Why You Should Start Saving Seeds Today
Seed Saving Is a Small Practice with Huge Impact for Climate Action & Food Sovereignty
What do food security and climate change have to do with seeds? As with many things in our interconnected world, the relationships aren’t as distant as you might think. In fact, seed saving and seed exchanging have a big role to play in the food security and food sovereignty conversation.
A Modern History of Seeds
In 1970, the Plant Variety Protection Act (PVPA) granted companies a certificate of ownership of seeds, and then in 1980 the Supreme Court gave seeds full patent protection. Today, most seed breeding happens in private laboratories. Four companies—Bayer (the company that acquired Monsanto in 2018), Corteva Agriscience, Sinochem, and BASF—control more than 60 percent of global seed sales. In many cases, these corporations and their patents deny farmers the right to save seeds. Breeders cannot use patented seeds to breed new plant varieties either.
Seeds are either open-pollinated or hybrids. Open-pollinated seeds are natural. They come from the fruit of a plant, like the tomato, ready to replant and continue growing tomatoes the next year or season. Hybrids are often the seeds that have patents and retain specific traits like drought resistance or large yields. These traits may be desirable, but the seeds are only good for one growing season. If you save the seeds from the fruit of that season, they won’t grow true to type. This means you’re likely to end up with a plant that produces very different food the second time around—if the seeds grow at all, that is.
When you buy seeds from a garden store today, the majority of them will likely be patented hybrids.
One of these huge global companies likely holds the patent. They are probably covered in insecticides, fungicides, and may even be genetically modified. These seeds might also be dependent on pesticides to grow.
As a result of this seed control, commercial crop varieties are displacing many heritage and native plant species. The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that some 75 percent of plant genetic diversity has been lost due to the rapid expansion of industrial agriculture and monoculture (single crop) farms. The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment reports that 60,000 to 100,000 species of plant are currently threatened with extinction.
Who Should Save Seeds?
In the face of such limited choice, seed saving is arguably the best decision you can make for your own health, the health of your garden, and the health of the climate.
When home gardeners or farmers save native seeds, they are often thinking about healthy diets to nourish their bodies and their families. In addition to these important reasons, seed saving relates to food sovereignty. Native seeds become crops that are able to continuously evolve by natural effect. Farmers and communities play a holistic role in the selection process, working together with nature and climate. Taste, desire, and health are the drivers of food production rather than large-scale commodification and commercialization.
Furthermore, by promoting less harmful ways to produce our foods and adapting native seeds, we are taking action to preserve Indigenous traditional knowledge and to conserve biodiversity. Growing and saving native seeds, then, is not just a choice for individual health and preference; it is a choice that benefits our planet and the Indigenous communities who are protecting it.
It’s best to save seeds that originate in the area where you are. Why is this?
Open-pollinated seeds learn from their environment. The plants that grow from them become more dependable by adjusting to their surroundings. They learn weather patterns, soil type, season length, local pests, and more. As the climate changes, these plants and seeds will adapt. These adaptations help your garden become more successful and eliminate the need for chemical inputs like pesticides and fertilizers. So saving seeds is a dual solution. They adapt to the changes and reduce the need for some of the farming strategies that cause environmental destruction.
In contrast, hybrid seeds do not have any genetic or biological familiarity with the ecosystem. They are a one and done type of situation. Like other extractive methods, these seeds take from the earth but do not give back.
Tikkun Eco Center is a producer in our network that is committed to seed saving. This is one of many regenerative practices they use, and their vibrant farm demonstrates how these practices lead to flourishing land and community.
In the face of the climate crisis and an increasingly unstable food system, saving local seeds that flourish in your specific environment is key for food security and resilience. Small farms and gardens, adaptable plants that flourish as food-giving crops, and diverse food choices all lead to healthier soils and carbon sequestration.
Step up to your own sovereignty and support the sovereignty of growers, farmers, and Indigenous communities by saving seeds.
Here are a few tips for getting started with seed saving:
- Check your local farmer’s market. Farmer’s markets often have seed exchange initiatives and if yours doesn’t, someone will probably know of one or be ready to collaborate and start one!
- Visit any local farms and small producers in your area. They may have seed saving or seed exchange programs
- Ask your neighbors with gardens! You may not be experts, but together you can learn and share.
In general, seed saving is another way to see how humans and our food sources can and should be part of the ecosystem—rather than separate from it.