Maynooth's Seedy Saturday a cornucopia of sharing and sustainability

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Published by Sun Media, Spring 2012

On Mar. 24 Maynooth's third annual Seedy Saturday heritage seed exchange drew its biggest crowd yet, with 10 vendors and a full-house of gardeners, farmers, and biodiversity enthusiasts.

Organized by Brian Sharpe, Laurie Ann Storring, Natalie Wood and Tom Logan, the event was similar to seed exchanges in other towns and cities, however many noted that relative to the size of the community, the turn out in Maynooth was remarkable.

"Maynooth has farming and working with the land woven into its culture and history. Many people moving back to a place like this come in part because they want to reconnect to this in some way. So by nature, there are a lot of folks around with some keen gardening interests and skills," said Sharpe, commenting on the high attendance.

"But Maynooth also has a lively social atmosphere, and with all the warm weather lately people are keen to get out of their cabins and chat each other up," he added.

The atmosphere certainly was social. The packed Community Centre buzzed with excitement as people shared wisdom about what they grow and how; sharing secrets and tips about what and when to plant, irrigation, compost, soil quality and a myriad of other topics. Demonstrations were offered, as well as an opportunity to sign up for upcoming workshops in bee keeping, pruning, and making apple juice at local Kismet Farm. Opal Lewis provided delicious natural goodies, and natural skin care and home products were available as well.

While some heritage seeds, which have successfully adapted to this climate, were available for purchase, others were free, and this year there were more seeds to choose from than ever.

"The most exciting part was the increased level of participation in the seed exchange," said Sharpe. "The whole event is about encouraging people to step out of the commercialized garden world, and to have ownership over the diversity of plants available. It was great to see so many new people coming with their seeds already labeled and ready to go."

Canada's first Seedy Saturday was held in British Columbia in 1989. Now there are at least 60 annual events across the country. Seeds of Diversity Canada, a charitable organization committed to protecting Canada's cultural and agricultural heritage, lists the annual Seedy Saturday events on its website; however, in recent years seed exchanges have become so popular and widespread that many of the events are not yet listed.

The increased interest in biodiversity has its roots in the sustainability movement - food biodiversity is a key to a secure and sustainable food system.

"Biodiversity makes living things adaptable," explains Seeds of Diversity's educational materials. "It allows wild and domesticated species to withstand threats like disease, climate changes, pests, and other unpredictable conditions. With enough variation in a group, there will always be some individuals that are naturally suited to survive, and can thrive under any changing situation. Diversity in plants also gives us a treasure chest of options for raising the healthiest and most productive crops. No matter what changes happen in our food system, we will always be able to adapt if we have enough genetic diversity."

According to Seeds of Diversity, 79 per cent of food biodiversity has become extinct in the last 100 years. The organization points out that "sustainable and local food systems require sustainable and local seeds."

Sharpe agrees.

"With giant companies like Monsanto trying to control the production of seeds and food on our planet, it's vital that we put our energies into ensuring a diverse and autonomous variety of plant life that we that we have access to for ethical, social, and environmental reasons," he said.

Seeds of Diversity describes heritage and heirloom seed exchanges as a "living inheritance" for future generations, and explains that those who learn how to save their own seeds are "connected to an ancient tradition of stewardship, nurturing our diverse genetic and cultural heritage."

One of the keys to growing heirloom plant varieties is a healthy open-pollination system, which relyies on bees and other pollinating insects. The decline of bees has been a hot topic over the past several years, and Seeds of Diversity is working hard to help people get informed.

More information about open pollination and sustainable biodiversity is available on the Seeds of Diversity website at www.seeds.ca.

There is also a free presentation called 'The Buzz on Bees' coming up on Apr. 26 at the Hastings Highlands municipal complex in Maynooth, led by pollination expert Sue Chan. For more information contact the Bancroft Stewardship Council at (613)332-3940 or jennifer.card@ontario.ca

Sharpe expects the Maynooth Seedy Saturday tradition to continue into the future. This year, he says, there were so many people that helped make the event a success that he couldn't begin to thank them all.

"The best way to volunteer for the next event is to learn how to save seeds and teach others so you can bring them next year," said Sharpe. You can get in touch with him and the other Seedy Saturday organizers at maynoothseedysaturday@gmail.com