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February is Seed Sovereignty Month at NOFA/Mass!

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This article comes from the NOFA/Massachusetts 2019 February Issue Newsletter

By Caro Roszell & Anna Muhammad

Feb 9: Seed Sovereignty Day in Dartmouth, MA

Feb 26: Webinar - Seed Sovereignty Movement and the Benefits to Small Farmers

If you had a chance to read the early January Civil Eats article about the updated seed monopoly chart (“The Sobering Details Behind the Latest Seed Monopoly Chart”) then you may be newly concerned about the fact that 60% of our global seed sales are controlled by what was previously 6—and is now 4—large chemical companies.

Those companies include Bayer, ChemChina, BASF and Corteva. If you haven’t yet heard of Corteva, that’s the name of the new agritech company created after Dow and DuPont merged (conveniently allowing DuPont to shed negative associations and bad press after poisoning the water in dozens of communities with PFOS, PFOA, and other fluorinated chemicals used to make nonstick Teflon cookware).

Should control of the majority of the global seed supply be in the hands of a few major chemical companies? Of course not. But the issue is actually far deeper than that. Seeds are not just commodities to be traded, or genetic information to be converted to a plant plug and inserted in any soil in any regional ecosystem. Plants co-evolve with very particular climates, soils, even microbial communities. Cultures all over the world for thousands of years have carried their food cultures forward through time in the seeds they pass down through generations-- each family making small improvements to the regional food varieties and exchanging those with neighbors, friends, and traders from other regional communities. Seed has been -- and should be-- a place-based and community-based resource, a living expression and outgrowth of the earth, rainfall, insects and hungers of a particular region.

As Kristina Hubbard writes in Civil Eats,

“Seed represents profound potential for improving our food and agricultural systems. Plants can be bred to thrive without pesticides and to naturally resist disease, and to be adaptable to changing climates and environmental conditions; they can also be bred to improve the quality of our food. But to realize all of this potential, we must create structural changes to how seed is managed and shared.”

Bill Braun and friends staff the seed swap table at the NOFA/Mass Winter ConferenceBill Braun --NOFA/Mass Board member, farmer, seed breeder, and founder of the Freed Seed Federation-- believes in the importance of growers and communities taking control of their plant genetics and varieties. He has been working hard, with the help of the Young Farmers Network and NOFA/Mass, to organize the second annual Seed Sovereignty Day, which this year is scheduled for February 9th at Round the Bend Farm in Dartmouth Mass.

Of his mission in organizing this event, he says:

"For most of civilization - until the last 100 years or so - farmer and plant breeder were the same thing.  If we are to ensure true food security and fortify a resilient agriculture, we must do it from the ground up.  That means restoring the farmer's role as participant in our co-evolution with food and medicinal plants, rather than mere recipient.  It is no longer appropriate to simply outsource this responsibility to 'the experts'; we must work together to tackle climate disruption and its implications for our foodshed."

The upcoming  event will be a day-long intensive designed to restore the farmer’s role as participant in the breeding process.  We will have hands-on training on how to save, improve, and breed seed on-farm with eminent organic plant breeders in the Northeast; we will discuss the state of organic seed and opportunities within it, and continue to foster collaborations between farmers, gardeners, plant breeders, and independent seed company representatives.  Presenters will include Dr. John Navazio from Johnny’s Selected Seeds, Lia Babitch from Turtle Tree Seeds and Hannah Traggis of the Massachusetts Horticultural Society. You can learn more about the program and presenters.

seeds in handBill will also be giving a free webinar on February 26th at 7pm. He will discuss the Seed Sovereignty Movement and the Benefits to Small Farmers. Click here to for a link to join the webinar. (All NOFA/Mass Webinars are free).

On March 25th, you can also go out to Bill’s farm to see how he and his partner Dee use high tunnels for production and for breeding and saving seed. Get more information about Bill and Dee’s farm tour, “Winter Greens Production and Seed Breeding at Ivory Silo Farm.”

 For more about Bill, see this September 2017 NOFA/Mass Newsletter article about the first annual Seed Sovereignty Day and the founding of the Freed Seed Federation: “Bill Braun Shares Passion for Seed Breeding at Upcoming Workshop” and you can also read this month’s article about seed saving.

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