Save Seeds!

Posted by Alex Fletcher on July 16, 2014

By By Shannon Jones.

There is an exciting new initiative happening across Canada right now! It’s called The Bauta Family Initiative on Canadian Seed Security. All across Canada, there are Regional Seed Coordinators helping farmers increase their seed security through on-the-ground projects, trials, and funding opportunities. To find out who your Regional Seed Coordinator is, go here.

The Regional Seed Coordinator in Atlantic Canada is Steph Hughes. I thought it would be fun to interview Steph to learn more about the Bauta Initiative.

Here goes:

So, Steph, what is The Bauta Family Initiative on Seed Security and who started it? When? And why?

This initiative is a national program. Its aim is to support farmers (and others) to increase the quality, quantity, and diversity of seed that’s ecologically produced, and regionally adapted in Canada. It was launched in February 2013, after a “pilot year” of research and consultation led by USC Canada.  We work in five major program areas: (1) farmer support, which includes training, market development and funding opportunities; (2) applied research, which includes our major participatory plant breeding project; (3) public access to seed, which includes work and funding to support emerging seed libraries; (4) an online seed service; and (5) movement building, which is the fundamental work of ensuring that everything we do has staying power. By grounding our work in the grassroots, and achieving it through meaningful partnerships, it becomes owned by the community and sustainable in the long term.

The program is generously funded by  The W. Garfield Weston Foundation and led nationally by USC Canada and Seeds of Diversity Canada, organizations that have decades of experience working with seed and supporting communities that are building seed security. Regionally, the program is “hosted” by different organizations. In Atlantic Canada, that’s ACORN. This structure ensures that the program is adaptable and responsive to community needs, while working towards the same national goals.

What got you interested in seed issues, personally?

For a long time I’ve seen food and food sovereignty as a social justice issue. For me, it’s been the most important way to consider and address poverty, community resilience, climate change, wellness… because we all eat. So thinking about where that food comes from, what’s in it, who grew it, how much it cost, why I have access to it and others don’t… is a kind of gateway to understanding much bigger issues about the economy, the environment, and our social and political interactions (both at a household level, and on an international scale). Food, for me, is an easy symbol for security, independence, and power.

It was only in getting involved in this program that I really began to make the connection to seed. I’m embarrassed in a way to say that because it’s so obvious once you get there. But I think a lot of people in the food movement are in the same boat. Our food comes from seed – almost all of it – and if the seed comes from halfway around the world, from a climate that is completely different than our own, shipped here by the same fragile, global infrastructure that is so hotly criticized in the "local everything" movement, where does that leave us? What are our basic vulnerabilities? What can we do to address them?

Seed kind of brings the food movement home; it closes that loop.

There’s definitely awareness about some of the threats we face in our “seedscape.” You see it in social media, and all over the place really, once you know what to look for. And there are different ways of dealing with those threats. What I really love about this program is its focus on helping communities design and resource the solutions that work for them.  By connecting those communities and broadcasting their work, we are helping to build a meaningful response to those threats. It’s not going to look the same everywhere, and that’s a sign of success. That’s a strength – a diversity - worth cultivating.

What projects have happened in Atlantic Canada since you first started with Bauta?

Atlantic Canadians have shown a really inspiring enthusiasm for this work so far. There’s a real appetite for seed training all over the region.  So far, we’ve done several intermediate seed workshops with farmers and market gardeners who want to step up their seed game – really incorporate seed into their operation. We’ve done a number of field days – locally to show off our regional experts - and down to Fedco Seedhouse in Maine. That’s all been through this program.

We’ve also supported seven independent projects through the Seed Facilitation Fund. This is funding support for seed producers – small seed company owners to diversify and scale up their seed work. So, I’m really excited to see how those projects evolve. We’ve also seen quite a number of seed library projects emerge here. With support from Seeds of Diversity Canada we’re disseminating best practices manuals and doing our best to connect the various projects together so they can learn from each other.  We also had the opportunity to fund three of these projects in the Atlantic region – one each in Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, and PEI. I guess we’ve also done a lot of network building this year. I did a lot of work just finding people, introducing myself and the program, talking to them about what they do and what would be helpful. People were really generous with their time.

An Advanced Seed Production workshop that Steph organized for Cumberland County farmers, led by Seed Extension Specialist, Michelle Smith.

What projects are coming up?

This is a really exciting year! We have a couple of really interesting field projects unfolding this year. One is a seed production trial in which farmers are working with varieties of vegetable and field crops to explore whether they are viable seed crops in their area. Over the season they’re recording observations which will ultimately be available through our online seed service and, at the end of the season, they will send a seed sample to the Seeds of Diversity library in Ontario. This increases our capacity for working with seed crops, and also increasesthe data available on and access to the crop through the seed bank.

Another project is our participatory plant-breeding project, which was launched in other regions last year. This year we’re working with a few producers in the Maritimes to explore new, made-in-Canada varieties that were created from farmer feedback last year. And, we’re supporting a variety trial of hulless oats, hulless barley and quinoa in Albert County, NB. We’ll of course be offering field days and other opportunities to hear from all the folks engaged in this work once these projects are off (or in) the ground!

This is also a great year for training and networking. We have both the ACORN Conference (featuring an heirloom seeds & breeds symposium) and the bi-annual conference put on by the Eastern Canada Organic Seed Growers (ECOSGN).  So there will be lots of opportunities for learning!

What’s happening across Canada?

Things are similarly busy and awesome right across the country. This year we launched a webinar series on seed that’s proving to be really popular (go to seedsecurity.ca for details!). Seed interns are currently being recruited and hired right across the country as a way of supporting new entrants to the seed movement. In BC there’s a carrot seed project that’s entering its second year (http://www.bcseeds.org). The prairies are ramping up for a major organics conference to be held this fall (http://www.organicconnections.ca) and eastern Canada (including the Atlantic region) is looking at launching an on-farm research project with open-pollinated spinach and Chinese cabbage varieties. That’s just a taste! Go to www.seedsecurity.ca to find out who’s hosting the program across Canada and what they’re up to!

What’s your favourite part of your job?

I think with any job, what makes or breaks it are the people we work with.  I have the opportunity to work with some amazing people – here in the ACORN office, across the country with my program team, and in the field with farmers and seed savers who are really giving shape to this program in Atlantic Canada.  This work also makes me feel like I’m a small part of an important solution. I don’t think there’s anything more motivating than that.

If you were a seed, what seed would you be?

Hmm… Maybe an arugula seed? Super keen to get out there, but prone to early bolting if I don’t take some time to relax in the shade?  I don’t know… 

Shannon is an organic farmer at Broadfork Farm in River Hebert, Nova Scotia. Shannon and her partner Bryan grow mixed vegetables, cut-flowers, herbs, and some fruit. She is one of the founding members of the Cumberland County Ecological Seed Growers Network, which is supported by the Bauta Seed Initiative.  Shannon is a NFU member as well as a Board member for the Atlantic Canadian Organic Regional Network, whom she represents on the Organic Standards Revision Technical Committee.