How farmers are saving seeds and building a Canadian collection

by Sarah Elton, Published in The GLobe and Mail, July 9th 2013   

On Kim Delaney’s seed farm in Palmerston, Ont., the peppers, the tomatoes and the more than 100 varieties of vegetables she grows have had to cope with a lot of rain this season. That means at the end of the summer, the finest specimens she’ll choose to collect seeds from – that she’ll package and sell to her customers to plant next year – will hold the genes they need to thrive in rainy weather. And because she’s been growing seeds for the past 13 years, what she produces will also be primed to do well in other conditions, too – even droughts.

“Last year we had five and a half weeks without rain and this year we have rain every two days. So, the genes in the plant populations I am collecting are constantly adapting,” she says.

By going through her fields and selecting the seeds from plants that have the characteristics she’s looking for – including taste and colour – Delaney is building a truly Canadian collection. That is, vegetables that are adapted to the climate and geography here – and taste like they are grown in our soil, too.

This is incredibly rare.

Whether you’re planting a backyard veggie patch or running a farm, there’s little choice when it comes to seeds. Most of the vegetable seed supply for sale is of limited genetic diversity, with most companies importing their product from the same farms, says Bob Wildfong, executive director of Seeds of Diversity Canada, a small non-governmental organization that is part of the Bauta Family Initiative on Canadian Seed Security, a program launched this summer by USC Canada to nurture the local seed industry.

And this makes our seed supply – and by extension our food – vulnerable to disease and to climate.

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