When I began farming on Vancouver Island, I took advantage of a small greenhouse on the property to start my own seeds. With a large vegetable garden and an equally large herb garden, I knew I could not afford to buy bedding plants to fill all the spaces. We were determined to play a role in preserving open-pollinated, heritage varieties so I scoured the sources of organic seeds for anything that would grow well in our mild climate. I was, of course, overly ambitious so always had seedlings to give to friends and an abundance of vegetables and herbs for cooking and preserving…and, of course, sharing with friends.
The experience was life changing. It made me keenly aware of the need to protect biodiversity. I had shopped for organic produce for years but had not really given much thought to the seeds that started the process of field to table. Planting a dozen varieties of beans, half a dozen varieties of tomatoes, several kinds of corns and squash, and herbs I had never heard of turned my pedestrian palate into a discriminating gourmet’s.
I live in a condominium now, but my palate has never returned to its pedestrian beginnings. And my concern for the future of biodiversity is keener than ever. That is why I am so excited to learn about the Unitarian Service Committee of Canada’s new online seed map. If you are interested in seeds, biodiversity and food, Seedmap.org is the place to be.
Play around with Seedmap.org. Icons on the map are linked to case studies on three themes: diversity, threats and solutions. Each of the broad themes has links to sub-themes. The site already has hundreds of case studies on it, along with classroom resources, links to dozens of resources, news and ideas for action. From my years of work in food security, I know even the few hundred case studies are a fraction of what is happening around the world (both good and bad). So the site will be one to check back on regularly.
But some experts say that, while on the right track, the site is biased toward smallholder innovations and against those from big industry.
Since big industry innovations are biased toward monocropping and have led to significant losses of biodiversity, loss of land for small farmers and degradation of soil and water, I applaud the Seed Map’s focus. Big Ag spends a lot of money touting the benefits of their approach. They don’t need the help of this small organization, but the global food system does.
The seed industry is increasingly consolidated, with only a handful of companies controlling most of the seeds sold. The big chemical companies such as Monsanto, DuPont, Syngenta, Dow and Bayer (who are also the biggest seed companies) are not interested in biodiversity. They are interested in selling a small subset of crops that need everything else that goes along with Big Ag, such as fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides and other agricultural inputs.
That matters, and it matters a lot. Seedmap.org points out just how serious loss of biodiversity is:
Our planet has lost 75% of its plant genetic diversity between 1900 and 2000, and 75% of our food is derived from only 12 plant and 5 animal species. The implications of this alarming biodiversity loss are serious and far-reaching, not only for food and nutrition security, but also for climate change adaptation, livelihoods and human survival. We need to act now to save biodiversity – nature’s brilliant insurance policy against disaster.
Seedmap.org makes an important contribution to our awareness of the importance of seeds and biodiversity. It gives me hope.