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BC Seed Gathering 2018

in 2018/Current Issue/Organic Community/Seeds/Winter 2018

Uniting Community, Spurring Plans for Action

Shauna MacKinnon

The BC Seed Gathering is not your typical conference. The foundation of the event is a deep commitment to responding to community needs and providing a place for experienced and new seed growers to come together to learn, network and strategize together. The Gatherings are a connection point and forum to discuss what is needed to propel BC seed systems forward.

At the 2012 Gathering plans for the BC Eco Seed Co-op were hatched. The Co-op was launched at the 2014 Gathering and 2017 offered an opportunity to keep building the momentum. The Gathering participants were ready to do just that—the energy and enthusiasm in the room on Friday evening for the official opening was incredible! Perhaps people were already buoyed by conversations during the field tour of the BC Seed Trials at UBC Farm or in the afternoon BC Eco Seed Co-op, Community Seed Organizers, and research focus group sessions. Or maybe folks were just happy to have a chance to relax and connect after a long season. Regardless, the positive energy of the participants set the stage for a productive and inspiring event.


The official opening began with remarks by Kwantlen Polytechnic University’s Elder in Residence Lekeyten and Kwantlen First Nation’s Education Coordinator Cheryl Gabriel, who set the tone by emphasizing the importance of seed work to future generations.

Dr. Michael Bomford, a professor in the Sustainable Agriculture & Food Systems at KPU, Dr. Hannah Wittman, Academic Director of the Centre for Sustainable Food Systems at UBC, Harold Steves, Richmond’s longest standing city councillor, and Arif Lalani, the Assistant Deputy Minister for the BC Ministry of Agriculture each spoke on Friday evening. The common theme shared by these speakers was their interest in supporting the BC seed sector and vision for how seed can and should be the foundation of sustainable agriculture in BC.

What set this year’s Gathering apart from past events was this unprecedented level of support from multiple academic institutions and the Ministry of Agriculture. “My goal is clear—I want to help create opportunities for BC farmers and food producers and this includes seed producers,” said Agriculture Minister Lana Popham. “As a former farmer myself, I know how important the BC seed sector is to BC agriculture. I want to thank our seed growers for the important role they have in ensuring we have food on our tables and jobs in our communities.”

New Assets for the Seed Community

KPU has long supported the BC Seed Gathering as the co-host for all three events. This year, support ratcheted up a notch with the unveiling of the new KPU Seed Lab and introduction of the Garden City Lands where variety trials for seed will take place. These facilities will be put to use to further KPU’s commitment to providing post-secondary education, extension programming and research focused on fostering a sustainable, regional food system. These new assets were developed in response to several years of consulting with partners to identify priorities for research and teaching programs. Research support for the growing organic seed sector was consistently identified as a priority and an appropriate seed testing facility focused on vegetable seeds was a gap that KPU knew they could fill.

The Seed Lab and variety trials at the Garden City Lands are part of KPU’s vision of organic seed production becoming an important component of the agricultural landscape, providing exciting opportunities for growers to have a broad impact on seed diversity and quality.

Similarly, UBC and FarmFolk CityFolk have partnered to deliver the BC Seed Trials where over 25 participating farmers have conducted variety trials on their own farms along with the primary research site at UBC. The BC Seed Trials offer opportunities to strengthen farmers’ skills in trialing crops while also providing much needed data on how bioregionally produced seed performs in comparison to commercial varieties. Ultimately, the trials will help determine which varieties are the best candidates for further breeding and seed production. This project has increased UBC’s interaction with the seed community and laid the groundwork for more research in the future.

Skills Sharing

The participants themselves are a huge part of the draw of the BC Seed Gathering. Over 100 seed-loving folks gathered together this year from as far away as Smithers, Moberly Lake, and the Kootenays. Getting the perspective on seed from these communities enriched the conversation about what resilient BC seed systems really mean. Any Canadian seed event should include conversations about the challenges of growing seed in mountainous or northern climates and the value of dedicating a seed library exclusively to seeds with short days to maturation and cold hardy plants.

The Gathering featured over 25 presenters, each bringing their own unique experience and deep knowledge of their subject area to share with participants. Keynote speakers Steve Peters (part of the staff team for Organic Seed Alliance in California) and Dan Brisebois (founding member of the Tourne-Sol Co-operative in Quebec) shared their perspectives on the potential of open-pollinated seeds to outperform hybrids and how to improve the business side of growing seed. BC speakers included Mel Sylvestre from UBC Farm on how to integrate seed into your vegetable production, Rupert Adams on growing seed for medicinal plants, and Vanessa Adams on growing seed and propagating native plants for habitat restoration. Many of the presentations and session notes can be downloaded at: bcseeds.org/gathering

Community Seed Advocates Connect

A true highlight of the Gathering was the number of Seedy Saturday and Seed Library organizers that participated. The “community stream” started on Friday afternoon with a strategy meeting and continued with a full day of programming on Saturday. By the final session on Saturday community organizers wrapped up their time together by identifying 11 action points to increase the collaboration and connection between community initiatives and concrete steps to support more resilient seed systems. You can view the 11 steps at:
bcseeds.org/gathering

What’s Next

The format of the Gathering socials and sessions were designed to generate feedback in the form of individual written portraits, flip charts, and evaluation forms. As we continue to build and shape the BC Seeds program at FarmFolk CityFolk we will be putting all of this information to good use. One thing that came up again and again is the request for more regional Gatherings, training, and networking opportunities. We heard you! Stay tuned for expanded regional training opportunities in 2018.

A big thank you to our co-host KPU, our many sponsors, volunteers, and Gathering Advisory Committee members—without you the event would not have been possible!


KPU Seed Lab

KPU secured funding support from the Canada Foundation for Innovation and the BC Knowledge Development Fund to establish a Seed Testing Lab and Research Farm at their Richmond campus. The lab is currently under construction and will have equipment such as growth chambers for germination tests, optical seed sorters, seed driers, density sorters, and gravity sorters. The research farm will provide a site where variety trials, new crop development research and production systems research can be carried out. The type of research and services the lab can provide will assist in the development of performance metrics and research-based best management practices for seed production in BC to ensure and enhance the quality and diversity of seeds offered. The lab is expected to be operational by Spring 2018 with the aim to begin conducting analysis on 2018 crops. Growers and retailers can connect with KPU to let them know how they can best be supported. For further information contact Rebecca Harbut: Rebecca.Harbut@kpu.ca


Shauna MacKinnon has been working on food issues for over a decade, from running environmental campaigns to holding the position of BC outpost for the Canada Organic Trade Association. She recently joined the BC Seed Security Program, a collaboration between the Bauta Family Initiative on Canadian Seed Security and FarmFolk CityFolk.

All photos: Michael Marrapese

BC Eco-Seed Coop: Seeding the Future

in 2018/Crop Production/Current Issue/Grow Organic/Seeds/Winter 2018

Meagan Curtis

As a physical embodiment of the next generation, seeds compel us to respect the concept of intergenerational justice also known as the seventh-generation principle followed by many First Nations in Canada. To achieve this, agriculture is practiced in a precautionary manner so that harm is prevented to our crops, the seeds they bare, and the soil they grow in whenever possible—especially when evidence regarding the effects of other potential practices is unclear or unavailable. A precautionary approach ensures that future generations are cared for and that intergenerational justice is upheld so that these generations can reach their full potential.

The principle of care and precautionary principle are embodied in the BC Ecological Seed Co-op’s (BCESC) commitment to open pollinated varieties that are ecologically grown, GE-free, and held in the public domain, emphasizing our belief in the democratization of seed (‘open source’ seed). The essentially co-operative nature of the BCESC relates to the principle of care in multiple ways.

At the heart of the co-operative model are values of self-responsibility, democracy, equality, solidarity, openness, and social responsibility. These values contribute to the realization of the principle of care as well as offer an alternative approach to agricultural practices that are premised on the manipulation and exploitation of land and plants.

These values also inform how we envision the natural world and its inherent regenerative capabilities. Rather than modernizing seed with reductionist scientific technologies or practices, the principle of care appears to lead to an approach that is instead both humble and cautious so as not to potentially produce deleterious consequences to seed diversity and health for the next generation. Instead of capitalizing on potential gains through the reduction and commodification of natural diversity, this principle instead positions seed growers as guardians of nature who act with respect for the future while utilizing wisdom from the past.

Photo credit: Michael Marrapese

Although the principle of care may not be commonly applied in many contemporary decision-making processes, it is inherent in the historical art and science of seed saving. The BCESC works with this principle to address a challenge that BC farmers face yearly—the lack of reliable access to good quality seed for the varieties they desire. Most organic farmers in the province still rely on conventionally produced seed for at least part of their operation. BCESC hopes that their collective knowledge and work may give farmers another option and begin to address the deep philosophical questions in agriculture that society faces and that we live out every season on our farms.

For more information about the BC Eco Seed Co-op find them at www.bcecoseedcoop.com.


Meagan Curtis is working on developing farmland in British Columbia and is interested in the gaps between our practices and ethics and the possible ways we may make these gaps narrower. 

All photos: BC Eco-Seed Coop unless otherwise noted

References

www.cela.ca/collections/pollution/precautionary-principle

www.slvrec.com/content/7-cooperative-principles

The BC Seed Trials

in Crop Production/Fall 2016/Seeds
BC Seed Trials Field Day in Chilliwack

Shauna MacKinnon

Scaling Up Ecological Seed Production

British Columbia is home to a vegetable industry worth $2.8 billion annually, but nearly every seed planted to grow those veggies is produced outside of Canada. While local, organic vegetable production is on the upswing, seed production is lagging. That may not appear to be a problem when browsing through a thick seed catalogue, but behind the seeming abundance of seed available there is a narrowing of diversity and neglect of varieties that perform well under organic or non-industrial agricultural practices.

The Bauta Family Initiative on Canadian Seed Security was initiated four years ago with a mission to conserve and advance seed biodiversity, keep seed in the public domain, and promote ecological seed production. In BC, passionate seed growers have long been at work in support of these same ideals, but the lack of commercial-scale seed production still prevented most BC farmers from using BC seed in their market operations. To fill this gap, the Bauta Initiative, carried out by FarmFolk CityFolk in BC, is focusing on increasing the quality, quantity and diversity of ecologically grown BC seed.

Inspecting golden beets at UBC Farm
Inspecting golden beets at UBC Farm Photo: Chris Thoreau

We do not need to look far for inspiration. Just over the border, Washington State has a well-established and very profitable seed production industry. Like the coastal areas of BC, Washington’s cool valleys west of the Cascades are one of the best areas in the world to grow seed for cool weather crops like spinach, beets, and brassicas.

❥ Washington state’s Brassica vegetable seed crops gross from $1,500 to over $6,500 per acre (1)
❥ Washington growers earn over $5 million on beet seed crop alone (2)
❥ The vegetable seed industry is a significant contributor to the diversity and economic viability of Washington state’s agricultural community

Going from a small number of experienced seed growers producing seed for backyard gardeners to seed production for commercial growers is not a simple transition. The BC Seed Trials project is helping to facilitate that transition by harnessing the passion and experience of BC seed growers and rising interest in diversifying local agricultural production to lay the foundation for a BC seed industry.

Beets in bins ready for evaluation. Credit: Alex Lyon.
Beets in bins ready for evaluation. Credit: Alex Lyon.

BC Seed Trials

If your goal is to grow seed for the best performing and regionally adapted crops, it is crucial to know which existing varieties perform best under local conditions. The BC Seed Trials project is seeking to do just that by trialing numerous varieties of beets, spinach, and kale on farms throughout BC to better understand which varieties are best suited to BC seed production. The three-year project began in early 2016 through a collaboration between the Centre for Sustainable Food Systems at UBC Farm, the Bauta Family Initiative on Canadian Seed Security, and FarmFolk CityFolk.

The project includes variety trials, seed quality tests, and field training aimed at engaging farmers in seed development. The research is participatory, which means BC vegetable farmers will be directly involved in growing and evaluating the crops. Academics and farmers will be working together to help identify varieties that perform best in local conditions and are good candidates for local seed production.

The first year is off to a strong start with 14 farm participants primarily representing growing conditions in the Lower Mainland and on Vancouver Island. BC Seed Trials Lead Researcher, Alexander Lyon, along with UBC Farm Seed Hub Coordinator, Mel Sylvestre, are overseeing the organic “mother” site at UBC Farm, where a full set of trial varieties (in triple replicates) will be grown, while Renee Prasad from the University of the Fraser Valley is coordinating growing efforts at Wisbey Farm in Chilliwack, the BC Seed Trials conventional “mother” site.

Mel & Alex evaluating beets at UBC Farm. Credits: Chris Thorea
Mel & Alex evaluating beets at UBC Farm. Credits: Chris Thoreau

The “baby” sites on participating farms are trialing a sub-set of beet, spinach, and kale varieties. Each participating farmer observes and records how well each variety grows (germination, vigour, presence of disease, pest damage) and the quality of the harvestable product (upright stature, uniformity, visual appeal). This information is collected and provided to the BC Seed Trials research team, which will analyze the data to determine the best performers.

At the end of three years, the BC Seed Trials will have helped to determine the best stock varieties for seed production in a number of crops that are well suited to our climate. But perhaps more importantly, a network of BC farmers will be well versed in the trial design and crop evaluation that is crucial for successful seed trials and plant breeding. These farmers will have practiced the first steps of choosing plants with the best genetics for improving varieties and growing superior seed as we work to scale up BC ecological seed production.

Golden beet evaluation. Credit: Alex Lyon.
Golden beet evaluation. Credit: Alex Lyon.

BC Eco Seed Co-op

A great complement to the BC Seed Trials in this endeavour is the BC Eco Seed Co-op. The BC Eco Seed Co-op was incorporated in 2014 in an effort to help BC seed growers scale up their seed production while marketing that seed on growers’ behalf.

The co-op allows growers to pool production and marketing resources while providing educational opportunities to growers to help them provide high-quality bulk seed to BC vegetable farmers. The BC Eco Seed Co-op represent a shift away from multiple individual seed companies selling packet seeds to backyard gardeners towards growers collectively growing bulk seed to sell to farmers.

Get Involved

If you are interested in being involved with the BC Seed Trials please get in touch as we will be expanding the number of farmers and regions involved next year. Even if you are not growing a seed trial crop you can still be a part of the research. Many of the BC Seed Trials farmers will be hosting field days this season to bring the experience and observations of the wider farming and chef communities into the research process. Join a field day and be a part of the discussion of what characteristics are most desirable for plant breeding in your area, how to select for these, and the importance of strengthening our local seed system.

Follow the research journey at the BC Seed Trials blog, on Facebook, Instagram, and Flickr.


The BC Seed Trials project is funded in part by Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada and the B.C. Ministry of Agriculture through programs delivered by the Investment Agriculture Foundation of B.C. Additional funding is provided by the Centre for Sustainable Food Systems at UBC Farm, the Bauta Family Initiative on Canadian Seed Security, and Whole Foods Market.

Shauna MacKinnon has been working on food issues for over a decade, from running environmental campaigns to holding the position of BC outpost for the Canada Organic Trade Association. She recently joined the BC Seed Security Program, a collaboration between the Bauta Family Initiative on Canadian Seed Security and FarmFolk CityFolk.

Resources:

(1) http://mtvernon.wsu.edu/path_team/EM062E.pdf

(2) http://69.93.14.225/wscpr/LibraryDocs/BeetSeed2010. pdf

Edamame: Just Add Salt

in Crop Production/Grow Organic/Winter 2016
Edamame Tohya

Sue Takarangi

North Americans are a recent converts to edamame, while our Chinese and Japanese neighbours across the Pacific have enjoyed this nutrient rich food for centuries. Edamame means “beans on a branch,” and unlike other soybeans they were adapted to be harvested when the seeds are green and plump – perfect for enjoying freshly steamed and sprinkled with salt.

This year, West Coast Seeds experimented with growing several varieties of non-GMO edamame varieties from Japan. They were direct seeded in late May at our location in Delta. The only attention the plants received was a watering once a week during our heat wave. In late August after walking past the plants many times, we finally parted the leaves and were surprised to find cascades of beans hanging from the branches.

The edamame are harvested by cutting the stalks of the plant, and they can be sold at market by the branch, much like those impressive stalks of Brussels sprouts. This makes harvesting a breeze and also ensures a fresh product for the customer.

Edamame is riding a wave of popularity in North America, driven by the popularity of sushi and a growing focus on health. Start a conversation at your Farmers Market with a table piled high with edamame stalks. After all, the frozen offerings found in grocery stores are no match for the sweet, buttery texture and flavour of the fresh beans.


Sue Takarangi is a customer service representative with West Coast Seeds. She has 15 years experience with organic growing.

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