Seeds are the living heritage we can all help to protect

(Picture: Ellie O'Byrne)

The living heritage of heirloom seeds and their vital role in future proofing against climate change is in the spotlight at Crawford Art Gallery, Cork during Heritage Week 2022 (August 13th-22nd).

Join with Jason and Deirdre Morrissey of Irish Seed Savers Association (ISSA) for a free, family-friendly seed saving workshop and open seed swap. At ‘Seeds Are Stories’, gallery-goers and gardeners are invited to learn seed saving techniques from the experts, and amateur seed savers are invited to bring their saved seed to trade with others, and to tell the story behind their seed. Children can also sow a seed to take it home and watch it grow.

Making seed-saving a regular part of how we garden and grow food is becoming more important, but we need the knowledge to do it: that’s the message from seed sovereignty advocate Jason Horner.

It’s a global issue, but everyone who gardens and likes to grow their own can help. Rebuilding global seed biodiversity and avoiding increasingly vulnerable food monocultures is essential to making sure our food system is resilient and sustainable, Jason says, and we can all contribute, from home gardeners to commercial horticulturalists.

Chef-turned-farmer Jason underwent a “massive learning curve” in 2021, when, after 30 years of organic horticulture on his four-acre farm in Co Clare, he switched from growing veg for high-end restaurants and his local farmer’s market to cultivating seeds.

He was partly inspired by the seed shortages experienced in Ireland during the boom in gardening we saw during Covid lockdowns in 2020, which highlighted how little seed is now grown in Ireland.

Brexit’s impact on stocks of seed potatoes further highlighted to Jason how important it is for Irish growers to relearn the art of saving seed to increase our food security for the future. Agriculture Minister Charlie McConalogue hailed the stoppage of UK seed potato exports to Ireland as a “massive opportunity” for Irish growers to get in on the seed business, and Jason agrees.

“It’s so simple really, but a lot of growers have just never thought it through,” he says. “They just haven’t joined up all the dots.”

Jason works as the Gaia Foundation’s Seed Sovereignty Programme Coordinator for Ireland, teaching growers seed-saving techniques and encouraging Irish farmers to save seed. But he’s equally passionate about the role hobby gardeners have in keeping heirloom seed varieties alive.

‘Seeds Are Stories’ takes place on Saturday, 13th August with a seed lunchtime workshop at 1pm, followed from 2pm-4pm with seed swap/sowing.

Also at the Crawford, a free guided tour of the ‘Meat and Potatoes’ exhibition will run on Saturday, 13 August at 11am. While an Art Picnic takes place the following day (Sunday 14th) from 11am – 1pm, where you can drop-in and try some still-life painting, drawing and basic block printing. All ages welcome, no art experience necessary.