To our knowledge, there has never been a seed library in Prince Rupert, BC, until now. Humans have been seed saving for 12,000 years, but over the last 100 years we have lost much of that knowledge due to a global fixation on monocultures, and the corporatization of seed stock. It’s time for us to change that trend. With our need to mitigate and adapt to climate change, we must focus on improving local food security by reclaiming biodiversity in our farms and gardens — seed saving is an integral part of that mission.
This year, we’re building a seed library for growers across Northwest BC in partnership with Farm to School BC, a Public Health Association of BC program, and Short Season Seeds. A seed library is exactly what it sounds like. Seeds will be collected, stored, shared, grown to maturity, and collected again.
“I think here, in the northwest region specifically, there’s an incredible grassroots movement of people growing their own food, and it’s only become more pronounced since the pandemic,” said Margo Peill, the Northwest Region Community Animator from Farm to School BC, when I spoke with her in March about the new project.
Through her role of supporting farm to school projects across Northwest BC, Margo sees an opportunity to share knowledge from local growers in the region on a platform that is accessible to everyone.
“We see, like with everything in the world right now, seeds are becoming more and more expensive. We want to create an opportunity that connects everyone to seeds, regardless of their background, their growing knowledge, or their socio-economic status,” Margo said.
A seed library takes time to grow, and seeds won’t be available to loan just yet. However, you can find Short Season Seeds at Fukasaku Marketplace in Cow Bay, Prince Rupert, where you can buy them from Dai Fukasaku. In the first year, the priority is to build seedstock in local school gardens and create community awareness about the library.
From the Skeena office in downtown Prince Rupert, Charles Gerein, Ecotrust Canada’s Food Systems Coordinator, is preparing to store the new seed library in a climate-controlled storage room. I asked him how this project will bolster the Food Systems’ mission, which is already working on a community urban farm, and a regenerative ocean farm with Metlakatla First Nation and GreenWave.
“If we’re piloting growing initiatives in town and across the region, seed saving is part and parcel to that. We won’t need to rely on outside sources for seeds for our gardens. If you have proper education around it, you can use saved seeds year after year,” Charles said.
But what seeds can we bring into our garden, particularly in this muskeg covered landscape? This project sets out to revitalize knowledge around finding seeds for native plants that grow naturally and have adapted to Northwest BC’s unique environment. Charles said together we can learn to grow these plants in our own backyard or schoolyard gardens, or at the urban farm, and then include them into our diets.
For example, Jerusalem artichoke, also known as sunchoke, is found across North America. It’s extremely strong and sturdy in the garden, even during Prince Rupert’s intense rain and wind conditions. However, Charles said Jerusalem artichoke has fallen out of favour as a staple in the Canadian diet.
“I’d love to see that one come back,” he said. “It can be cooked like a potato. It has a unique, incredible flavour, and is good for people trying to avoid high sugar and starch in their diet.”
The seed library is still receiving donations. They expect to start with 10-12 varieties, including potatoes, winter, and summer squash (zucchini), broad beans, and green beans.
Farm to School BC’s main goal is to support schools in BC to bring healthy, local, and sustainable food into schools and to provide students with hands on learning opportunities and community connection. In Northwest BC, the program is connecting with schools in Prince Rupert, Terrace, and Smithers to do a planting workshop, and help provide the tools and knowledge to empower them to save seeds in their school gardens. The team has been working with a few small seed producers and growers to collect seeds to start the seed library including Farm Folk City Folk, a BC based agriculture charitable non-profit organization, BC based West Coast Seeds, and Jolene Swain of Short Season Seeds, based in the Kispiox Valley, Gitxan Laxyip. In September, Jolene will travel to Prince Rupert, Terrace, and Smithers to teach students about how to harvest and process seeds. These seeds will then be added to the new seed library to prepare for distribution for the 2023 growing season.
For local growers, experienced or newbies, Ecotrust Canada and Farm to School BC are hosting a Virtual Seed Saving Workshop on April 27, 3:30pm-5pm. Guest speaker, Jolene Swain will present on the basics of seed saving and how to save your own seeds. We’ll also introduce the seed library and invite folks to share their email and how they’d like to be kept in the loop for when we’re ready to loan out seeds as the library gets established.
Register for the free session here
Story by Shannon Lough, Manager of Communications and Engagement, March 21, 2022