Last week, myself and a couple of classmates went along to a special screening of SEED: The Untold Story that had been organised by the local Permaculture Society. 94% of our seed diversity has disappeared in the 20th century, and many more irreplaceable seeds are near to extinction. SEED is a frightening yet heartening story of passionate seed keepers as they wage a David and Goliath battle against chemical seed companies who now control over two-thirds of the global seed market, reaping unprecedented profits while denying farmers the rights to save their own seeds.
I was particularly keen to see this film as I recently did an assignment on seed sovereignty and Vandana Shiva, an environmental activist and founder of Navdanya. Navdanya means 9 seeds and the organisation campaigns for the right to conserve seed and biodiversity, among other things and I have become very moved to get involved in some way and do my bit by growing open-pollinated edibles, seed saving and sharing. Vandana appears in this movie along with many other characters each doing what they can to preserve our food heritage.
This feature length movie is beautifully shot – the opening sequence is a feast for the eyes and it introduces us to a range of players on all sides of the issue, there are some of the well-known ones like Jane Goodall and Vandana Shiva however it was the other characters that charmed and inspired. Joe Simcox can be best described as the Steve Irwin of the seed world as he travels the world ‘gung-ho’ searching for new edible plant species. Will Bonsall is a highly entertaining white-haired hippie and founder of the Scatterseed Project, a genetic conservation project in Maine. Emigdio Ballon a Bolivian of Inca descent builds a collection of seeds in the back of a trailer in New Mexico.
We’re also introduced to a community on the Hawaiian island of Kauai where biotech giants have been given free reign to test experimental chemicals. The people are becoming ill and dying and children are being born with deformities – they’re fighting these companies in court to try and get the to reveal what chemicals are being sprayed.
We take a trip to the Svalbard Global Seed Vault in Norway which hosts the world’s largest collection of crop diversity and is designed to withstand natural or man made disasters and protect our food for the future. After discovering earlier in the film that an important seed bank in Iraq was blown up when we invaded – all their seeds were lost – forever. It really brings home the enormity of the consequences of allowing large global enterprises, who only care about profit, to manage our food supply.
I would happily see this movie again, it’s beautiful and inspiring despite the frightening message beneath the surface. Please go and see it.
I recently had to write an essay on Food Sovereignty and it was during this research I became totally fascinated with the Seed Sovereignty aspect of La Via Campesina’s movement – the right to breed and exchange diverse open source seeds which can be saved and which are not patented, genetically modified, owned or controlled. I had no real understanding of the devastating impact on our biodiversity due to a number of factors, not least, the agri-behemoths who control seeds around the world for farmers and home gardeners alike. 94% of our seed varieties have been lost (forever!) since the turn of the 20th century – that’s frightening!
But, there are people all around the world doing their bit to save our seeds and ensure we don’t lose our precious heirloom varieties and to keep our food heritage alive – Janisse Ray is one of them. A writer, naturalist and activist, Janisse is a seed saver, seed exchanger and seed banker and has been growing food for nearly 30 years!
The Seed Underground is a charming read – it’s a collection of stories about her past and people she has met along her way, characters who are striving to save open-pollinated varieties that will be lost if people don’t grow, save and swap their seeds. These are not activists in the militant sense, just ordinary people who are connected to their environment and the food that they produce and eat. If you’re interested in gardening and food then this book will be a light and happy read that’ll still make you think.
I’ve been massively inspired and as a result I’ve been experimenting with heritage varieties this year and will be trying to make my own contribution to the movement by saving and exchanging my seeds. I’ve bought another book – Back Garden Seed Saving from The Real Seed Catalogue (where I also bought some heirloom corn and carrots ) which I’m hoping will help teach me how to do this. I can’t wait to give the tomatoes a go as well as a few other things.
And this one…