This post is from one of the 18 interns in the Real Time Farms Food Warrior Summer Internship Program. These interns are collecting data, pictures, and video on the growing practices of our nation’s farms, collecting food artisans’ stories, and documenting farmers markets. We all deserve to know where our food comes from!
Growing up in the middle of an urban metropolis, I never thought much about farming. I never pondered the work it takes to bring a plant from seed to harvest, and especially never considered where farmers get their seeds to plant. Now, years later and much more connected to my food and food sources, I am finally able to grasp the convoluted relationship and tension between seed and policy—between human ability and will.
The fact is that the diversity of our plants around the globe is endangered, which is bad news for farmers and consumers alike. With fewer varieties of species and fewer species overall, we are in greater danger of experiencing mass starvation—a concern which is exacerbated by climate change, a condition which is resulting in unpredictable and severe weather worldwide. Therefore, in order to reduce our threat of extinction, and essentially move some of our eggs to another basket, Norway has taken the initiative to create a seed vault which intends to store the world’s crop species in the event of nuclear or civil war, meteors, climate change, or even the gradual degeneration of land. Unfortunately, the final threat of land degeneration is proving to become a reality all-too-quickly, brought on largely by massive corporations.
As biotechnology companies began popping up in the 1970’s and 1980’s, traditional, organic farming came under attack. As these firms wanted farmers’ business, they promoted their own specific seed and shunned the traditional practice of planting many different seeds on their land. Gradually, farmers began shifting their practices to grow just one variety of crop that has been engineered, or modified, to withstand adversity caused by weeds and pests. This trend has continued for years and we are now able to see the consequences of monoculture, which include: decreased nutritional quality of GE (genetically engineered) and GMO (genetically modified organism) plants, biotech companies possessing control of food supply and farmers, pests and weeds overtaking crops, and lower crop production. In fact, a study in the US reveals that “small farms growing a wide range of plants can produce 10 times as much money per acre as big farms growing single crops”.3 These effects have all helped justify the construction of this “Doomsday” Vault, officially called The Svalbard Global Seed Vault.2
The vault, which houses 526,000 unique crop varieties (as of May 2010), may offer you comfort, but the true comfort would be knowing we had no need for it.2 Although it seems we are in a dire situation, there is hope! People all over the world help to preserve unique seeds, and while some go to the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, some also go to the Seed Savers Exchange, which is a network between farmers supporting biodiversity and seed preservation.1 The owner of Sage Thymes, a small farm in Lakewood, CO, has also dedicated her time and property to saving heirloom and other rare seed varieties, of which she has worked mainly with soybean and tomato seeds so far. Additionally, vendors at markets sometimes offer seeds of their crops for sale. The bottom line is that we have dug ourselves into quite a hole, but if we share our knowledge, understand how to get out through increasing biodiversity, and each pitch in a little, we can hopefully one day all forget about the Vault and the comfort it had once provided us.
Summer 2011 Boulder Food Warrior