Update from the Seed Library

By Colleen Doty

We’ve all heard of the surge in pandemic victory gardens. Alongside sourdough baking, it’s a comforting trend.

Since March 11, when the World Health Organization characterized COVID-19 as a pandemic, global demand for seed has spiked to unprecedented levels (CBC, Mar. 27; CTV News, April 15). Seed retailers have been overwhelmed with orders; stock has shorted.

Reuters reported that Johnny’s Selected Seeds in Fairfield, Maine, saw a 270% jump in orders the week of March 16, after U.S. President Donald Trump declared a national emergency over the coronavirus. Wayne Gayle, President of Canada-based Stokes Seeds, which ships to the United States and Canada, received 1,000 online orders during the weekend of March 21, four times more than normal.

Closer to home, the Seed Library of Galiano saw a 123% increase over the previous year in the amount of seed being borrowed by its members (now totaling 106 households on Galiano). This year, new membership increased by 15%.

There is now greater urgency to save seed. While the inter-related issues of climate change, loss of biodiversity, and corporate consolidation of seed companies make seed-saving critical, the rapid shut-down caused by the pandemic has made seed-saving urgent. As geneticist and plant breeder Carol Deppe has noted, until recently, all gardeners and farmers used to save their own seed. So what happened between then and now? The world changed, and now it’s changing again. But that’s a discussion for another article.

Back to the Seed Library. How does it work? The basic concept is much like a book library. One borrows seeds, and returns a fresh batch of seed in the fall/winter. More specifically, Galiano-grown seeds are borrowed in the spring, planted, grown into food that is enjoyed, with seed saved from the best selection of plants, and then a portion of seed returned to the library in the fall/winter. All our seed is open-pollinated and grown without the use of pesticides.

It’s gratifying to grow seed that will contribute to someone else’s plate (and your own) the following year. Anyone who saves seed is part of the age-old process of plant breeding, as they select the best seed from locally-adapted plants, and with each successive planting, continue to select desirable qualities that work in their conditions. I don’t know about you, but I always remember the people who grew the original seed that I now love to grow every year. I’m struck by the joy people exude when they share their favorite seed.

In typical years past, the Seed Library has held regular work parties where we get together in the fall/winter, sort, and package returned seed which will then get shared back with the community the following spring. The work parties will look a little different this year. Stay tuned for more details.

The Seed Library will need returned seed more than ever for spring 2021.

Unsure how to save seed? There are great online resources: Seeds of Diversity is one of my favorites at www.seeds.ca.

Seed Savers Exchange also has excellent tips and resources on how to save seed, at: www.seedsavers.org.

You can contact us at seedlibraryofgaliano@gmail.com, or, if you’re on Facebook we’re at: @seedlibraryofgaliano.

Colleen Doty