Over the past 30 years or so we have witnessed the organic food and farming movement grow to where it is now a nearly $50 billion industry, which represents about 5% of the US food system. This has come with many benefits to health and safety to farm workers, watershed and consumers. However, it's now become a big business and large players have entered the scene from the conventional farming world, the USDA regulates the term “organic” and some significant compromises to the original ethos of what organic farming movement began as have occurred. Recently the USDA has allowed glyphosate herbicide use in hydroponic organic production, viewed as a gross misinterpretation of the term organic by many.
When I began farming and working on organic farms in 1991, I made the assumption that we were all striving for farms and farming systems which promoted clean water, clean air, clean food free from chemicals, respect for wild lands, respect for farm labor and farm worker rights, community food security and public domain, open pollinated seeds. Over the last nearly 30 years I have been continually discovering that these ideals and values are not shared by all. Further, we all have a moral obligation to refine and carry forward principles around stewardship and reverence for seed freedom to current and future communities.
I have been inspired the Slow Food movement and it’s putting a positive foot forward approach response to the “Fast Food” movement. In 1986 Italian Carlo Petrini coined the term Slow Food and a movement was born. Slow Food is in more than 160 countries, and in the US, there are more than 150 local chapters and 6,000 members.
The Slow Food Manifesto is: (from www.slowfood.com)
- Believe in delicious nutrition as a right for everyday life
- Cultivate joyful connections to community and place
- Advocate for diversity in ecosystems and societies
- Protect natural resources for future generations
- Help people and the environment depend on each other
- Promote food that is local, seasonal, and sustainably grown
- Build local cooperation and global collaboration while respecting all laws
- Require no prerequisite or credential for participation
- Fight for dignity of labor from field to fork
Inspired by this timely and salient response to industrial agriculture similar movements have sprung up in other sectors including:
- Slow Money describes itself as a new kind of investing concentrated on replacing an economy based on extraction and consumption with an economy based on preservation and restoration.
- Slow Flowers is an online directory to help you find florists, studio designers, wedding and event planners, supermarket flower departments and flower farmers who are committed to using American-grown flowers (now in Canada, too!).
Ever since my friend and contributor to Siskiyou Seeds, Noel Ruiz mentioned the idea “Slow Seeds”, I have been ruminating about initiating a Slow Seed Movement. Potential new rules on laboratory-based plant breeding methods (possibly including CRSPR gene editing!) being allowed within organics, the increasing prevalence of Utility patents upon organic seeds and other alarming trends affecting Seed Freedom (as articulated by Dr. Vandana Shiva & Navdanya) are all compelling developments towards a new (or old) approach to seeds. Thankfully, we are not the only ones! The Slow Food Europe website has a handbook entitled, “Seeds According to Slow Foods” which contains the following suggestions:
“Even those who spend time tending to their vegetable gardens with care and passion, often don’t know where the plants they grow come from, or how they were chosen and produced. They are often bought from plant nurseries and subsequently planted at home. Few are familiar with the process of producing and saving seeds at home by cultivating the plants themselves, instead of simply buying them.
Local varieties share a deep connection with the land where they are grown and produced, and the type of climate, soil and abundance or scarcity of water which characterize it. Every variety evolves with the land and for this reason they are well adapted to the different blends of climate, soil and culture. The link between seeds and land has a strong cultural and economic relevance. It is crucial to local products, which are an expression of cultural identity for communities and can become a source of income for farmers. However, the promotion of local productions, closely linked to the land, is a speculative strategy confronted with the homogenization of industrial production. Compared to industrial varieties, local ones are generally less productive but are far more adapted to cultivation in marginal conditions.”
Here is a ROUGH DRAFT of some Basic Principles of a Slow Seeds Platform for Farmers & Gardeners:
- Seed is the source of life, our collective inheritance and belongs in the global commons
- Seeds are a part of nature and not an intellectual property or invention be patented or licensed
- Seed is the embodiment of bio cultural diversity. It contains millions of years of biological and cultural evolution of the past, and the potential of millennia of a future unfolding.
- Farmers and gardeners have the right to grow, save and freely distribute all seeds as an inherent part of seed and food sovereignty;
- Farmers and gardeners should have Freedom to grow free from genetic contamination and GMOs.
- To support seed growers, plant breeders and indigenous communities small and large by crediting them when possible through proper labeling, benefit sharing, acknowledgement and labelling at the wholesale and consumer level and where ever seeds are distributed
What This looks like in terms of making Informed choices around seeds:
- Plant traditional &/or heirloom seeds;
- use open-pollinated seeds;
- Support Small Family farms that produce certified organic seeds;
- always use seed free from chemical treatments (such as fungicides);
- strive to plant a diversity of varieties and species;
- keep your own personal seed bank as there is strength and resilience in decentralization.
- Honor Indigenous/Tribal origins for seeds and breeder's rights with appropriate benefit sharing
As I see it civilization is like a table with 4 legs, these being air, water, soil and seeds. All of culture rests upon this foundation. Humanity has little influence towards creating air, water and soil as we are merely the grateful recipients from these blessings from Creation. While we can improve soil with thoughtful care, generally we are the beneficiaries of millennia of soil formation. The seeds of our food, fiber, floral and medicine plants are something that humanity has a unique role in stewarding. I would like us all to celebrate and cherish this good work with seeds, uplift the seed keepers past and present and strive to nurture the upcoming seed keepers with love, kindness and respect. May we cultivate hope and success towards a life affirming regenerative culture for now and the future.
Don Tipping, November 2019
* Please note that this is a Rough Draft and a work in process for which I welcome input and comments. I am in dialog with Slow Foods USA, the Organic Seed Alliance, Rocky Mountain Seed Alliance and the Indigenous Seed Keepers Network