Responding to these tricky times

By all accounts, it is primed to be a huge year for home-grown veg in the UK. Seed producers and seed banks alike have been overwhelmed with demand as many Brits set up shop on balconies and gardens, facing up to the reality of a long summer of likely lockdown.

The LFSB also experienced a surge in interest. In London, there is a strong privilege dimension to those who have access to their own outdoor space, in gardens, allotments, or balconies. The closure of community growing spaces (which are only now slowly opening their doors again) has had a significant impact on the host of people who rely on these spaces for social connection, access to the natural world and respite. An emphasis in our response to the pandemic and corresponding lockdown was to prioritise providing seed to organisations catering for lonely, vulnerable or food insecure people.

Here are some examples of projects we supported:

1.     Growing for our Communities, Incredible Edible Lambeth

Growing for our Communities builds off a fresh community spirit which has emerged in light of the pandemic, as individuals and communities step up to support each other. The project encourages people who have space, capacity and skills to grow food for their neighbours over the coming summer and autumn months. At the beginning of April, we provided 175 packets of seed to the scheme, that’s 7 different vegetable varieties supplied to 25 households, alongside trays and compost.

Photo: Janie Bickersteth

2. Companion planters, Garden of Earthly Delights, Hackney

Connection to the natural world and natural processes can have huge benefits for emotional and mental wellbeing. For those isolating, or spending lockdown in cramped indoor conditions, perhaps in solitude, it can be a really trying time with many struggling with their mental health and loneliness. Volunteers for the Garden of Earthly Delights built ‘companion planters’ with repurposed timber, filled with soil, a handmade card and a selection of 3 LFSB seeds and delivered them by bike to those who feel that they need something like this, in the hope that nurturing life can provide some sense of calm for those without access to their own outdoor space.

Photos: Garden of Earthly Delights

3. Southwark community gardens

We donated a further 250 seed packets to the Walworth Community Garden Network which delivered these seeds to a range of community gardens across Southwark borough. 

Within a few weeks alone, and with substantial and efficient organising by Steering Group member Richard Galpin, we managed to distribute all our surplus seed stocks for this year.

This demand for seed was certainly not limited to Londonders, or to community seed banks. Sinéad Fortune, Programme Manager of the Seed Sovereignty Programme of the UK and Ireland, said some seed producers faced a 600% increase on demand for seed from last year. This interest is brilliant, and a great opportunity for organisations like ours to bring more people into an understanding of the importance of UK-produced open-pollinated seed in the context of food sovereignty. “It also raises concerns about supply,” says Sinéad, “For some companies, the surge of orders has significantly depleted their seed stock and it will take several years to build up again.”

Wayne Frankham of the Irish Seed Savers reports similar experiences. “Just as in the UK, many growers have had to radically adapt their production for changed demand -moving from market to box deliveries or contactless collection for produce or plants…What was known during winter planning totally changed and new seed demands saw a massive spike in orders from commercial, community, and domestic growers alike…The few seed producers and suppliers had to continue their producing activities, whilst processing a deluge of orders, with reduced staff.”

At the LFSB we’ve taken some time to reflect and now turn our focus to the longer term. Empty supermarket shelves and stretched food banks have put into sharp focus the fragility of the industrial food system. It cannot cope with external shocks to the system and often let’s the most vulnerable fall through the cracks. We believe seed sovereignty, seed saving and local food growing are crucial steps to building more resilient food systems where we can make sure no one goes hungry. Moving forward, we wonder how we can keep all these new growers on board, spread the skills of saving seed further and build our seed movement. We always welcome input and ideas so please get in touch.

“Now more than ever we need more people growing seed, saving seed, swapping seed, and selling seed,” says Sinéad, “If we want our future food system to be local, diverse, resilient, and agroecological, we must start with our seed!”

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