Seed saving — a quiet act of defiance

group of women at table

A Little Simple Seed Saving

Wiebke Tinney, Bernadette Goguen and Francine Theriault are members of a seed savers group under the umbrella of Groupe du développement durable du Pays de Cocagne (GDDPC). How this tiny community of the Cocagne River Watershed has enough vitality and environmental awareness to even have a such a group is yet to be determined, but it’s exciting and gives me hope.

All three women are full of enthusiasm, stories and information, although Wiebke hangs back a bit in deference to the two veteran seed savers. Francine has been saving for over 15 years, Bernadette seven.

The themes of self sufficiency and independence surface again and again throughout our discussion. They are farmers and are saving seeds to preserve biodiversity, to find varieties that are adapted to climate change, to make seeds available to all — counteracting the Monsanto mentality of patenting seeds and even genes for profit. The seeds savers are generous of spirit.

Francine started with saving seeds for wheat and barley but has also experimented more recently with vegetable seeds. Bernadette grows peppers for their seeds under a subcontract, and Wiebke is just beginning and learning.

It’s a process

Francine holds her cupped hand out and says, “We start out with just a few — and then we multiply our planting every year.” She speaks of the seeds like they are precious gems and of the great patience that is required in observing and choosing the best plants year after year. She just wants people to know that, although it’s not easy, “it’s do-able. It’s a process.”

Seeds cannot be saved from hybrid plants. Instead open pollinated varieties are required. These are seeds that will “breed true” or produce plants that are roughly identical to the parent plants. Seeds from plants that are a result of a recent cross or hybridization will grow into plants with widely different characteristics, or they may be sterile. So they are not suitable.

Seeds from most plants can be saved including grains, peas, beans, tomatoes, peppers, potatoes, squash, pumpkins and broccoli. Some plants like carrots and beets take two years to produce seed.

Great care must be taken when growing plants for seed to keep them away from other, similar varieties so they don’t cross-pollinate and inadvertently produce a hybrid. Francine and Bernadette told of a recent failure of a pumpkin seed that grew into a plant that produced fruit that was a cross between a pumpkin and a zucchini —useless as food or a source of seed.

Growing group

The group estimates there are about 30 people in the area saving a variety of seeds. They hope to get more information about this soon from an online survey.

Bernadette, who is also starting a vineyard says, “We have to own this” meaning the right to save seeds. They shun any government help because in their view government favours big agribusiness.  And these people don’t want to be “beholden.”  Francine says the best way that government can help is to “not get in our way.”

And as for making money from their saving: “No!” is their emphatic answer. That would ruin it, they say. Seed saving is not about making a buck. It’s more about protecting a way of life and safeguarding for the future.

That theme of protecting the future is likely why Bernadette and Francine smiled a lot at Wiebke during the interview. They were clearly delighted that this young person was taking seed saving seriously and wants to learn from them.  It adds richness to their activities and purpose. It adds hope.

It all feels a little bit like they are getting ready to load up the ark for a difficult journey.  These women see what’s coming ahead, but there is no panic. Instead there is quiet, methodical determination…and faith.

Frances showing importance of seed saving
Francine Theriault says: “We got some seeds. It’s a handful when you start. You do a little patch, and then you multiply every year. It takes a few years to get a whole field. That’s how we did it. It’s a process.”
cocagne seed savers-8924
Bernadette Goguen says: “Sometimes you want to have your own seeds because you want to know where it came from.”
Headshot of Wiebke listening
Wiebke Tinning is from Barachois but is part of the Cocagne Seed Saving group. She is the one who set up the meeting for us.