Connected Seeds and Sensors

I was very happy to be invited along to the Connected Seeds book launch and winter celebration at Rich Mix at the beginning of February. The event featured talks on seed sovereignty, food growing workshops and an exhibition and short-film screening about the Connected Seeds project. The main attraction of the day was the Connected Seeds Library, a new interactive seed library which tells the stories of seeds and their growers in and round Spitalfields City Farm. It was inspiring to connect with other London-based seed savers and to acquire new varieties for the seed bank including unfamiliar crops.

Connected Seeds and Sensors is research project looking at how ‘smart’ technologies can be used to support more sustainable urban food practices. The lead researcher, Sara Heitlinger, based at Queen Mary University London, worked with 14 Seed Guardians throughout the 2016 growing season to grow and save a variety of different seed crops and to record environmental data in each of the gardens.

The Seed Guardians were from all walks of life and different cultural backgrounds with varying levels of gardening expertise. They each committed to growing one or two crops and then donated some of the seeds they had collected to the Connected Seeds Library. The interactive seed library contains seeds from each of the guardians alongside photos, video footage and sounds clips about  the crops from the guardian who donated the seeds.

The guardians grew their crops in various growing spaces around East London, in private gardens, community plots or on housing estates. Each of the gardens was fitted with a specially-designed sensor to record information about the environmental conditions in the garden, including air temperature, air humidity, air pressure, soil moisture and ambient light. The data visualisations can all viewed online:

The data clearly demonstrates the capacity of smart technologies to inform growers about the environmental conditions of their growing space. There is lots of potential to use this data to encourage better growing practices or to map different growing conditions across the capital.

The exhibition featured a seed swap where a variety of crops grown by the seed guardians and donated by other visitors to the event were available. I swapped some of our seeds from the London Freedom Seed Bank with lablab beans grown at Spitalfields Farm and potol, a kind of pointed gourd. I look forward to passing these seeds on to our freedom seed savers to grow and save so we can increase the quantity in the bank and make them accessible to other growers and gardeners.

We’re delighted that there’s another project which is collecting London’s seeds and the stories behind them, and we look forward to seeing how the interactive seed library grows over the coming months. The seed library can be found at its permanent home at Spitalfields City Farm. Get in touch with farm staff to organise a visit or become a member.

Charlotte Dove



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