Find here various tidbits that may be of interest to a growing gardening community, items related specifically to growing food, preserving food, stewarding seed, and living sustainably.
News From Silicon Valley
The once agriculturally rich Valley of Heart’s Delight has had its attention turned to the more high-tech aspects of our lives, and that’s been the case for some time now. But recently, there’s been a renewed interest in agriculture, this time with an eye toward helping farmers make the most of the land resources they work with. According to a recent Wall Street Journal article, farmers are looking to Silicon Valley for help with their adoption of “precision agriculture” methods, techniques that offer the promise of lowered production costs and better output levels.
A case in point: Freight Farms‘ repurposing of shipping containers (outfitted with a variety of LED lights, sensors, and hydroponic systems for the purpose of producing lettuce and herbs), which have begun appearing in vacant lots and alleys here and there. The sealed containers apparently yield about 500 full heads of lettuce a week, year-round — even when used in chilly locations like Minnesota and Canada (where some 25 units now operate).
So a reminder: the seed of a great idea is just as important as the seed of an heirloom plant. Recognizing this, we applaud the introduction and growth of the Freight Farms idea, and innovative technologies like it.
News From California
An effort is under way to get California added to the list of states which allow unfettered sharing of seed. This is in direct response to the recent actions of large seed suppliers to control public access to seeds by preventing seed sharing. Understand that for much of our history as a nation, seeds and their distribution were considered to be part of the public commons; the idea of someone being able to manipulate and lay claim to certain traits of those food plants on which we depend, and thereby attempt to control our very access to the seed produced by those plants, was so foreign, it was downright inconceivable. Unfortunately, not enough people were paying attention to what was happening, and nobody noticed the slippery slope on which we found ourselves.
According to a recent report by the people at Mother Earth News, a number of states have laws on the books requiring gardeners to obtain a permit to share their seed and, even more problematic, requiring “proper” labeling and testing of shared seed. While this makes perfect sense when applied to commercial operations, it’s clearly overkill applied to individual citizens. Some states have actually included “giving away” in their definition of “selling”. For the small-time gardener, informal swapping of seed, whether done person-to-person or as a participant in a local seed library, remains an essential component of the community aspect of gardening.
We are happy to report that things have slowly begun to change. Why this change? During the summer of 2014, things began to come to a head by way of the Simpson Public Library in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania, where a librarian was notified by the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture that the seed library she maintained needed to comply with Pennsylvania’s 2004 Seed Act, a piece of legislation regulating the sale and distribution of seed. The result? A firestorm of attention and activities. Gardening communities across the country have begun to organize and push back. Nowhere will the results of these activities be felt more strongly than right here in agricultural California, a state which according to one recent article produces 84% of the fresh peaches, 94% of the fresh plums, 99% of the artichokes, 94% of the broccoli, and over 50% of the asparagus grown in the United States. (And that’s just for starters…).
News From The Union
In a recent 2014 seed report put out by a team of folks at the Rights of the Mother Earth / Defense of the Commons Workgroup of the U.S. Food Sovereignty Alliance, we are afforded a glimpse into where we stand with respect to today’s seed saving activities.
One surprising thing being reported? Some 27% of respondents indicate that they do not save seed. Of those that do, a variety of factors contribute to why they do so, including:
- Crop health and success/productivity;
- High quality seeds within a crop, determined by shape, size, color, weight;
- Heirloom origin;
- Hardiness of the plant, including adaptation to climate change and disease-resistance;
- Adaptation to the local area;
- Taste and nutrition of produce;
- Rarity/biodiversity/unique varieties, and re-establishing endangered native species;
- Ease of saving the seed;
- How expensive the seed would be to purchase, compared to other seeds;
- Culture/origin/story of the seeds;
- Ability of the plant to attract pollinators and provide habitat for wildlife;
- Accessibility (saving seed that is hard to find in a store);
- Sustaining gardens and farms for the future;
In a recent NPR article, longtime seed preservationist John Coykendall talks about the importance of the various seed saving activities taking place across the country. We hope to see (and be instrumental in encouraging) a growing number of seed saving activities.