BBC Food and Farming Awards visit

We are very excited to have been selected as one of three FINALISTS in the BBC Future Food Award, a category of the BBC Food and Farming Awards 2017.

BBC Future Food Award

“The winners of this award are providing cutting-edge innovation and pioneering work that could influence how our food will be grown, distributed or sold in future. This award is for an ambitious and ground-breaking idea found within the food supply chain; from initiatives by national retailers and major food and drink manufacturers to new models being put into practice by farmers and producers. Who’s introducing the new ideas other food businesses will want to follow? It could be work that deals with sustainability, access, health, energy or waste; any initiative which is scalable, commercially viable and applicable to food production and distribution in the UK.”  ….it says on the BBC web site!

Yesterday we were visited by Dan Saladino (Presenter of Radio 4’s The  Food Programme), Mike Stones (Future Food judge and Group Editor of Food Manufacture) and producers Rich Ward and Tom Bonnet.  They spent a day looking around at all aspects of what we do and interviewing us.

We are waiting to hear when two programmes will be broadcast using material recorded during this visit.  There will be an edition of The Food Programme about the Future Food Award finalists.  The other finalists in the Future Food category are:

Growing Underground sustainably grow mouth-wateringly fresh micro greens and salad leaves 33 metres below the busy streets of Clapham. Using the latest hydroponic systems and LED technology, their crops are grown year-round in a pesticide-free environment that these forgotten tunnels provide.

Islander Rathlin Kelp who grow kelp in a Marine Conservation area off the Ratlin coastline, in Northern Ireland. From starting off the kelp plants in their nursery to packing fresh kelp products; it all takes place in their facility on Rathlin Island.

There is also going to be a dedicated On Your Farm programme, all about the Seed Co-operative, broadcast on Radio 4 early one Sunday morning.

We will be sharing the news of these broadcast dates as soon as we know when they will be.

There is an event in Bristol on 8 June when the finalists of all categories will be brought together and the winners will be announced.  However, such is the standing of these awards, there can be no losers.  Getting to the final is such an honour; it brings with it such great promotion for all the finalists, and of all that is good in UK food and farming.  (Of course, we’ll be over the moon if we win!)

ABOUT THE SEED CO-OPERATIVE

Seed Co-operative is a community owned seed company that is growing and selling organic and biodynamic open pollinated vegetable, herb and flower seed in the UK.  Launched in 2014, this initiative is building on the work of Stormy Hall Seeds which for 20 years has been the biggest organic vegetable seed producer in the UK on just 7 acres.  A small farm in Lincolnshire, run by a small team of staff and volunteers, is currently in organic conversion, and provides a hub for a growing UK wide network of seed producers.

As a Community Benefit Society the financial backing is provided through donations, grants and community shares, with 220 people now being co-owners.

Our focus is on regenerating UK farm-based organic seed production and participatory plant breeding amongst small scale growers to ensure the availability of appropriately priced seed of the best quality and suitable for UK growing conditions.  Seed Co-operative has a customer base of over 4,000, partly inherited from Stormy Hall Seeds, and deals with commercial growers and organic retailers, plus mail order and web sales to gardeners.  In 2016 there were eight growers producing seed as part of the network, in 2017 this figure is expected to double.

WHY THIS IS IMPORTANT

9 of every 10 mouthfuls of food derives from seed, yet little seed is now produced in the UK.  80% of the organic open pollinated vegetable seed sold in the the UK is currently imported. Globally 75% of seed is sold by just 5 corporations whose other interests lie in pesticides and fertiliser.  Through the community ownership of a seed company people have the opportunity to take a stake in their food future. This is about co-operation between people who eat food and people who grow food, but also between people and the natural world.

Why is this work relevant to the future of food in the UK and perhaps further afield?  How might it influence the wider food industry longer term?

Evolution is an ongoing process.  Our food system needs crops to evolve or the food system itself will be at risk.  Without open pollinated seed the evolution of our food crops is in jeopardy.  Choices being made about the shape of our food system are being driven by short-term economic considerations resulting in the domination of F1 hybrid varieties and the consequent loss of open pollinated varieties.

Our food system relies entirely on a functioning ecology; given a malfunctioning ecology we won’t eat.  Within the natural world insurance is provided not by the money markets but by diversity.   Natural resilience comes from the ability of species to adapt to changing conditions; that ability is inherently dependent on the genetic diversity within living organisms as much as having a diversity of species / varieties.  Open pollinated seed, compared to F1 hybrid or GM seed, has oodles of genetic diversity and provides for a resilient food system rooted in natural processes.

Since 1900 the global availability of food crop varieties has reduced by more than 90%. Many of the remaining open pollinated varieties are in desperate need of restorative maintenance after decades of under investment whilst seed companies have concentrated on F1 hybrids.   There are parallels between plant breeding and computer programming: open pollinated is in many ways equivalent to open source software; available to all as a shared resource.  Seed companies commercial interests are protected by concentrating on F1 hybrids because seeds cannot be saved as they do not breed true-to-type, meaning growers have to go back every year to buy more seeds.  Patents and other legal devices are also dominating the seed world, placing control of our food system in the hands of very few people.  Our Seed Co-operative is about demonstrating that this process is reversible.

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