The COVID-19 pandemic has shown that Canada needs to develop a more resilient food supply. To help bolster our food security, a nonprofit organization called SeedChange is working with farmers across the country to save seeds at risk of extinction and grow food sustainably.
And while the Ottawa-based SeedChange is enlisting more than 200 farmers from coast to coast to coast to grow local vegetable seed crops, it’s also encouraging individuals to contribute to a more secure food system. People can do that by supporting local farmers or planting their own veggie gardens.
“This pandemic is showing us that how we get food from farms to our plates is vulnerable to shocks,” SeedChange executive director Jane Rabinowicz tells the Straight. “The pandemic has increased food insecurity due to so many people losing their income, impacted farm workers and the farmers who employ them, affected markets, and many other aspects of farm life. We may not know the full effect of COVID-19 on our food security until harvest season.
“More people are growing food than ever, realizing the importance of a short supply chain, and showing unprecedented support for local farmers and seed growers,” she says. “Let's hope the positive trend of people growing their own food and supporting their local farmers lasts beyond the pandemic."
Home gardeners can contribute to a thriving food and farming sector through their seed purchases, Rabinowicz says.
“The more local you buy, the fewer steps between you and the farmer, and the higher the share of the revenue to the farmer,” she says. “Another benefit of buying local seed, whether it's direct from the seed producer or through a grocery store that sells seed from local farmers is that it's more likely to be well-adapted to a climate similar to your garden.
SeedChange’s SeedFinder database helps people find locally adapted vegetable seeds from farmers in their region.
“An example of a seed well adapted to B.C. is the Blacktail Mountain Watermelon,” Sal Dominelli of Sweet Rock Farm Seeds on Gabriola Island tells the Straight. “It was bred as a northern hardy watermelon by a farmer named Glenn Drowns in Iowa, but this watermelon now grows well all over B.C., from our farm on the Gulf Islands up to Woodgrain Farm in the Kispiox Valley. But any seed that is grown for a few generations in a locale will be more adapted to it. That is why it’s important to know where your seeds are coming from.”
For beginner gardeners who may be intimidated by growing vegetables, Dominelli suggests starting small and focusing on what they love to eat.
“Seeds are amazing and they want to do one thing: grow,” he says. “We just need to help them do what they want to do. One tiny tomato seed can grow into a large plant—sometimes over two metres tall—laden with pounds of fruit. This is inspiring.”