Seed Banks: Our Answer to the GMO Problem

Yes, GMO technology is a problem.  Of course, the technology itself is not the problem, but the intention and the application of the technology is indeed problematic.  The very practice of changing the nature of something God made so that it can do things God did not intend is asking for trouble.  On top of it, the sheer concept of then claiming that something new and patentable has been created is complete hubris.  God made seeds, and He gave us these seeds and the process of seed, time and harvest, He gave us rain and He installed us to cultivate.  It all belongs to Him, and He intended its use for what some call the commons, that is, all of humankind has an equal share of proprietorship over His gift to us.

The GMO peddlers have one main goal in mind: to take over the world food supply by styling themselves as the best managers of the seeds, and as a result, make more money than one could ever imagine.  They want to usurp control from the commons in the name of big money and power.  The problem is that their technology has failed to achieve the goals it intended and has caused much more harm than good to humanity.  It is time for humankind to secure its birthright for clean, nutritious food that was ours and available in abundance long before the rise of monoculture farming and agricultural chemicals and GMO technology.

This is what seed banks will accomplish.

Seed banks can exist in a number of different formats, and in all their incarnations they are extremely important.  They can be small, like a seed library housed in a local community center where seeds from around the local community’s backyard and urban gardens and are contributed, kept, cataloged and shared.  They can be enormous, like the Svalbard Global Seed Vault founded by conservationist Cary Fowler built in a mountainside in Norway as a huge vault storing duplicate samples of seeds from banks all over the world.  In both cases, deposits and withdrawals are free of charge, so seed remains the domain of the commons as it should be.

Some Seed Bank Terminology

Biodiversity – This concept, which I first learned about reading Who Really Feeds the World? by Vandana Shiva, refers to the beautiful bounty of different types of plants that exist in nature.  One of the consequences of modern agriculture is that we are systematically losing biodiversity.  The most vivid example is corn, or maize.  According to a chart by Rural Advancement International published by Upworthy in 2012 (they credit National Geographic as their source) only a little over 110 years ago there were

Corn Varieties, source: Mexicolore.co.uk
Source: Mexicolore.co.uk

more than 300 different varieties of corn.  Now, you go to the supermarket and get – corn.  One kind.  There are actually still between 6-12 still around, but we only ever get to see the one yellow sweet corn that comes in cans or on the cob, or the variety that is dried for us to pop and eat at the movies, or the one that’s ground to make cornmeal.  That’s three.  We have lost the biodiversity of corn.

 

A more promising example is tomatoes.  It seems like there are still a wide selection of tomatoes still abound.  Even in food deserts, you can get beefsteaks, Romas, cherry tomatoes, grape tomatoes and, where there are large Mexican population, you might see tomatillos from time to time.  Then you go to the weekly greenmarket and oh what a delight!  You see oddly shaped heirloom tomatoes, some tiger stripped ones and yellow ones and purple ones too in a variety of sizes.  You can actually taste the flavors of different tomatoes – yes, indeed, they can be so delicious, much unlike the supermarket

Organic Heirloom Tomatoes in Staten Island, NY
Organic Heirloom Tomatoes at St. George Greenmarket, Staten Island, NY, USA

ones.  Thanks to farmer’s markets and the farmers that sell there, you get to see and experience biodiversity in certain crops.  The chart referenced above says that in 1903 we had more than 400 different varieties of tomato.  Indeed, even the many tomato varieties you think you’ve seen is only a drop in the bucket to what God created when He skillfully crafted Eden.

One of the most important functions of a seed bank is to attempt to preserve the biodiversity that remains by holding reserve stocks of true-to-type seeds of single varieties of plants.  The key is to strike a balance between sharing the inventory but never depleting it.

Genetic Preservation – This is my favorite eed banking term, because it is a direct answer to Genetic Engineering.  Like, Oh yeah?  You want to tinker with and change the genetic heritage God gave us?  Well we want to preserve genetic integrity how God gave it to us! Ya basic! This is a long term idea geared at preserving seeds so as to protect biodiversity.  The idea is that the generations to come can still enjoy the fullness of God’s bounty as much as and hopefully more so than we did in our lifetime.  There is even a hope that as we do this, we can encourage the return of some varieties we thought were lost – through seed banks, our investment can produce a priceless return!

There are more terms here  if you want to delve deeper.

So Start Saving Seeds ASAP Y’all!! 

I have had a heart for seed saving for a while, but I’ve done it on a very tiny scale and didn’t understand some important principles.  My questions were largely HOW and WHERE.  How do you save seeds?  I often dried seeds out on plates in my kitchen when

Tami, Semis de Tamarin
Tamarind Seed Sprout planted by my daughter earlier this year.

necessary and kept them in little labeled containers or baggies in my freezer.  I have moved a lot in the last few years, so I have lost most of those seeds in all the shifting.  Also, I thought the freezer was the option to stop mold and pests and sort of stop time in terms of the aging of the seeds.

I recently gave up on that, knowing there had to be a better way.   I dedicated some prayer time to the question, based on these scriptures:

Genesis 1:11

Genesis 8:22

Isaiah 55:10

2 Corinthians 9:10

Then I filed the issue away until the Lord started showing me answers.  Most recently I started reading materials from SeedSavers.org and I am learning a lot from them indeed.  Here is my plan to start a seed catalog right here at home that I will later open up and expand to my community here in Sangre Grande, Trinidad.

  1. The Need – In a community where economic pressure from a national recession is palpable, governmental encouragement for home gardening to reduce family food bills is an outcry for a simple, rational solution.  Many are not sure how to start and where to get seed from, or even how to pay for seed and seedlings.  Also, in the markets, we see  a lack of biodiversity.  In Sangre Grande’s town center there are smaller vegetable markets all around outside of a main market which is bustling with stalls and vendors and fresh produce, especially on Saturdays.  A walk through these markets shows you a very stark reality.  Every vendor’s produce is pretty much the same.  They all sell the same varieties of just about everything!  Most of them are not growers, and much of what is sold is imported – even bananas, which are grown locally, are also imported.  Humongous carrots are in cello bags from Costa Rica.  The onion and garlic are the saddest part of the story.  These are bulk imports from China grown in the most toxic conditions imaginable.  I have not eaten garlic in Trinidad for about 5 months since my organic supply I brought home in my suitcase from Whole Foods in NYC ran out.  I just won’t buy what is sold locally.  People need better produce, and whatever biodiversity still remains in this beautiful region needs to be protected now before it is lost.
  2. The Goals
    • To preserve the biodiversity of the region’s indigenous plant life as a first phase of preserving the plant biodiversity of Trinidad and Tobago as a whole. 
    • To promote local and diverse varieties of food plants over imported and packaged foods.
    • To promote organic gardening at all levels through education about the ways chemical use threatens Trinidad’s soil, environmental and people’s health.
    • To preserve and promote the practice of natural bush medicine applications over patent and pharmaceutical medication.
    • To promote home gardening as a means of keeping family food costs low and improving the general eating habits and overall health of Trinidadians.  The Bank will be a free source of seed, seedlings, tubers and samples for all community members.
    • To provide a venue and foster opportunities to educate people of all ages about seeds, plants, food and bush medicine.  All programs free of charge.
    • To bring the community together around these common goals
  3. First Steps
    • Storage: In the SeedSavers.org document How to Organize a Community Seed Bank, I realized that I could start it right here at home.  This will also serve as a recycling opportunity, as I start keeping jars again like I used to.  The jars – glass ones, from eggless mayo mostly – will be the containers in which I keep the seed.  The guide says the seeds need to be kept in a cool, dark, dry place.  It so happens I have an old wardrobe I was about to get rid of in preparation for a new one I want to buy for my room.  It’s drawers will provide a dark, relatively cool place to store the seed jars, and this can move to a larger place when the catalog is ready to grow into a community library.  To keep the drawers dry, they suggest silica.  So the next shoes we buy, we will not discard the little packets, we will just toss them in the seed drawers!
    • Sourcing: I have already identified two potential sources to start my seed library.  One is a fruit grower who is a vendor with a stall in the Maxi Terminus.  He grows oranges, and earlier this year, he introduced me to a unique variety he calls Otnik. It has a more oval shape than the average oranges available around the region, is less pithy with more tender, sweeter flesh.  Also, he prides himself on keeping his orchards chemical-free.  And he doesn’t just grow oranges.  He has lots of other plants, including moringa, which is growing in popularity as a very important bush medicine.  He will be a wonderful source with an abundance of seeds and knowledge.
    • Main Information Resources: I have reached out to Sun Eaters Organics for some information.  The owner is on a mission to use more local ingredients, especially those that were here pre-Columbus, in her recipes and in many uses other than food.  Also, the University of the West Indies at St. Augustine maintains a National Herbarium of Trinidad and Tobago.  This appears to be the most reliable source of accurate information to correctly identify indigenous plants.  This is vital from the very beginning as the seed and bush library grows into a place where the community will be educated on these topics.  The responsibility is great.  We must come correct.

Once I develop a somewhat diverse catalog with labeling and record keeping systems on my own at home, I will seek a more central space and begin to invite more participants in the community.  As always, I have a much bigger vision for seed banking, but this is where it all starts.

Do you run or participate in a seed bank?  Do you save seeds?  Talk to me!

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