Emerging ‘food security’ discussions have increasingly focused on ways to support small scale farming, home gardening endeavors, and on creating avenues for localized distribution of food products. Making changes to existing zoning and health laws that hamper these efforts are also important components now being considered in municipalities across the country. Perhaps the most critical aspect for localizing food and addressing food security, however, is having access to high quality, clean and diverse seed stock.
Every year, more and more cultivar varieties of seed ill suited for the global marketplace are being cast aside in favor of a limited number that ‘fit the bill.’ Smaller seed companies that sell heirloom and older established varieties for localized markets are being bought up by larger companies with little interest in maintaining bio-diverse, highly nutritious varieties, instead focusing on those that can be shipped and that have a relatively long shelf life. This trend is alarming.
In a localized food economy, a small farmer or home gardener can take advantage of literally thousands of varieties that would not necessarily do well on a large scale farm. Many of these ‘heirloom’ and heritage varieties provide superior nutrient content and flavor to their big market counterparts. So, the disappearance of those small businesses and farmers that have traditionally provided localized or native seed stock does not bode well for those seeking to increase the food security of a particular region.
Saving seed from varieties that grow best in one’s bio-region and provide great nutrition is the best way for groups and individuals to maintain access to these crops.
Creating localized seed stock is important, cutting edge work. Growing and selecting the best specimens for seed stock and then nurturing them to a successful maturation will generally yield high quality seeds. Some varieties are easier to save seed from than others, but it’s not rocket science. It’s possible to become proficient at saving many types of seeds. Learning from experienced seed savers is an important asset in any community, and with national and international debates raging over seed patents, ‘ownership’ of seed stock by multinational corporations, and the future of farming in an era of climate change, the time to learn this important skill is now.
The Seed Saving Guild of Santa Barbara, a program of the Foodbank of Santa Barbara County, is a newly formed effort dedicated to the promotion of locally sourced seed stock. Santa Barbara is fortunate to have a formidable cohort of seed saving experts such as Marshall Chrostowski, Larry Saltzman and Jerry Sortommae. The Santa Barbara Seed Saving Guild will provide working demonstration sites at Pacifica Graduate Institute, Mesa Harmony Project, Fairview Gardens and the Huerta Project that will not only yield quality seed stock but also provide hands-on learning opportunities for the entire Santa Barbara community.
For those in Santa Barbara, a workshop will be held Saturday, February 23, from 3-5 at Mesa Harmony Garden. We will be planting varieties of heirloom lettuce. Everyone is welcome to attend. Plan to get down and dirty and volunteer to help with the on-going growing efforts. It’s all free of charge.
For those outside of Santa Barbara or California, Seed Savers Exchange is a non-profit organization based in Iowa dedicated to saving and sharing heirloom seeds, and serves as a great resource for those looking for additional information. Native Seed Search out of Arizona is another great resource focusing on the cultivars from the southwestern region of the United States, including Northern Mexico.
For more information, contact me at email@example.com. Let’s get growing!!
-Oscar Carmona, guest contributor
Oscar Carmona, owner and operator of Healing Grounds Nursery, has spent the last 25 years helping connect people, plants, and the planet. He has taught sustainable landscape courses, gardening classes and home consultation for better living throughout California. He also manages food education programs for the Foodbank of Santa Barbara County.