Sparrow and Finch Gardening Gardeners are taking back agriculture from the industrial sector

Gardeners are taking back agriculture from the industrial sector

Take a look at one of the most important inputs in agriculture: seeds. It wasn’t until the early 20th century that people began to talk about seed production being an industrial process that farmers and merchants specialized in selling and growing seeds. Due to the changes in agriculture, science, and government regulations, the majority of “elite” seeds that are bought and sold worldwide today are mass-produced by just four transnational companies.

Many people are uneasy about this transition. A new movement has emerged to take back control of agriculture by reviving an ancient task. This involves saving some seeds each year from the harvest for the following season. Small-scale farmers, community gardeners, and home growers are increasingly insisting that they should buy their roots from the store, instead of producing them themselves or getting them from a neighbor or friend.

Some people save seeds to preserve history, such as by growing vegetables that their grandparents ate. Others do it to save money or connect with their local community. Today, it’s a way to make a statement, allowing consumers to avoid industrially produced fruits, vegetables, and other food. It may be all these things — , and even more — depending on the grower.

Seed savers often feel motivated by the belief that they are helping to prevent crop varieties from being lost, particularly those which have been ignored by commercial seed companies or industrial farms in pursuit of profit. Organizations like the Heritage Seed Library in the UK and the Seed Savers Exchange in the US, and the growers that they represent, regularly connect the individual act of growing, storing, and sharing seeds with a worldwide conservation mission. By bringing this to the public’s attention, they have turned a simple task into an important political act.

How did this happen? Recent historical research reveals that concerned citizens and organizations fought hard to bring it about.

Vanishing vegetables

Heritage Seed Library is a good example. It’s a British non-profit Garden Organic that offers seeds from around the world. The collection of about 800 local and rare vegetables has its origins in a 1970s campaign by Garden Organic to save endangered vegetable varieties.

The HDRA had a solid reputation as a source of expert advice in organic gardening. The organization was founded in 1954 by its director, Lawrence Hills, to encourage gardeners to experiment with green manures, natural pest repellents, and other alternatives to synthetic chemicals, which were becoming more common in agriculture.

The HDRA has offered advice on a wide range of topics since its inception, including helping “own-growers” — those who grow food for their own consumption — decide which varieties to plant. Hills insisted that the newer varieties of carrots, green beans, and tomatoes lacked flavor and were less productive on small scales.

In the early 1970s, he was shocked to discover that British agricultural regulations had changed and would make it harder for seed companies in Britain to sell “old-fashioned types”. He was right to fear that the small amount of seed sales would not justify the cost a company had to pay in order to legally sell them. These old varieties would disappear if seed companies stopped stocking them and growers who were used to buying them stopped saving them.

 HDRA to combat this imminent extinction crisis. This initiative was to establish a collection of Europe’s “vanishing vegetables” at the HDRA.

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