Our modern food system is complex because of the many hands involved in food production. Trying to find out where your food came from and how it was produced can be difficult because food is often imported or the information might not be readily available. However, the best way to ensure freshness and quality is planting your own seeds and harvesting vegetables straight from the earth.
Whether gardening happens in your own yard or a community garden, the effects are inherently positive. Gardening promotes a sense of community and exposes the gardener to sunshine, exercise and undoubtedly fresh food. Seeds are the key to growing fresh food. The empowering act of growing food allows us to take the food supply into our own hands — further empowerment comes when we save seeds to use for next year’s planting, because the gardener has control over the genetic material of the plants.
Seed saving is the act of keeping seeds from a particular plant, year after year. It preserves a species of plant and allows seed sharing. Gardeners can choose plants that grow better in specific conditions.
But private companies are developing genetically modified seeds. Because the seeds are intellectual property, the company who owns them makes anyone who buys the seeds sign a user agreement that often states that the company can veto any research published regarding the seeds. While these agreements have become the norm for farmers to purchase the seeds, the agreements limit researchers.
Scientific American published an anonymous article in 2009 which exemplifies the sort of fear people face by revealing their identity in opposition to these corporations. “When scientists are prevented from examining the raw ingredients in our nation’s food supply or from testing the plant material that covers a large portion of the country’s agricultural land, the restrictions on free inquiry become dangerous,” says the anonymous author of “A Seedy Practice.” The research community apparently has no place in multinational corporate technology because studies cannot be conducted on patented technologies without a company’s approval.
By highlighting how independent scientists are not allowed to conduct and publish research on GM seed technology, the Scientific American article shows that the effects of GM seeds are neither well researched nor time-tested, which makes them unfit for the public market.
Devlin Kuyek, senior researcher for GRAIN, a small non-profit organization that aids communities and small-scale farmers, believes that equal or better results can be obtained without GM technology or expensive chemicals.
In “Stolen Seeds,” Kuyek writes about Mel Morton who operates an organic 40-acre farm in Peterborough County, Ontario. Morton grows soybeans and cleans his seeds with a machine from the late 1800s. He uses peat moss to protect the seeds during storage. In 2002, he produced 35 bushels per acre, just above the county average of 34.9 bushels per acre. However, his production costs are half of his neighbours, who generally use expensive, genetically-engineered seeds, pesticides and chemical fertilizers.
Commercially available vegetable and fruit varieties have declined over the last hundred years. According to National Geographic, 408 varieties of tomato were commercially available in the U.S. in 1903. Only 79 were found in the National Center for Genetic Resources Preservation facilities in 1983.
However, groups in the U.S. and Canada are working to keep dwindling plant varieties alive and in circulation. Salt Spring Seeds in B.C. is involved in the creation of the Seed and Plant Sanctuary for Canada seedbank. This particular seedbank offers members a limited selection of certain fruit or vegetable varieties for free, with the requirement of getting some seeds from the year’s crop back, effectively replenishing the seed stock.
Dan Jason, founder of Salt Spring Seeds, writes in his book Saving Seeds, “the millions of backyard growers and small-scale farmers — the people who truly love plants — [have to] hand them on to the next generation.”
Gardens of all sizes create a platform to save seeds. They allow for the preservation, sharing and eating of all sorts of plant varieties. Harvesting seeds and saving them for the next season is a natural process — humans have been doing it for thousands of years. By following nature’s rhythm, we can watch the plant cycle and learn, with the help of others in the community, how to save seeds. By partaking in this healthy and empowering act, clean seed and food can be ensured for Canadians today and for future generations.