The Irish Seed Savers Association was founded in 1991 by Anita Hayes to preserve the seeds of rare heritage agricultural plants. More than two decades later their funding has been cut leaving their vital work, and potentially our future, now under threat.
There was a time, not so long ago, when farmers and gardeners only grew fruit, vegetables and grains from seeds that they saved from a previous crop. These particular seed varieties, referred to as open-pollinated varieties, self-pollinate to produce plants that are true-to-type; as in exhibiting the same characteristics as the parent. Some plants species are also open to cross-pollination with similar varieties which means care must be taken to isolate them from their first cousins in order to obtain genetically pure seed.
Up to 50 years ago in communities throughout Ireland seeds were selected from the hardiest and most vigorous plants, swapped with neighbors and, in some cases, creatively cross-pollinated to produce a diverse selection of localized plant varieties. This is no longer how most of us operate. We now trundle down to our nearest garden centre to buy a packet of F1 hybrid vegetable seeds or choose a fruit tree from the limited selection of varieties. F1 hybrid seeds are the result of genetically different parents and are either sterile or produce unstable offspring. This means we all, gardeners and commercial growers alike, unhinkingly buy our hybrid seeds annually. And so, largely down to profit before sustainability, public demand for uniformity and our detachment from the land, over the course of the last century more than 70 percent of our native fruit and vegetable varieties have disappeared. Forever.
The global control exerted by a certain multinational on our food supply through the patenting of “hybrid vigor”, disease-resistant seedstock is shocking enough but loss of agricultural diversity is further cause for concern. We need to have a wide variety of plants at our disposal to ensure genetic diversity. This means we are better equipped to respond to any environmental challenges that may come our way. We as a country should have independent resources to adapt and evolve our food supply to suit the changing weather conditions.
This is where The Irish Seed Savers Association comes in. While we were fondling seed packets down the garden centre Irish Seedsavers were tirelessly gathering and preserving for our future and now they need our help. The Department of Agriculture has drastically reduced their funding. Pobal payments have been pared back and there is a fall in numbers attending on-site courses. As a result the association’s annual budget is down by €250,000. If they fail to raise this amount they will struggle to survive. We do need them to survive, so please go to here to support their crowd-funding campaign. It is a very real and sound investment for our childrens’ futures. On February 1 people are encouraged to host a fundraising coffee morning for the association. The first day of spring – I can think of a no better omen.
More info: Great article here by Sylvia Thompson