What’s the story?

Since the first plants were ever domesticated around 10,000 years ago in what is now called Central America, seeds have been communities’ most precious resource. Without good seed it is impossible to grow healthy plants, and no plants means no food. 

Seed was seen as a sacred and precious resource, and all gardeners and growers would have had the knowledge of how to save good seeds. Some more innovative farmers would have selected their plants more rigorously and creatively and ended up with their own unique varieties. 

It is only in the last 50-100 years that the stewardship of seeds has moved from the communities who rely on them, to men in white coats. The so called ‘Green Revolution’ of the 1950s and 60s was a particular driver of this shift in how we produce food, with its heavy focus on a limited number of high-yielding varieties of each crop, bred to produce large amounts of food in conjunction with high inputs of agro-chemicals and water. 

The aim in this shift of production practices was to transform farming from a natural process into a highly controlled industrial process like building cars or refining oil. The chemical and mechanical advances which World War 2 brought about were applied to the farming sector.

The Green Revolution had a devastating effect on agro-biodiversity (the diversity of food crops). It is thought that in the last 100 years, we have lost over 90% of the varieties of food crops. The extinction of these varieties means the loss of many millennia of careful and thoughtful plant breeding by our ancestors, and is no less than a tragedy. Not least as this material is our cultural heritage, but also these varieties may have specific genes which allow them to be grown in low-input conditions which is how we will most likely have to farm in the future.

The shift from ‘seed as resource’ to ‘seed as commodity’ has resulted in the proliferation of propriety F1 hybrid varieties which are owned by seed/chemical companies many of which are also patented to prevent their use in future plant breeding projects. People have been disempowered and led to believe that seeds should be bought from a shop rather than grown in your back garden or farm. 

This is not true and we want to see a shift back in the other direction and to help people realise, that they can do what all of their ancestors did for thousands of years!

There are various factors which can put people off trying to save their own seed and in the following pages we hope to clarify some things such as:

  • You can’t grow good quality seed the UK, the weather is too wet – not true!
  • You need 100s of plants of the same variety to get good seed – not true!
  • Big seed companies produce better seed than you could produce in your back garden – not true!

There has never been a more important time to learn to save seed, with the decline in genetic diversity showing no sign of slowing down. Any variety that we know and love could be dropped from the seed catalogues next year and disappear forever. With the help of this course, you can help protect agro-biodiversity through saving seed – and have lots of fun in the process!