At the London Freedom Seed Bank we stand in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement and the protests that have swept the globe in the wake of the state-sanctioned killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and so many others. These are crucial times of protest and outrage, of education and learning about the systemic and structural racism* faced by the Black community across the globe and here in the UK which pervades every area of life.
It is therefore crucial that we see our work in the context of the systems of racism which control and block access to food, resources and the land itself. In our own area of work, the structural racism of the industrial food system is clear: from the exploitation of un(der)paid, un(der)valued work of marginalised workers in the agricultural and food sector to the fact that people of colour are disproportionately at risk of household food insecurity which has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 lockdown. Black people alone are almost 1.5 times more likely than other ethnic groups to suffer from food poverty.
It is on us all to dismantle systemic racism in the structures we work in as well as within ourselves, which allow these inequities to continue. For us organising in food and seed sovereignty, the principle of food justice should have a central place in our organising:
Food justice recognizes the influence of race and class on the production, distribution and consumption of food in the food system. It seeks to address the structural causes and disparities by drawing from established social and environmental theoretical frameworks to effect policy change and practical solutions (Deirdre Woods)
As well as the disparities in distribution and access to food and crops, access to land for people of colour is further restricted due to the UK’s long history of colonialism which concentrated land ownership in the hands of a very small number of wealthy and white landowners, making access to land for food growing inaccessible to people of colour in particular.
In the UK many groups and networks are challenging these realities. Reparative justice approaches to food and seed sovereignty centre racial justice and work to disrupt the exploitative mindset of domination of the current food system under which marginalised communities and the Earth are made to suffer and bear the consequences of large-scale consumption and destructive industry. Land In Our Names is one example for an organisation that centres reparative land justice for marginalised communities and which promotes growing and agricultural practices that sustain life and honour the living Earth.
We strongly feel that racial justice must be more than an add-on to our work and must be centred in organising around food sovereignty and seed saving. This is a conversation that we need to have at the London Freedom Seed Bank as well. As Sam Siva from Land In Our Names (LION) eloquently states:
“We need you to recognise how our struggles are tied together, our liberation is bound together, and that dismantling racism is not just the work of Black people or something that is only remembered when one of our deaths is recorded and broadcast. It is work that we are doing everyday and it is work that we all need to do if we want real change.”
Below are just some resources that we have found useful on racial justice in the context of food and seed sovereignty:
– The Landworkers Alliance is hosting a webinar on Race and Farming in the UK on Wednesday 8th July, click here to register!
– Invisible Women: Hunger, Poverty, Racism and Gender in the UK by Deirdre Woods
Listen / Watch
– The Seeds of Our Ancestors: A Day at Soul Fire Farm, Chelsea Steinauer-Scudder
– Farming While Black: Uprooting Racism, Seeding Sovereignty by Leah Penniman
– Land In Our Names is a UK food and land justice organisation for people of colour.
– UBELE is a social enterprise supporting African diaspora social action and community projects. A particular focus at the moment is research into the disproportionate impact COVID has had on BAME people.
– Black Rootz is a black-led multigenerational project at Wolves Lane in north London where the older generation share their growing knowledge and support young people.
– The African Caribbean Food Heritage Network is a new social enterprise working towards Black food sovereignty and uplifting African and Caribbean heritage foodways through advocacy, research and the provision of services including education, training and educational resources that build equity in the food system.
– Black Lives Matter UK are working to dismantle the structures that disproportionately harm black people in the UK through advocating for change in legislation, distributing educational resources and healing practices, calling for justice for those killed by the British police, providing emergency relief for those facing the worst of the pandemic and more.
– Black Land and Spatial Justice Fundraiser : This fund has been developed to redistribute resources, including finance and knowledge on land and food justice and to strengthen collective organising to redefine people’s relationships to land and space.
– 21-Day Racial Equity Habit Building Challenge, daily prompts to deepen your understanding of & ability to confront racism in the food system.
– If you want to strengthen your understanding of racism and racial justice, consider starting a “White Affinity Group” or “White Caucus”. These are spaces in which white allies can explore their experiences and privileges of whiteness without burdening people of colour with the responsibility and the labour of educating you/us (which remains a big problem in anti-racist organising and has been called out by many anti-racist organisers). This is not meant to be a space without accountability to black people, rather it is a self-aware attempt of doing the emotional work of anti-racism and engaging in the rich material on anti-racism out there so that people of colour won’t have to continuously live through and speak about their experiences of racialisation and racism again and again – there is plenty of material out there! Read more about this idea here, here and here.
* when we speak about structural and systemic racism we mean the privileging of whiteness across our different systems of governance, our state and economic structures, policies, organisations.
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.
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.
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!”
Imbolc is a Gaelic festival marking the beginning of spring, usually celebrated half-way between the winter solstice and the spring equinox, or on the 1st February. It honours the lengthening days and the return of warmth, as the soils begin to thaw and the daffodils show their heads. As we move from the dark months into the light, we at the seed bank wrap up the last of the sorting, cleaning and packing of last year’s seed, to now share the seed harvest with our growers who themselves are starting to plan and sow for the year ahead.
Thank you to all who contributed to our 2019 collection! We’ve got some really interesting varieties to share with you at upcoming events. We are looking forward to getting out and about..
On Saturday 8th February we’ll be at the Incredible Edible Seed Swap at the Garden Museum. It’s always a lot of fun so come along with some seeds to share and say hi. We’ll be giving a short talk on the importance of saving seed at 2pm.
On Sunday 23rd February you’ll find us at Organiclea for a seed swap. It’s an open day and a great chance to see the beautiful site of this growing cooperative.
On Saturday 29th February we’ll be hosting a get-together with our network. We’ll be packing seed, sharing some snacks, planning the year ahead and having a natter. Come by if you want to meet the team. Get in touch at email@example.com.
Hubbard Squash ‘Potimarron’ seeds donated by network member Patrick McCabe.
Arriving just in time for the Incredible Edible seed swap this saturday is a fantastic contribution of pumpkin seeds from one our top London seed savers and network members Patrick McCabe at Gunsite Allotments, Dulwich. The variety is Potimarron (or Red Kuri) a type of Hubbard Squash that has smallish (1.3 – 3 kilo) pear shaped fruit with red-orange skin and bright orange flesh. This variety has been saved for 7 generations on Gunsite Allotments, without isolation, and is still growing true to type – which could perhaps suggest some resistance to cross-pollination. If it has, this could be very useful for London seed savers. Patrick describes the squash as a very versatile and delicious pumpkin with a chestnut flavour. Catch us at one of the events above if you want to give it a try.
A highlight from the last few months was the Caring for a Community Seed Bank day we ran back in November at Walworth Gardens. The main motivation here was to bolster and build up the number of people and groups maintaining seed collections in London. This is a step on from saving seed, to really learning the skills to dry, clean, store and record seed collections properly. Featuring guest speaker Fred Groom from Vital Seeds and a hands-on afternoon of seed cleaning with LFSB’s own seed cleaning machine, it was a varied and interesting day. Sophie Doyle, new LFSB recruit, has some reflections here.
Richard Galpin and the seed cleaning machine he built for the LFSB from open-source plans by Real Seeds.
Back in October, co-director Helene Schulze teamed up with community microscope club, the Roving Microscope, to host Seed Stories and Symbionts, an afternoon of discussion, microscope gazing and seed sharing. It was about investigating the human and more-than-human stories carried by seeds. Helene hosted a seed storytelling circle, a space where everyone who had brought seed had a chance to share the tales of where they had come from and what they meant to them. It was a beautiful session and we’ll share some more reflections soon.
Poppy seed under the microscope at Seed Stories and Symbionts
For seed saving newbies, co-director Julie Riehl has some growing tips to get the year off to a good start. Now is a good time to get the ball rolling on your sowing, beginning with tomatoes, peas, lettuce and french beans. Advice on growing conditions, sowing depth, when to plant out and which varieties to get for can all be found here.
Finally, whilst in Berlin for a big anti-industrial agriculture demonstration this January, Helene met Vandana Shiva, professor and probably the most well-known global seed activist. It was in response to her call back in 2012 for a global movement to occupy, protect and free seed that the London Freedom Seed Bank was born. She remembers our bank from its origin days. 8 years later, much in the LFSB has changed, but crucially we’re still going strong. For volunteer-run, community projects like ours, this is no small feat and something to be celebrated.
Anyone wanting to get more involved with us is always welcome!
We hope to catch you at one of the upcoming events,
Helene, Charlotte, Julie, Richard, Sophie
As the coldest days of the year are supposedly still ahead, it is difficult to picture lush gardens and long sunny days just yet. But now is the time to get going if you want to get ahead of the curb on the growing front. Even more so if you are giving seed saving a go, as some plants – especially fruits – will need to be extra ripe to be harvested for seeds.
If you are new to seed saving, stick with the four easy crops that are true to type and less likely to cross. This means that the seeds you will harvest from them will grow into the same plant as the one they came from, they won’t be a cross between the mother plant and whatever pollen the bees have picked up. The four ‘go to’ seed saving crops are tomatoes, peas, french beans and lettuce. I’ll focus on peas and tomatoes here.
All of them can be sown from February onwards, albeit a bit differently. For the best germination rate, sow your seeds at the right depth: sow seeds the depth of the seed itself, so a pea seed will be 1/2 inch deep or so, and salad or tomato seeds will be almost right on the top of your tray with some soil sprinkled on top. Use a good peat-free seed sowing compost, and sow your seeds on a warm, bright windowsill or propagator.
Once you have sown seeds, cover your tray with a plastic bag, or a lid if your tray came with one. The water from the seeds coming to life (and breathing) will condensate on the cover and self water your tray, so keep the lid on. If needed, water from underneath by resting it on water. Check it daily and as soon as green shoots come out of the soil, take the lid off and resume normal watering.
So, when do you transplant your seedlings? A rule of thumb is to not transplant in the ground anything that has less than 4 true leaves (these are leaves that look like the adult plant leaves, as opposed to the cotyledon, the first two leaves that often look quite different from the adult leaves). Peas and lettuce can be planted out quite early (e.g. March), as long as they are covered (fleece or mini polytunnel) and protected from hungry slugs (plant rings, wool protection or similar- please no slug pellets!). For tomatoes and french beans, it’s a later affair- after all they come from central america. Tomatoes and french beans will benefit from a longer time indoors, and I plant mine out in late April- May. This means I will transplant the seedlings in bigger pots indoors in the meantime though.
Peas come in a variety of sizes and shapes. For shorter peas that will grow as a bush, I like ‘Havel’- it’s also early, so you might get a first crop as early as May. Taller peas are a delight to grow as they will climb and cover whatever frame you give them, and they are very ornamental. I had fantastic results with the heritage variety ‘Ne Plus Ultra’, which grew so tall we had to get a chair to harvest it. The beautiful ‘Latvian Soup Pea’ had gorgeous purple flowers and pretty mottled pods. Finally, if you are a sugar snap fan, I’d recommend the very reliable ‘Sweet Horizon’. And if you forget to harvest them early, they’ll just turn into peas. It’s a win-win situation!
Over the years I have moved towards smaller, sweeter varieties of tomatoes as they tend to ripen well and produce a lot over a long period of time. For very small varieties, I really enjoy ‘Yellow Pear’ because of it’s lovely shape and unusual colour. ‘Black Cherry’ and ‘Chocolate cherry’ (available from the London Freedom Seed Bank) bear stunning dark purple fruits that tend to be very sweet. None have ever made it to my fridge as I kept just eating them from the vine. I am intrigued by Centiflor Tomatoes: a variety that produces hundreds of small fruits (¾ inch across) on big truss – I’ll try these this year! For bigger fruits, I have had great results with the ‘Green Zebra’ and ‘Red Zebra’, which are both stunning and surprisingly sweet.
Check what the London Freedom Bank has available or check good seed retailers like Real Seeds, Vital Seeds and the Heritage Seed Library and start picking some great unusual varieties to eat and to save. Happy growing!
Caring for a Community Seed Bank
Day of Learning @Walworth Gardens (17.11.19, 10:30-4:30)
by Sophia Doyle
On Sunday the 17th November London Freedom Seedbank and friends came together at the beautiful Walworth Gardens for a Day of Learning about how to create and care for your own community seed collection.
A round of introductions revealed that we were a varied group of people from all walks of life. Many in the room had a background in gardening and permaculture, some worked in those fields, and others were students or doing courses in horticulture or herbal medicine. After an introductory talk on the London Freedom Seed Bank Charlotte introduced us to different kinds of community seed projects. She explained how they differ from each other, and how different types can facilitate varied engagement with seed politics. The distinction was made between Seed Libraries, Community Seed Banks, Grower Networks and Mobile Seed Banks, and how each of these achieve or centre different aspects of seed saving and seed sovereignty.
After this Fred Groom from the independent seed company Vital Seeds shared different ways to process seed, the basics of drying, cleaning and storing seed. It was fascinating to get an insight into the specifics of seed processing and storage, down to details such as what kind of mesh to use for screening the seed to separate it from the chaff. He also provided us with some tips and tricks for storing the seed, such as using silica gel or rice to make sure no moisture remains in the seed for long-term storage, and freezing the seed to kill off insects (especially relevant for pulses).
After a lunch break we continued with the practical part of the day, when we learned how to separate, store and label seed from different types (endives, spinach, fennel) and the importance of correct and detailed labelling. The more information the better! My personal highlight of the afternoon was Richard demonstrating the seed cleaning machine he built from the open-source plans provided by Real Seeds. He also talked in detail about the specifics of saving lettuce seed.
Finally, the day ended with a collective seed swap. Some of us had brought seeds from our own gardens and everyone was encouraged to take some of the seed we had packed up previously. Soon these seeds will be planted again for the next round of London growing, cropping and seed saving.
Sophia Doyle is an MA student at Goldsmiths focusing on Seed Sovereignty, Political Ecology and Indigenous and rural activist movements. (She got involved with London Freedom Seed Bank after attending this event).
Slides from the presentations on the day are available on our resources page here
About this Event
This annual event is always really well attended and no one leaves it empty handed! If you have seeds to share, please bring some, marking the packet clearly so everyone knows what they are taking away with them.
Sat 8 February 2020
13:00 – 15:00 GMT
5 Lambeth Palace Road
Free / Donation
We still have a few tickets left for our Day of Learning at Walworth Garden this Sunday, 17th November, from 10.30-4.30.
The morning will be an introduction to different types of seed bank, and cover the basics of good practice in drying, cleaning, storage, and record keeping, with guest speaker Fred Groom, from independent seed company Vital Seeds.
The afternoon session will be more hands-on, as we clean, sort, pack and label the London Freedom Seed Bank 2019 harvest, in preparation for distribution through community events and outreach. You will gain experience of cleaning and sorting seed, including use of the London Freedom Seed Bank’s seed cleaning machine. You are also welcome to bring your own seed for cleaning with our seed cleaning machine.
This event is free to attend, but incurs a £10 refundable deposit, which will be returned to you after the day. Booking essential, please book your ticket here: https://walworthgarden.org.uk/caring-for-a-community-seed-collection
We hope to see you there! 🙂
You are warmly invited to our Day of Learning, taking place at Walworth Garden on Sunday 17th November 2019, 10:30-16:30.
Have you ever thought about creating your own community seed collection or do you worry that your saved seeds aren’t stored correctly? Then join us for Caring for a Community Seed Collection. We have teamed up with Community Seed Banks Academy and Vital Seeds to cover the basics of good practice in drying, cleaning and storage of seed. There will be hands-on experience of cleaning, sorting, packing, and labelling as we process the London Freedom Seed Bank 2019 harvest, in preparation for distribution through community events. You are also welcome to bring your own seed for cleaning through our seed cleaning machine!
This event is free to attend, but incurs a £10 refundable deposit, which will be returned to you after the day.
Booking required, limited places: here.
Have you ever thought about creating your own community seed collection or do you worry that your saved seeds aren’t stored correctly? We’ve got just the event for you! Join us for ‘Caring for a Community Seed Collection’ on Sunday 17th November at Walworth Garden. We have teamed up with Community Seed Banks Academy and Vital Seeds to cover the basics of good practice in drying, cleaning and storage of seed. There will be hands-on experience of cleaning, sorting, packing, and labelling as we process the London Freedom Seed Bank 2019 harvest, in preparation for distribution through community events. You are also welcome to bring your own seed for cleaning through our seed cleaning machine! Booking required, limited places: here.
Before that, we’re co-hosting Seeds Stories and Symbionts with the Roving Microscope and Connected Seeds Library on 27th October. Part of Spitalfields City Farm’s wildlife appreciation day, we will explore the human and more-than-human stories that are carried by our seeds, taking a closer look at their shapes and textures and meeting some of the microscopic communities that inhabit them. Bring some seeds or seed stories along. Tickets here.
Field-drying seed at Shoulder to Shoulder Farm, Oregon. Photo: Richard Galpin
It’s been a busy few months for us. Back in August LFSB’s Richard Galpin caught up with Frank Morton in Oregon, USA, the legendary seed farmer and experimental plant breeder. “I turned up unannounced to Frank’s farm towards the end of the working day and found Frank enjoying the hazy sunshine amongst the flowering lettuce heads at the edge of his four acre plot,” Richard says, “Frank was gracious enough to show me around the farm. It was incredible to see the 150 seed crops he’s growing this year alone, and pick up some tips for field-drying seed crops, and see the way he harvested and cleaned seed, including the awesome Winnow Wizard a seed cleaning machine designed by Mark Luterra, one of the farm hands.
Most exciting of all, I got the answer to the question I went there to find out: What were the parents of the Mayan Jaguar lettuce? (One of Frank’s farm-bred lettuces which is itself, one of the parents of my London-bred Bloody Marvel lettuce). The answer was Crisp Mint crossed with Forellenschluse’ (meaning speckled like a trout’s back) AKA ‘Flashy Trout Back’. No surprise that the red flecked heritage variety Flashy Trout Back was somewhere there in the mix.”
Richard and Frank
At the start of September, we helped launch the Wellcome Collection’s new permanent gallery, Being Human. For the next 10 years, London Freedom Seed Bank seeds (Latte Calaloo, Fiesta Corn and Bloody Marvel Lettuce) will be on display. The work of the seed savers within our network is celebrated as a hopeful response to environmental breakdown. It is so encouraging to see large, mainstream organisations like the Wellcome Trust recognise the important work seed savers do. Read more about the exhibit here.
We’ve been busy too with a late summer/ early Autumn full of workshops, talks and activism. It seems like there’s a real appetite for fully closing the loop to community self sufficiency and sourcing organic, open-pollinated seed. On a larger scale, increasing work with the UK food sovereignty movement and Extinction Rebellion, highlight the important contributions seed savers make to fighting biodiversity collapse, increasing resilience to climate breakdown and building a more just, healthy food system. More on this soon!
Finally, if you haven’t already, it’s time to get cracking with your seed collecting. In-breeders like tomatoes, french beans, lettuce and peas are a good place to start. Julie Riehl guides you through it here.
Get in touch if you have any seed to donate to the bank! We’d love to hear from you.
Charlotte, Richard, Julie and Helene
London Freedom Seed Bank Team
Lead image: CC: Wellcome Collection