News

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.

Recruiting: Seed Production Co-ordinator

Seed Coop job advert

We are looking for an experienced field-scale organic vegetable grower

Seed Production Co-ordinator

We need a new team member at Gosberton Bank Nursery.  This person will co-ordinate the successful production, harvest and processing of biodynamic vegetable, herb and flower seed crops.

As Seed Production Co-ordinator you would work as part of our team (ultimately responsible to the Managing Director) and your duties and responsibilities will involve co-ordinating the following:-

  • planning and implementing annual cropping plans
  • implementing the sowing, planting and maintenance of the cropping areas in fields and glasshouses.
  • keeping detailed crop records.
  • managing and maintaining irrigation systems
  • organising and managing the harvesting and processing of seed crops, ensuring clean and tidy areas are maintained to guarantee top quality clean seed.
  • identifying and acquiring materials and equipment for crop production and infrastructure maintenance
  • initiating the marketing of any fresh produce
  • planning and implementing a soil fertility building and manuring plan, including biodynamic preps.
  • taking responsibility for the regular maintenance of farm and seed cleaning machinery, and keeping maintenance records up-to-date

Co-ordination will involve working with other members of the team; at times you will need to assist in areas co-ordinated by others, these include:

  • assisting with seed packing and order processing.
  • moving livestock and assisting with livestock tasks
  • supervising the work of apprentices and volunteers
  • being prepared to take visitors around and share knowledge of seed production

Key Skills

  • Knowledge of organic vegetable, herb and flower production; closed loop growing, crop rotations, compost making, weed management, soil building.
  • Tractor driving with a range of implements
  • Agricultural machinery maintenance
  • Maintenance or workshop machinery, seed processing machinery and hand tools
  • Building, glasshouse, irrigation, fencing and general infrastructure maintenance.
  • Open communication with other team members
  • Work programme planning and ability to manage volunteers as part of a team
  • Self-motivated and able to take responsibility
  • Basic computer skills

Desirable skills/qualifications

  • Management of seed crops
  • Seed processing experience
  • Good computer skills
  • Qualifications in farming, ecology, or sustainable land management
  • Experience of biodynamic farming practices

Personal qualities:

  • A deep respect for the earth as a living organism
  • Natural team worker
  • Openness to learning and adopting biodynamic methods
  • Highly organised, taking a systems approach and sensibly tidy
  • Adaptable and able to juggle ever-changing priorities

To apply please send a CV and covering letter to: davidprice@seedcooperative.org.uk by 19th April 2017.  Interviews will take place w/c 1 May 2017

A sample employment contract for this post can be downloaded here  Seed-Production-Co-ordinator-sample-contract.pdf (84 downloads)

Brief history of the Seed Co-operative, in pictures, with music….

See how the Seed Co-operative has grown from Stormy Hall Seeds, to growing seeds in Suffolk in 2015 and now has its own base for seed production, processing, sales and distribution at Gosberton Bank Nursery in Lincolnshire.

With thanks to Formidable Vegetable Sound System and Vandana Shiva for the sound track

Oxford Real Farming Conference; 4-5 January 2017

Open Pollinated Seed, antiquated relic of a past agrarian age or the vital ingredient for a sustainable farming future?

On the first day of the Oxford Real Farming Conference, the UK’s community owned seed company, Seed Co-operative, starts a vital conversation about taking back control of our food:

The biodiversity of agricultural seeds has reduced by more than 90% since 1900, and seed sales has been concentrated within a small group of global corporations (just 5 corporations sell 75% of the worlds seed). What can farmers and growers do to influence which seeds are available to them, and at what price?

Open pollinated seeds provided the basis of the food system for centuries, rooted in the diversity of varieties that had been bred by farmers and passed from generation to generation.

The use of F1 hybrids and modern breeding techniques have taken work related to seed out of the hands of farmers and largely restricted it to laboratories. Professor Gunter Backes (University of Kassel) will outline new breeding techniques that include genetic editing. Some might consider these techniques as GMO’s but seeds bred in this way are not being sold as such.

Iain Tolhurst, an organic vegetable grower, will describe how he chooses between F1 hybrid and open pollinated varieties; with tight economic margins F1 hybrids can make the short-term difference between profit and loss.

Catrina Fenton will describe the work of the Heritage Seed Library in conserving vegetable diversity in the UK with the involvement of gardeners and growers.

David Price will outline how the Seed Co-operative is setting out to produce more organic open pollinated seed in the UK through a network of growers supported by a community of co-owners of the Seed Co-operative.

Lawrence Woodward (Whole Organic Plus) will Chair the session with a large part devoted to a wider question and answer with all those present.

The Challenge

Open pollinated seed adapts though natural processes providing natural resilience for diverse agro-ecological farming. Currently many varieties of open pollinated vegetable seed have been poorly maintained and this leads commercial growers to use F1 hybrid seed in order to compete within the economic framework in which they farm.

Biodiversity is our natural insurance policy; underwriting the ecology on which our food supply depends. Seeds derived from natural open pollination, and the traditional field-based plant breeding undertaken by generations of farmers, are rooted in biodiversity, providing this insurance.

F1 hybrids are increasingly being developed using techniques which could be considered GM, or close to it, and reduce genetic diversity in the process. Latest techniques are undetectable and so even if regulation required the use of these techniques to be disclosed (which it doesn’t right now) it could be impossible to enforce. Organic farmers could already be using these seeds without knowing it.

This session is designed to open up discussion on this topic and make people aware that biotechnology is advancing so fast that growers, consumers and even regulators are struggling to keep up.

We are very keen not to cast growers who are using F1 hybrid seed as the bad guys, but look to discuss what people want to see for the long-term.

What are the choices growers would make if it were not for the economic drivers that force commercial decisions?

How do we take the necessary steps to ensure that open pollinated seeds are still to be an option in the future?

2017 Catalogue OUT NOW!

catalogue-cover

Our new seed catalogue is out now.  You can download it here Seed-Co-op-2017-web-catalogue.pdf (1972 downloads) (3MB).

We will be posting copies out to Stormy Hall Seed customers and our existing online customers in the coming weeks.  If you would like a printed copy please email us and we’ll put one in the post.  (We will generally respond quicker to an email than if you leave a comment below).

You can, of course, order gardeners packets from the Seed Shop, but our catalogues provide more detail than we have online at the moment, plus:

  • bulk packs for growers and farmers
  • details of the source of each variety