Anyone that has seen the movie Food Inc. will be familiar with some of the issues surrounding saving seed on commercial farms. It’s a complex topic that I’m going to delve briefly into, and hope to learn more about as we journey south.
Food Inc. focuses on American farmers growing crops such as soy and corn (maize) where there is little choice but to use genetically modified (GM) seed. Over 90% of the soy grown in the US is herbicide tolerant – hence GM, and around 90% of that contains Monsanto traits. Furthermore 70% of the national corn and cotton crop is estimated to contain the Monsanto Roundup Ready trait.
If a farmer buys seed from Monsanto, a company that dominates the GM and non-GM seed market, he/she cannot hold back any of the resulting harvest for planting the following year – a practice that used to be a necessity for farmers in times gone by. If Monsanto’s customers save seed they are most likely in violation of the company’s extensive patents. Monsanto’s patent law has established the right to claim ownership of genetic material in the food system. A single corporation has managed to gain de facto control of America’s two biggest crops – soy and corn. With a reported budget of $10 million and a staff of 75 devoted to investigating and prosecuting farmers, Monsanto clings onto this hegemony and brings its might to bear on farmers who are in violation of their agreements. This is something that dealt with in Food Inc.
Even the organic farming scene is not safe from Monsanto’s clutches as the company is active in supplying into this marketplace too. However, there are entities that are preserving and supplying seeds in a more wholesome way – Territorial Seeds and Turtletree Seeds to name a couple. I’d like to find out more about where organic farmers source their seed, it’s a seldom discussed yet essential part of the growing cycle – so, if anyone has any leads, or knows of any California based operations…
For the home grower, I came across a great resource at the Berkeley Farmers’ Market - the Bay Area Seed Interchange Library (BASIL). There are lots of resources like this, many of which are specific to geography (climate, soils, etc). What greater satisfaction than growing a seed that you have saved and nurtured all by yourself? Apparently pulses and members of the Nightshade family (eg potatoes, tomatoes) are easiest. For pulses allow them to dry in their pods before collecting and storing; for tomatoes squeeze seeds and some pulp into a jar, let it ferment for a few days then rinse the seeds and remove pulp. Potatoes are grown from tubers not seeds.