Dennis Touliatos, coordinator of Lancaster Seed library, discusses the Seed Sovereignty network sprouting across Northern England.

seed saving

Earlier this summer I participated in a seed production workshop at the Clervaux Trust in Darlington. The workshop was organized by the Gaia Foundation, a UK based not-for-profit organization that has been working with local communities in Africa, South America, Asia and Europe to regenerate cultural and biological diversity. The Gaia Foundation supports the view that by “reviving indigenous knowledge and related practices, and by protecting Sacred Natural Sites, local self-governance is strengthened.”

In January 2017 Gaia launched the Seed Sovereignty UK & Ireland Programme in an attempt to develop a resilient, agroecological seed system across the UK and Ireland. To achieve this the programme brought together the Soil Association, the Organic Research Centre, the Irish Seed Savers Association, the Seed Cooperative and the Landworkers’ Alliance. They also engaged smaller (but equally important) organisations like the Lancaster Seed Library and local growers and growing cooperatives.

The workshop was led by Hans Steenbergen, a biodynamic farmer who has over 20 years of seed production experience through Stormy Hall Demeter Seeds. The Seed Co-operative emerged from Stormy Hall and is the UK’s first community-owned seed company. We discussed seed saving techniques as well as legal issues such as seed laws and regulations.

At the end of the workshop we all sat around a map of the UK and Ireland and started mapping seed growing activity that is already happening in the region. We wrote the name of our organization on yellow post it notes and stuck them on the map. The map revealed a good representation of seed enthusiasts: from Lancaster to Hebden bridge, Ilkley, the Yorkshire moors, Darlighton and Newcastle. We then used green post-it notes to write the names of people and/or organisations that we know are interested in saving seeds around the North. Almost immediately the map started filling out with green post-it notes and potential seed saving enthusiasts!

We were then asked what kind of help is needed from the Gaia Foundation to support seed saving initiatives? And, what is the best way to connect all the post-it notes and the people behind them to strengthen seed sovereignty in the UK and Ireland?

The workshop was a very pleasant and educational experience. More importantly, it made me and the Lancaster Seed Library feel part of a bigger, vibrant and supportive network; one that we can reach out to for help, ideas and (of course) swap open-pollinated seeds.


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