The West Shore Local Hero Awards are back! You can find this year’s special feature in the March 16 edition of the Goldstream Gazette or online under e-editions. Stay tuned for more on each of this year’s honourees, you will also be able to read their stories online at goldstreamgazette.com/tag/local-hero-awards.
Groundbreaking efforts to cultivate food security solutions are taking root at Metchosin Farm.
“Ninety-seven percent of seeds sold in Canada are imported,” said Fiona Hamersley Chambers, an ethnobotanist who has owned the farm since 2004. “Canada used to be very diverse in terms of seed production, with small seed farms from coast to coast.”
The downward trend began when people started migrating from the countryside to the city, with the most dramatic drop in seed diversity occurring after the Second World War, she noted.
“The advent of industrial agriculture played a major role in that,” she said. “Not to mention that farming is hard work! I don’t know if people realize how fragile and corporately concentrated our seed production and distribution have become.”
A survey of Canadian seed companies circa 1885 showed that seed companies sold what they grew. Catalogues from that period reveal more than 400 varieties of lettuce.
“Most people can name a few categories of lettuce like iceberg or Romaine, but not a single variety. We’ve lost an estimated 94 per cent of our food seed varieties, and those are gone for good.”
The United Nations estimates a loss of three quarters of food seed varieties globally, she added.
“This is a food security crisis that some people are finally waking up to, the fact there is no food security without seed security.”
Many people assume that seeds sold by Canadian seed companies are produced in Canada. “As an organic farmer I certainly did,” Hamersley Chambers admitted.
When her favourite variety of spinach disappeared at the same time from the four Canadian companies she ordered from, she called them and was surprised to find out they didn’t grow a single seed crop.
“The truth is that all major Canadian seed houses repackage seeds they buy in bulk on the international market. There’s an almost complete lack of transparency about the point of origin. Compare that to when you go to the grocery store, where it’s common practice to list the point of origin on products. So why is it different with seeds, and why do we allow this with something so critical to our food system?”
People should ask where, when, and how the seeds they purchase are grown and who grew them, she underlines.
Hamersley Chambers is passionate about her efforts to reverse that trend at Metchosin Farm, where they grow more than 260 seed crops, most of the heirloom variety.
“We’re also creating new varieties, such as our strawberry cherry tomato and Metchosin apple.”
One in five Canadians grew a garden in 2020, many because of the pandemic.
That has spurred a 5,000-per cent increase in seed sales through Metchosin Farm’s website.
“We went from strictly local to coast to coast to coast, with orders from as far away as Labrador and the Yukon,” she said, and many of the 900 plus orders last year were from first-time gardeners.
Hamersley Chambers is also hosting educational tours for students in the Sooke School District, and has increased the number of workshops at the farm.
Check out metchosinfarm.ca for more information.
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