Seeds of Choice

The following piece is part of a regular column in the local newspaper that Brenda writes, often inspired by our farm journey and adventures.  It first appeared in The Chautauqua in 2012.
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When I was little – I would look forward to the SEARS Wish Book arriving in the house. I would read every page, then go back and make a long list of every item that I would be happy to see under the Christmas tree. Then do another read through, paring that list down but still leaving plenty of choice for Santa to surprise me from. It was part of the anticipation of Christmas – something I enjoyed as much as the day itself. Now – it’s seed catalogues. I’ve replaced the Christmas season with spring and instead of a single book to leaf through, I know have multiple catalogues and websites to peruse. This past December, I started to get anxious and even resorted to making my first lists from the 2011 catalogues as many companies had yet to release their 2012 editions.

This past weekend one of my friends asked me about where I buy my seeds and why. I don’t have a list of hard and fast rules but my philosophy can probably be summed up as getting seeds from as close to home as possible, from a source that I can locate (if I wanted to). Following these guidelines I find that I am getting seed from that is fresh, that is appropriate for our growing conditions, and that includes varieties beyond the usual, commercial breeds.

I haven’t gone to purchasing 100% organic seed because there still seems to be a limited amount of choice within certified seed from the prairies however I do aim to purchase from smaller seed producers and savers, and most of them state up front that they don’t use chemicals, invite you to visit and be the inspector and actually tell you their location so you could.

I am more interested in getting seeds for vegetables that are heirloom or heritage breeds. These are not the vegetables you are likely to see on the grocery store shelves because those breeds have been selected for lasting in transport and on shelves but may have lost other characteristics that make them hardier in our climate or have taste/colour attributes that I want to try. My family will tell you that I am a sucker for vegetables that have colours that we aren’t used to: not all carrots are orange and there can be great joy in cutting into a beet that has a golden interior hidden by the common red.

The July 2011 National Geographic covered the looming crisis in our food supply and how there is a need to be preserving the diversity of species available to us to grow for food in order to meet challenges posed by increased populations, changes in growing conditions, and new diseases. They included a fantastic diagram that showed the change in availability of varieties from 1903 to today. For example: in 1903 there were 408 types of tomatoes available via commercial seed houses and by 1983 there were only 79. So buying seed and growing vegetables that are different and unique is not only about having more fun in the kitchen, but is my small way of contributing to keeping our seed bank a bit richer.

My belief that diversity makes us more resilient is another reason why I prefer to support a few smaller entrepreneurs and seed savers rather than single, larger companies: the more people involved in growing and providing seed, the less dependent we are on a single source and a few key species in our seed bank. Supporting local people also means more money circulating and staying in our local, rural communities. As well, I find they are able to answer my questions about specific breeds in much greater detail and if I have any problems, are more willing to help me out.

I thought my seed shopping was done for this year, other than what I plan on picking up at Red Deer’s Seedy Sunday (March 25, Kerry Wood Nature Centre) but now I am wondering if I ordered those purple carrots or not? So I am signing off to go look at my lists and orders and see if I can squeeze one more row of carrots in to the garden plan.

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