were much sought after, in a similar way to the seeds of, say, a giant pumpkin might be today, and the grower would have shared the seeds of such prolific plants. Today we see seed swaps supporting people in a similar way. Seed swaps help people to share their seeds, but also support new growers and gardeners by making these seeds available to them through a donation system. There’s loads of information online about how to set up a seed swap and as you will see once you have read Incredible Edible Swindon’s seed swap story, whilst they are fabulous as a place to find new varieties and plan your season’s growing, they are also a place to meet up with like-minded people and swap ideas for the season ahead.

Seed saving is also vital in the fight for food sovereignty. Food sovereignty is the right of people to healthy and culturally appropriate food produced through ecologically sound and sustainable methods, and their right to define their own food and agriculture systems. And, of course, that begins with seeds. Across the globe huge, industrial organisations are buying the rights to seeds and in some places stopping people from saving seed, and instead insisting that seed is rebought, through them, each year and prosecuting farmers where they have saved the seed themselves. This is doing huge harm to the diversity of ranges of seeds available and over the last 100 years we have lost 90% of the seeds we once had available to us as growers. By working with small scale seed producers and supporting them by saving seed and returning it to them, or sharing it with other growers, gardeners and communities, we are supporting some of those fabulous varieties that have been lost to be found and made popular again.

If you would like to know more about seed saving there are great resources at both the Heritage Seed Library, and Real Seeds, both extraordinary organisations working hard to ensure we have UK sourced, open pollinated seed available to us that is grown sustainably.  And if you’re stuck with somewhere to put your seeds, why not make up some of our Incredible Edible seed packets (sign up required).

Perhaps you have a story of how you save seeds to share with us? Not only will you be sharing your amazing story with us, but inspiring other people across the Incredible Edible network, both here in the UK and worldwide, to get involved with seeds and seed saving too! Contact us and tell us your story.