Banking on a Food Secure Future

On October 20th, I had the pleasure of attending the launch of the Atlantic Canada Seed Bank at the Dalhousie University, Truro Agricultural College Campus. The seed bank is the first in our region and it will house non-hybrid, non-GMO, locally-adapted, open-pollinated varieties of food plant seeds. It was a landmark occasion and something we should be very proud of. Huge thanks go out to all of the people whose hard work made the seed bank possible: Dr. Nancy McLean and the Dal. Ag. Campus; Steph Hughes and Michelle Smith of the Bauta Initiative on Canadian Seed Security; USC-Canada; and Seeds of Diversity Canada. Michelle Smith added to this thank-you list, our farmers and seed savers, who she referred to as ”the first agronomists”. She also acknowledged the role of immigrant communities who brought seeds with them, the Acadians, and our first nations communities, all of whom have given us important and reliable food sources, some of which the seed bank is attempting to preserve.

With the ever-increasing globalization and commodification of our food supply, and the threat of climate change, a regional seed bank has never been more important. A startling statistic from the Millennium Seed Bank Partnership (http://www.kew.org/science-conservation/millennium-seed-bank), reports that over 100,000 plant species are at risk of global extinction, which translates to a serious food security problem, requiring action at the community level. A fact published by Seeds of Diversity Canada reveals that over 75% of food biodiversity has been lost over the past century, making the available choices for feeding ourselves narrower and narrower all the time. Just as we have become dependent on food that travels long distances, the same is true of seed. We have become over-reliant on our seed being produced elsewhere, in many cases outside of Canada. We need to maintain a wide variety of our local seed to keep the ability to feed ourselves in our own hands vs. in the hands of a few multinational corporations.

If this isn’t enough good cause for conserving local seed, according to Mark Austin of USC-Canada, there are even more reasons why a regional seed bank is so important. He cited seed sovereignty, along with retaining farmer-based wisdom, empowerment of community, and even nutrition (since local varieties are often healthier to eat). Austin sees seed banks as key to a resilient and abundant, localized food system, if not key to our survival.

Above:  Mark Austin of USC-CANADA addresses the audience at the launch of the Atlantic Canada Seed Bank

Above: Mark Austin of USC-CANADA addresses the audience at the launch of the Atlantic Canada Seed Bank

The Atlantic Canada Seed Bank is being kick-started by Seeds of Diversity Canada (SoDC), who have been storing Maritime seed stock at their head office in Ontario for years, as part of their National Seed Library program (https://www.seeds.ca/diversity/seed-library). Twenty four varieties of 10 seed crops were shipped to Truro, to back up SoDC’s main collection of east coast seeds. Several more varieties will be added. Steph Hughes, Regional Coordinator for Atlantic Canada with The Bauta Initiative, said that several experienced growers are already lined up and that several more are in the process of being trained. For more information you can contact Steph at ACORN.

Resources:

Atlantic Canadian Organic Regional Network (ACORN): (http://www.acornorganic.org/)
Bauta Initiative on Canadian Seed Security: (http://www.seedsecurity.ca/en/about-us/regions/atlantic-canada)
USC Canada: (http://usc-canada.org/)

Above:  The hands of Jolene Reid, Coordinator of the Dalhousie Seed Library in Truro, sports Tiger Eye bean seeds, a variety that will be preserved at the Atlantic Canada Seed Bank.

Above: The hands of Jolene Reid, Coordinator of the Dalhousie Seed Library in Truro, sports Tiger Eye bean seeds, a variety that will be preserved at the Atlantic Canada Seed Bank.

Michelle Smith and Steph Hughes beam with pride at the Atlantic Canada Seed Bank launch.

Michelle Smith and Steph Hughes beam with pride at the Atlantic Canada Seed Bank launch.

Blog Written By: Su Morin, Ecology Action Centre Community Food Coordinator (Cumberland)

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