The Seed Co-operative is a community owned seed company which grows and sells organic and biodynamic open pollinated vegetable, herb and flower seed in the UK. Launched in 2014, this initiative is building on the work of Stormy Hall Seeds (Camp Hill Village Trusts) which for 20 years has been the biggest organic vegetable seed producer in the UK on just 7 acres. As a Community Benefit Society the capital backing is mainly provided through community shares, with 260 people current co-owners, and many more sought. Seed sales will mean that seed production will at least break-even and pay staff and overhead costs in the long-run, but just as only inherited farms can be viable in the current economic situation, the wider community is enabling us to ‘inherit’ this farm.
The Seed Co-operative is an initiative of the Biodynamic Association, supported by Garden Organic and the Organic Research Centre, working with Open Pollinated Seeds and experienced seedsman Hans Steenbergen.
A small farm in Lincolnshire, run by a small team of staff and volunteers, is currently in organic conversion, and provides a hub for a growing UK wide network of seed producers. Its focus is on regenerating UK farm-based organic seed production and participatory plant breeding amongst small scale growers to ensure the availability of appropriately priced seed of the best quality, suitable for UK growing conditions. The Seed Co-operative has a customer base of over 4,500, partly inherited from Stormy Hall Seeds, and deals with commercial growers and organic retailers, plus mail order and web sales to gardeners.
In 2016 there were eight growers producing seed as part of the network, in 2017 this figure increased to 17, with more interested in getting involved in 2018.
Without open pollinated seed the evolution of our food crops is in jeopardy.
Since 1900 the global availability of food crop varieties has reduced by more than 90%. Many of the remaining open pollinated varieties are in desperate need of restorative maintenance after decades of under-investment whilst seed companies have concentrated on F1 hybrids. Choices being made about the shape of our food system are being driven by short-term economic considerations resulting in the domination of F1 hybrid varieties and the consequent loss of open pollinated varieties.
Within the natural world insurance is provided not by the money markets but by diversity. Natural resilience comes from the ability of species to adapt to changing conditions; that ability is inherently dependent on the genetic diversity within living organisms as much as having a diversity of species / varieties. Open pollinated seed, compared to F1 hybrid or GM seed, is genetically diverse and provides for a resilient food system rooted in natural processes.
Seed companies’ commercial interests are protected by concentrating on F1 hybrids because seeds cannot be saved as they do not breed true-to-type, meaning growers have to go back every year to buy more seeds. Patents and other legal devices are also dominating the seed world, placing control of our food system in the hands of very few people.
The Seed Co-operative is about demonstrating that this process is reversible.
Learn more here: https://www.seedcooperative.org.uk/news/