Reflections on the affinities between the SeedBike and the London Freedom Seed Bank
As urban seed savers, we are confronted with a very particular host of challenges. Our London gardens, balconies and allotments are not known for their abundance of space. The unique London microclimate and awkward clay soils, suffering under hundreds of years of construction and pollution has not led to a wealth of London veg varieties. Packed so tight with other growers, avoiding cross-pollination is tricky to say the least. Cross-pollination occurs when a plant pollinates a plant of another variety. This combines the genetic material of both plants and produces seeds with characteristics from both parent plants. These seeds are not true-to-type and so cannot be saved as such. Preventing this our little gardens is difficult stuff!
This has not stopped us though. The more you look for greenery, the more you realise that our city is bursting with potential in concrete nooks and crannies. Whether pots of herbs piled high on balconies or meticulously tended Estate communal veg patches, Londoners want to grow their own food. Increasingly, I am convinced, they want to close that loop completely and save their own seed too.
A few weeks back I met Hanna Burckhardt and Svenja Nette from the SaatgutRad, or SeedBike, in Berlin. Sat over packets of fresh seed in the office of the Prinzessinnengarten, the community garden where they are based, we realised that their SeedBike and our London Freedom Seed Bank (LFSB) were confronted with quite similar issues.
The SeedBike is a new project launched this spring. Observing and adapting the folding mechanism of sowing or tool boxes, the team built their own XL version which was mounted on a bike. The structure folds into a handy wooden box as it is cycled around the city.
(Illustration by Viktoria Spittler)
Travelling to allotments across the city, the SeedBike wants to facilitate both seed and knowledge sharing. Packed up in many small jars, they provide an expansive range of seeds as well as much information material on the importance of crop biodiversity and the practicalities of seed saving. One of their key struggles, the pair tell me, is the bulk of information they feel they need to provide.
Seed saving is not necessarily easy business, they argue, and it is not to be taken lightheartedly. When you choose to grow and save seed from a rare variety, you become a custodian of that genetic heritage. That is serious stuff. Particular varieties often require quite specialist care in order to ensure seeds are true-to-type. I enjoy this attention to detail and the seriousness with which the pair approach this work.
It has me thinking. Much of my own work in the food and seed movement over the passed few years has been around accessibility: how can we get more people with their hands in the soil? How can we make sure that everyone who eats food feels themselves to be part of a food movement for tastier, healthier, more socially and ecologically just food? How do we make these issues easier to engage with? I thought the more people involved, the better our chances.
For the most part, I still stand by these concerns. But I also think it is worth stressing that saving seed, particularly of rare varieties, is important and sometimes tricky work. It requires care. The question is: how do you balance valuing seed saving as specific, challenging work whilst also being accessible and encouraging more people to save seed?
The challenge is to not put people off. Novices, such as myself, should feel themselves motivated to really learn about these plants and learn how best to nurture them.
In terms of access to information, the SeedBike is working on creating an online database of advice and guidelines. With seed packets, growers are given a questionnaire to complete what went well, what was tricky and what tips they could pass on. This will at some stage be gathered into an interactive section of their website. Our own seed bank is increasingly collecting this kind of information also and some kind of easily-accessible online or physical collection of this information is certainly something we should think about.
For now the bike travels around the city to hold seed saving seminars in allotments but the team hope to expand their reach to schools and other food-growing spaces in future. Interestingly, and different to the LFSB, they are not targeting community gardens. Our logic is that we need only one community gardener to join our workshops, to get a whole garden saving seed. Knowledge is passed on. Their logic in focussing on allotments is that they are frequently ignored in much of the attention given to urban agriculture. Many allotment gardeners are of older generations with many years of food growing experience under their belts. These make ideal, knowledgeable candidates for saving seed.
The SeedBike has only its maiden journeys behind it so they cannot yet speak of that many experiences. With a busy summer ahead of them and big plans for the future though, I am excited for what stories they will tell the next time we meet. We are both necessarily small projects, our reach extends just to London and Berlin city boundaries, respectively. Because of our similar urban contexts and differences in experiences, I think there is real potential for fruitful skill-sharing between our networks and perhaps some future collaborations. At the very least, I will make sure to bring some LFSB seeds to our next meetup for an exchange.
By Helene Schulze, Co-director of the London Freedom Seed Bank
(Main image credit: saatgutrad.org)
We are seeking an artist / designer / carpenter / maker to design and build an interactive seed bank as part of the Seeds for the Better World project in partnership with Global Generation.
The interactive seed bank will travel to community events, schools, and other organisations to educate and inspire people about seeds in an engaging, interactive and playful way.
The designer must be able to work collaboratively with the project partners (London Freedom Seed Bank and Global Generation) and the young people who are participating in the Seeds for a Better World Project.
For more info about the project, a full design brief, timeline, and budget, please download Interactive Seed Bank Brief.
Deadline for proposals is Monday 28th May at 9am.
Our network of seed savers grow seeds to donate to the Freedom Seed Bank each year. This year we recruited 20 new members to join the network, all of whom have experience gardening and growing food, but haven’t necessarily saved seeds before. Earlier in the month we held a training session focussed on pollination and its role in successful seed saving to bring the new network members up to speed on this important topic.
We invited Peter Brinch of Open-Pollinated Seeds to lead the session. Peter has been working in the world of seeds since 2001 and currently grows vegetable and flower seeds for the Seed Co-operative. He spoke about the history of seed saving, before looking in more detail at the difference between self-pollinating and cross-pollinating crops and why it’s important to recognise which you’re growing before saving any seed.
Peter with his DIY Seed Cleaner (an Open Source design available at Real Seeds).
Check out the full range of open-pollinated, organic and biodynamic seeds available from the Seed Co-operative: download the catalogue.
We are delighted to announce that the Seeds Festival has sold out.
Thanks so much to everyone who has shown an interest and reserved a place. We look forward to seeing you on Saturday at the Skip Garden.
Full details here: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/seeds-festival-tickets-41209382372
Our friends at Incredible Edible Lambeth are holding a Seed Swap at the Garden Museum next Saturday 27th January from 1-3pm.
We will be there with a variety of seeds grown and saved in London in 2017 by our network of seed savers including some heritage tomato varieties, climbing french beans, Amaranth ‘Latte’ originally collected from a Pakistani women in Leyton, and more.
You can bring seeds and/or plants to swap and Incredible Edible will also be giving away Franchi Seeds for FREE!
More info here:
We hope to see you there!
Come and join us at the Skip Garden in Kings Cross to celebrate seeds, the first signs of the emerging Spring and the stirrings of new life. We will be growing, cooking, sprouting, swapping, creating, wondering and marvelling at the knowledge, qualities and life that seeds hold.
The London Freedom Seed Bank will be leading an Introduction to Seed Saving workshop (from 11:15-13:00) and distributing FREE SEEDS, grown and saved in London by members of our seed saver network.
The event is broken down into morning and afternoon. The morning activities are geared to adults, including the home-cooked lunch. The afternoon activities are geared to families with children.
Timings for the event are as follows
10:30 – 11:00 – Arrivals, hot drinks and seedy nibbles
11:00 – 11:15 – Welcome by Global Generation and young people
11:15 – 13:00 – Workshops for participants to choose, including
- Workshop 1: Introduction to seed saving
- Workshop 2: Exploring and milling ancient grains
- Workshop 3: Creating batiks inspired by the beauty of seeds through the microscope
13:00 – 14:00 – Home-cooked communal lunch cooked by our Skip Garden Kitchen chefs and young people
14:00 – 16:00 – Family activities including cooking, growing and making with seeds
The event is free but please register your interest by following the link below so that the cafe can cater accordingly:
The full address is: Skip Garden, 1 Tapper Walk, N1C 4AQ.
We hope to see you there!
Join Global Generation for their Winter Market on Wednesday 7th December (5.30-7.30pm) at the Skip Garden. Celebrate the beauty of winter and enjoy the magic of the handmade products made by young people for the festive season. The young people have created a gorgeous array of goodies including some inspired by, or made from, seeds.
The young ambassadors are taking part in Seeds for a Better World, a partnership project between Global Generation and the London Freedom Seed Bank. They are part of a year-long programme to learn about the natural cycle of growing and seed saving and to educate and inspire others about the tradition of saving seed.
The Winter Market takes place at the Skip Garden, Tapper Walk N1C 4AQ.
We have extended the deadline to apply to become a member of the Freedom Seed Saver Network by one week. The new deadline is Sunday 3rd December.
New members will gain access to FREE training sessions taking place in early 2018, peer-to-peer support from our network of seed savers, and seeds from the Freedom Seed Bank.
If you are interested in applying please send an expression of interest explaining about yourself and why you are interested in taking part to: firstname.lastname@example.org
We hope to hear from you!