Monday, March 15, 2010

Seeding Time

First of all, I want to say thank you to everyone who has commented on my blog so far.  My friend Sarah, who writes a frequently hysterically funny blog about living on sailboat with my dear old friend Ari and their baby Yemaya, just posted about commenting and I realized how little appreciation I've given those of you who have commented- and I sure do appreciate it your interest in my crazy little life!

So, the heart of the matter- or perhaps the germ? 

Every year, most towns and cities host "Seedy Saturdays" where locals can buy and exchange seeds, find out about local initiatives, and emerge from winter hibernation.  It's a pretty great start to the season, and for me, it's also a reminder that it's time to get my little container garden planned and started, sign up for my Community Shared Agriculture, and prod someone (well, Leela) to organize a community garden meeting. 

This year, I missed Ottawa's since I was at the conference, and I also missed a talk at the conference about seeds from my former teacher and now friend Andrew McCann. I was a bit bummed about both, but thought I could catch up with Andrew another time, and I really wanted to learn about the Ontario Abbatoir situation, so I did.  Darn.  I'm sprawling like a pumpkin vine in the fall...

The germ of the matter is seeds.  I DID get to Kingston's Seedy Saturday this weekend, en route to visit my friend Shawn on his birthday, and after picking up some great heirloom seeds (I'll get pics up soon, I really will) from the Sisters of Providence Seed Sanctuary where my friend Cate is the main seed saver, I finally got to hear Andrew talk (and you finally see me get to the point!)- and it was worth the wait. 

He spoke really fast, for less than an hour, and packed the time with a history of our seed system (which has been pretty much privatized and working on developing seeds for industrial agriculture since the1930s), some of the research in genetic modification of seeds currently underway, some of the attempts to protect seeds and a vision of what he sees as a healthy and sustainable local seed system.  Now, a local and sustainable food system is something that has gotten a lot of thought in the last few years. I mean, people are familiar with the benefits of locally produced foods, especially when we find out more about nastiness like the salmonella in the untraceable and omnipresent hydrolyzed vegetable protein from California, but why a local seed system?

Well, as agricultural activist Vandana Shiva says, if you control the seed, you control the food.  And guess who  controls the majority of the world's seed?  If you guessed a large corporation that starts with an M and ends with an O, you're right!  And do you think it's good for their bottom line if people just plant their fields year after year with seeds that they grow themselves?  Since life is pretty amazing at just reproducing itself?  For free?  Since the hybridization of Pioneer corn in the 1930s there has been a huge industry in producing seeds for sale- seeds that can lead to higher yields of food per acre- and this has led to larger crops for quite a while.

Well it is, but you can't replant those hybrid seeds.  And now, genetic modification has allowed for the development of seeds that are tolerant of certain herbicides (specifically Roundup, produced by that same M...O corporation), and there has been a great deal of work on terminator technology- so that seeds produced by these plants are sterile, not just less productive in the second generation the way their hybrid forefathers are.  It seems to be like a breakdown of the very processes of life itself.   The UN has banned the use of terminator technology, but there is still a drive to protect the intellectual property of the seed researchers. 

Phew.  And I'm getting a sense of the size and intensity and complication of this topic.  No wonder Andrew talked so fast.

So pretty much, we have a system with nearly NOTHING new being bred in the last eighty years that is not for corporate profit. So this means:
a) no large scale organic seed breeding programs to develop higher yields in organic regimens
b) no regionally based seed developments in the last eighty years that increase agro biodiversity
c) a massive loss of earlier agricultural genetic diversity, which projects like the seed sanctuary and the Svalbard Seed Vault (two big ovaries into the permafrost) try to address
d) and the knowledge of breeding and genetics being concentrated in the for profit sector.
e) Holy crap.

So Andrew proposed some pretty interesting things.  Breeding clubs for example.  Seed farms in regional food sheds.  Linking the food system to the seed system in areas.  Having seed sanctuaries throughout.  Open source genetic information. Which blows my mind a little bit.

So this year, I ain't planting any hardware store seeds.  And I know my CSA (or maybe CSAs) is/are being careful too.  And I sort of feel like not taking a job job is keeping my own self a little more regionally grown.

Thanks for reading.

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