Breeding seeds for the climate crisisSeptember 29, 2019
Did you know Canada does not produce enough vegetable seed to meet farmers’ needs?
Would you be surprised to learn that Canada does not produce enough vegetable seed to meet farmers’ needs? The vast majority of vegetable seeds Canadian farmers plant are imported, year after year. In addition for farmers using organic growing practices, seeds bred to grow well in Canadian organic conditions are even harder to find.
Our Canadian program, The Bauta Family Initiative on Canadian Seed Security, teams up with farmers across the country to change this. By bringing together farmers and researchers, we’re supporting the breeding of organic varieties of wheat, oats, potatoes, corn and a variety of vegetables. We also train interns who then bring their new abilities back to their farms.
Rebecca Ivanoff participated in our intern program. She then went on to work with farmers Greta Kryger, Annie Richard and Kathy Rothermel to breed a flavourful new red pepper adapted to organic farms in southern Ontario.
“The climate in southern Ontario has become unpredictable. The pepper seeds we’re producing will be adapted to these changes,” says Rebecca.
“The climate in southern Ontario has become unpredictable. The pepper seeds we’re producing will be adapted to these changes.”Rebecca Ivanoff
These locally bred seeds mean the farmers who have bred them, like Rebecca, will have seeds to plant and grow that are especially suited to the region’s growing conditions. But how do other farmers find out they exist?
Well, Annie and Kathy, along with their farming partner, Frank Misek, are getting the word out. The three of them run Kitchen Table Seed House from Kathy’s farm property on Wolfe Island in Ontario.
Last season, the trio signed up to grow the Ontario Variety Showcase garden.
The garden, supported through our Canadian program, is one of only two such showcase gardens in the province. It brings together favourite seeds from growers across the province into a living collection of diverse, locally adapted crops.
“The idea is that we’re showcasing varieties from other seed companies in Ontario that maybe some growers, farmers and gardeners haven’t necessarily seen but that are adapted to this climate. We’re showcasing those and tasting them, too,” Annie told the Kingston Whig Standard during the garden’s first growing season.
Near the end of the Ontario Variety Showcase garden’s first growing season, Annie, Kathy and Frank invited farmers to see the showcase garden. It was a feast for the eyes and the mouth as visitors also sampled the diverse harvest from the garden over lunch.
Making these locally bred varieties available to other farmers is essential to our future food security, especially in a rapidly changing climate.
“Right now, farmers are getting seeds produced in all sorts of climates from around the world,” Annie told the Kingston Whig Standard. “They perform fine, but the climate is starting to change and things are getting a little more unpredictable. If we can get varieties that are grown in organic systems … for organic farms, right here in this kind of soil and climate, the northern climate, we’re putting them at a better advantage to mitigate those extreme temperatures and better perform for them.”