I’ve been having an argy-bargy with Gary of Muck and Mystery over how best to achieve diversity in the seed supply. To polarize, he seems to think that government research in seed breeding for specialized markets, like organic growers, is evil and serves to undermine further the diversity that does exist. I believe that the biggest obstacle is regulation, especially in Europe, where everything not permitted is forbidden. In a recent comment, he said this:
Seed companies do not seek to prevent seed saving. That’s nonsense. Seed companies seek to provide better seed, so good that growers will buy them. This is as true for the smallest independent seed shop as for the huge commercial suppliers. Europe can buy seeds from the world. There’s this thing called the internet to find them and companies that deliver even the smallest packages for decent prices. If that is illegal, then you have identified the problem. The only problem. What’s more. if there are local landraces that those seed companies do not sell, they’d likely be interested in doing so if they had a market for them. Once they are available, growers in other places are sure to try them since their customers would pay for variety. If the people deal with one another without state mediation and control there will be no diversity problem.
There are bits of that I would definitely argue with, but rather than pour fuel on the fire, I’ll simply say that he does have one very good point. In Europe unregistered seeds may not be available locally but “this thing called the internet” does at least offer the opportunity to try things from elsewhere. OK, your package could be confiscated, but it might get through and then you’ve got something new to play with, especially if you know enough to save your own seed in future. There’s also a “Traveller’s Exemption” that allows Europeans returning from abroad to bring back five small packets of seeds unregistered in the EU.
In that spirit, I was happy to see, on the same day as Gary’s advice, a new post at Bishop’s Homegrown. Hip-Gnosis Seed Development List of Available Seed 2009 is just that. A list of the varieties that Alan Bishop is developing and that he’s making available to growers elsewhere. He explains it like this:
We continuously select (year round) for new adaptations, unique colors, and higher nutritional content as well as taste and performance in our seed crops. Many of our seeds are unique breeding lines that will allow the home gardener to select for what they like and need in their own unique micro-climate conditions as well as in taste and color. Hip-Gnosis Seed Development operates now as a unique collective of seed growers and plant breeders working and trading together on the homegrown goodness message board (http://alanbishop.proboards60.com) where many of our varieties can be traded and bartered for (both from us and from other members). As always, all of our seed is public domain property and as such should be traded and allowed to continue its regional expansions into new territories for new selections and strains. We openly encourage everyone to share these special seeds far and wide.
I’m sure he’d welcome some (more?) Europeans in there, to explore and work with Astronomy Domine sweetcorn, Jack White tomato or even Robert Johnson Mississippi Delta Burley Tobacco.1
Bishop is just one of the grower enthusiasts at work using ancient and creating modern diversity. There are others like him, not just in the US but in many other parts of the “developed” world. There are even some in Europe.
So yes, go ahead, order seeds over the internet, see what works for you, select and adapt your seeds, and spread them around.
I bet, though, that if Europeans were able to pursue diversity directly instead of through loopholes and over the internet, we would see a lot more of that kind of thing here.
- Can you tell where Alan Bishop is coming from? [↩]