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UK Gardeners Are Planting the Seeds of a More Resilient Food System

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Beth Richardson digs up some homegrown Oca, a crop with a distinctive lemon taste that’s not readily available in supermarkets. Credit: Alexander Turner

By collecting the seeds that grow best in their own plots, a movement of gardeners is boosting biodiversity in a way that more closely mimics nature.

By Alexander Turner
Reasons To Be Cheerful
January 23, 2023


“Seeds are so powerful, so vital to life, but the range and variety of seeds that the big companies provide are very narrow,” says Josie Cowgill, one of the Stroud seed bank’s 30-strong growers and seed-savers. “In our small way, we are trying to, in each of our gardens or on the land that we grow food on, increase the biodiversity within our plots and within Stroud.”

The problem they’re helping to solve is this: When everyone buys mass produced seeds at the store, gardens everywhere end up growing plants that are genetically identical, eroding biodiversity. But if individual gardeners select, harvest, save and replant the seeds from their own best-growing plants, biodiversity increases, and with it, botanical resilience to disease and harsh conditions.

The Stroud Community Seed Bank in Gloucestershire is one of hundreds of initiatives across the UK focusing its seed-saving efforts on “open pollinated seed,” which — providing there is no cross pollination — will reliably produce viable, true-to-type plants year after year. Rather than being locked into a cycle of buying new seed every season, seed can be saved and stored for future use. “What we have to do to combat the very narrow genetic basis to our seed is get as many people as possible growing as wide a diversity of seeds as possible,” says Kate McEvoy of Real Seeds, a small-scale producer specializing in open pollinated seed for organic growing.

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