Bellingen Seed Savers care deeply about the future of food security and so, focus their efforts around saving seed. Saving seed is crucial to ensure that non GMO modified and non hybridised seed are always publicly and openly available to everyone. “We want to make sure that when you plant a tomato seed that you were given by your neighbour, that that seed will grow a fertile plant, that will give you lovely tomatoes to eat and preserve and when you save the seed from that tomato you can grow a plant from that seed again the next season, or give it to your friends and neighbours,” says Erik de Jong, active local Seed Saver member.
Bellingen Seed Savers formed in late 2008 and continues to grow and thrive. They are a group of more than 400 members from Nambucca to Spiketts Creek to Dorrigo to Megan to Sapphire Beach, and of course Coffs, Sawtell and Bello. “It’s a very wide catchment with varied climates and it’s why we label where the seeds were grown,” explains Fiona Morgan, an active local member of Bellingen Seed Savers. The aim of this group is to ensure a reliable source of delicious, nutritious food into the future by growing healthy plants, saving the locally adapted seeds and sharing them around our community. “Knowing a plants origin, growing characteristics and uses helps you select the right plant for your location and needs,” says Jeff Alcott, Seeds Co-ordinator at Bellingen Seed Savers and renowned local ‘Chilli Expert’.
Jeff started growing fruit and vegetables when he was only 12 years of age at his parents cattle property south of Grafton. A few years later he moved to tropical NT and learned how to grow a vast array of Asian edibles and native bush tucker plants. Moving to the Coffs Coast presented many new challenges. “I joined Bellingen Seed Savers to gain knowledge on growing food-producing plants in this region. I currently co-ordinate activities for seed-collection, cleaning, packing and labelling. I also manage a small database of seed stock, labels and seed information,”says Jeff. He discovered that many of his tropical favourites also grow well here, along with many plants he couldn’t grow in the tropics. “Now I have the best of both worlds.”
So why are so many commercial seed stocks hybridised? “Its commercial,” explains Jeff. “Suppliers of hybridised / modified seeds offer growers plants with predictable growing characteristics and yields, improved disease & pest resistance and greater productivity. If you are a commercial grower, these are important things. Growers make money and the seed suppliers make money. It sounds like a win-win relationship. The downside: loss of biodiversity, loss of tasty nutrient-rich produce, big biotech organisations gaining control of food and textile producing plants, increased risk of long term failure.” Hybrid seeds also need to be purchased each year. The seeds are bred to mature all at the same times to reduce the harvest period and to withstand travelling long distances. “A backyard gardener grows for taste, only needs to transport to the kitchen and wants to harvest over a long period of time. It’s usually a disaster if everything ripens at once because it just goes to waste – imagine if every zucchini for the season ripened in one week, for instance. These qualities are the opposite of what commercial seeds are bred to do,” says Fiona Morgan.
Fiona understands first hand the time and effort that gardening and growing your own food requires. “So much can go wrong with weather and pests. However, with known origins you know what to expect, whether the seeds are likely to germinate well, whether the particular variety is suitable to your climate or whether it is susceptible to plant diseases in your area. Why wouldn’t you want to maximise your chances of actually harvesting something tasty?”
So can Bellingen Seed Savers help the keen novice gardener? “We host regular garden gatherings. Everyone is welcome to come along,” says Fiona. “The garden tours are relaxed & informal. We have a guided wander around the garden of a member and then hang about and socialise. There’s a huge amount of knowledge in the group. Both beginners and gardeners love to talk about their plants. Come along with a growing question or two and you’ll have your problem sorted out in no time – all over a cup of tea and a feast of shared plates of food. Rae’s cakes are legendary, Elaine makes extraordinary herbal punch. The food plates often showcase the harvest from someone’s garden and recipes are shared too!” The group also run intermittent workshops. ” We have something for everyone: novice, intermediate to expert. We value knowledge sharing and seed sharing,” says Jeff.
Bellingen Spring and Autumn fairs are the main promotion for the group. They encourage everyone to sign up to their newsletter at www.bellingenseedsavers.com so they will receive news about workshops and Garden Gathering invites. Being a not-for-profit association, the group don’t actually sell seeds, but they distribute seeds and plant material at Plant Fairs and some gatherings for reasonable donations.