Archives for category: Seeds

Last week I taught a fermenting workshop and did some demonstrating and q-and-a, as part of the really brilliant Liverpool Food for Real Film Festival put on by Squash Nutrition and Liverpool Food People, “a network of food growers, composters, buyers, cooks and eaters passionate about a positive healthy food culture for lovely Liverpool.”  If you are working in your way towards food justice and urban growing, health and food sustainability and local responses to hunger– the whole shebang– it’s really worth looking up these groups and exploring what and how they do things.  They are energetic, creative people working hard in unique, inspired ways.  I fell in love with them, and with Liverpool. From my point of view, I was really glad as well to be sharing my knowledge with a truly multi-aged and multiethnic group of people, much more diverse than usual. This made for an especially interesting conversation about how people were going to go home and integrate these new food preparation techniques into their home cuisines.

I also had the opportunity to see a stunning film, Read the rest of this entry »


“We are selling off the Kumato Tomatoes AT COST because it has come to light that they are grown from patented seed. For ethical reasons we do not support patenting of seeds, therefore we will not be ordering Kumato Tomatoes again. If you are curious about this, put the words “kumato tomato syngenta” into a search engine or speak to [the managers].”


Today I saw this on my shift at Great Oak Foods in Llanidloes, in Powys, in Mid-Wales.  I am one of a community of people who give time working in the shop which we believe to be part of a local solution to many global-food conundrums.  The shop, as a community enterprise, aims:

1. To be a retail outlet for organic fresh foods and associated products to provide the opportunity for customers to make sustainable lifestyle choices.

2. To create opportunities for a local market for organically grown produce and to provide the means for sustainable employment in the community, ecologically and economically.

3. To support the local economy through a local purchasing policy and to make available a wider range of products in the area, and to reduce dependency on importing products, with associated food miles.

4. To encourage social investment in sustainable enterprise and to empower members of the community to become actively involved in issues surrounding local food and ecological sustainability.


My first feelings, reading the notice above about Kumato Tomatoes, were joy and pride to be living in community with people with similar commitments to social and ecological justice in the food system, and who act from a place of personal conscience .  And yet I wanted to investigate the issues involved to be sure that I wasn’t forming a knee-jerk opinion.  And to write about it on this blog as a document/ reflection of a kind of moment in time where local people (in this case, us) were asked by a situation to grapple with a wider social food issue, and how it might play out.

I spoke with the managers, and one shared with me his belief that patenting “discovery” was a different ethical issue to patenting an “invention”; he just couldn’t come to terms with the idea that something like a seed and varietal crossing could be patented– and he did note that this was not a case involving genetic modification, for which he could see a better case for patenting.  Which is not to say, obviously, that we support GM in any way.

One could make the case that Syngenta has developed a variety of tomato — through careful, old-fashioned, year-to-year testing and experimenting — that consumers want and desire for the special eating qualities it offers. And that Syngenta deserves to profit from its innovation and investment, and profit is the engine of technological and agricultural “progress.”  (Cringe.)

We learn from Wikipedia Kumato that “Syngenta maintains ownership of the variety throughout the entire value chain from breeding to marketing; selected growers must agree to follow specified cultivation protocols and pays fees for licenses per acre of greenhouse, costs of the seeds, and royalties based on the volume of tomatoes produced.”  Is the word for this vertical market integration?

This manager wrote an enquiring email to our wholesale supplier (which deals in organic foods, operates regionally, and is a much much smaller player than supermarket level), who responded with many perfectly justifiable points including: that Syngenta’s business strategy represents the  “club” approach which has gone on with the development of trees and shrubs and potatoes in a smaller business scale; this represents only a temporary market consolidation  because it’s so difficult to monitor and police; that customers want “good quality”;  growers need prolific and disease resistant varieties which can yield, for organic, a competitive price…

So what to believe?  Maybe we should just relent on this issue– even though, and this did niggle, the tomatoes somehow posture themselves on a shelf as if they are heirlooms or a local variety, seed carefully nutured by seed savers and cottage gardeners, and usurp the aesthetics the new food movement has created/ recreated.

I looked to my gut instinct.   We as a community around  “The Veg Shop” (as it’s affectionately called) share a vision of a food system gone wrong — in terms of the concentration of power in agribusiness and supermarkets, the overuse of pesticides unhealthy for people and biodiversity, the climate impacts of food miles and unseasonal eating.  We support organics, local food, local growers, the use of non-chemical pest management, small producers and fair-trade as a step towards justice for food workers far and wide.  We see agriculture within ecological and political contexts and support a horticultural scale we believe can be a part of building a new and better system.

Syngenta  is also a major player in pesticides, in a world in which bees and other insects are so perilously at risk and the Precautionary Principle is called for.  Syngenta also promotes GM crops, which represent health and ecological worry to many as well as a dangerous privatisation of seed stock and concentration of power in the big players.

There is also the on-going  battle in the EU to regulate seeds, plants and plant materials that can be sold; the big agriculture players punch hard, with their piles of money, and can pay the fees to register their own goods, while smaller breeders and gardeners are edged out.  The Wales-based Real Seed Company does great campaigning work on this issue— am looking forward to ordering some seeds from them.

We support the enfranchisement of the small players, for so many reasons: ecological, social, anti-hunger, food security, and more. The Seed Freedom folks often operate from the point of view that we need a paradigm shift; Jose Luis Vivero Pol argues really eloquently for “a re-commonification” of food—or, in other words, a transition where we work toward considering food as a commons as ..essential … in light of our broken global food system.”  Seeds are where food begin.

This article by Charles Eisenstein also delves into what’s wrong and how we can think about food differently in order to oppose hunger and food inequality and create a juster world, better ready for climate instability.

I’m not a Luddite really, nor particularly anti-innovation, and willing to keep an open mind towards different aspects of biotechnology– but I do have a different vision for the food system that needs to be developed to correct this one.  This to me is the basis of why I support the managers at Great Oak Foods– it’s not whom we’re against, so much as  it’s what we are for…


Hello, Old Bean

The beans as runner beans were old and scraggly and would have been chewy and tough. Inside though– little magic beans, beautiful colours and telling stories of a diverse genetic lineage. It’s amazing really to LOOK at them, to hold them in your hand, and imagine they are both seeds, and security, and food for the winter too– food for indefinite duration, if stored correctly. Beans here in Britain can feel– well, there are Baked Beans, of course, donning in sugary, tomatoey glory many a Jacket Potato with Cheese. But these beans: these feel Old World, and humble, yet mysterious, Jack and the Beanstalkish, something from the past and hopefully the future, a good food future, in which people, gardeners, farmers, still save and plant seeds, a future in which we’ve retained freedom of seeds, the little amulets that communicate the magic and mystery of life-cycles.

Corporate seed control, via patents and elaborate legal regulation of sales, is so absurd I barely can understand it, except in terms of a growing trend in which common (meaning shared) resources are privatised for profit and ownership. How could any of these seeds, these precious living beans, be owned for the life that they can generate if planted and nurtured? I just don’t get it.

Seed Freedom Fortnight is upon us, please see what might be happening near you, or make something happen– even if it’s just saving seed or sharing seed or thinking about the importance of keeping our right to access, freely, joyfully, humanity’s agricultural (and culinary) heritage.


Youth and Experience

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