After days of sunshine, on Saturday 3rd February, the weather turned into a rainy, windy and cold day. Yet this did not stop people from coming to the Skip Garden to celebrate seeds, new potentials and life. The day coincided with the re-opening of the Skip Garden and cafe after our Christmas and January hibernation. It also coincided with the celebration of Imbolc, the half way point between the winter solstice and spring equinox, which for thousands of years has celebrated hope, new life and new beginnings.
Young and old came together to grow, cook, sprout, swap seeds, create, wonder and marvel at the knowledge, qualities and life that seeds hold. People took part in various workshops, including exploring and milling ancient grains with Sustainable Food Story; learning the basics on how to save seeds and the importance of this in our current context with London Freedom Seed Bank; growing our own portable farm of sprouted seeds with Secret Seed Society; and creating artistic expressions inspired by the beauty of seeds through batik and lantern making with the Skip Garden team.
The day was part of a wider project, ‘Seeds for a Better World’, funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, which is run with local young people and community groups. The project was born out of both despair and hope. Despair around the alarming rate at which we are losing plant and animal species. In the last 100 years, 80% of plant biodiversity has been lost in Europe. Alongside this loss, we are also losing the local knowledge, culture and skills of women and men who know how to farm in a sustainable way, and who place seed saving at the heart of their farming system. And yet the project is also full of hope and magic, which each seed carries with their endless potential for renewal and creating new life.
Our Seed Ambassadors, young people from the local community, are on this learning journey with us. Together, we are exploring ways to connect to and give back to our diverse natural heritage through gardening workshops to train, educate and inspire children, young people, local residents, teachers and business employees to learn about the natural cycle of growing and seed saving; the creation of two new Seed Gardens; the unearthing of older people’s memories from BME communities of vegetable varieties and growing traditions from home; the creation of a mobile interactive seed bank to take heritage seeds and the stories of those that grew them to new audiences; and Seed themed events to bring together diverse groups of people to learn from each other.
The day for me is emblematic of the interesting times we find ourselves in. On the one hand, gathering together, swapping seeds, exchanging ideas, using creative means to welcome the new season felt like the most natural thing in the world. On the other hand it felt like a small revolutionary act in the face of an absurd and oppressive system we find ourselves in, in which seeds have fallen in the control of big corporations. As Vandana Shiva says ‘‘Seed is the source of life and the first link in the food chain. Control over seed means a control over our lives, our food and our freedom’. We should turn our roof tops into gardens which are seed sanctuaries because the seed, it is centuries of evolution, a gift of our ancestors and needs to be saved as a gift for future generations.’’
In a small way, by coming together in the way our ancestors always have, we are taking a stance. We are saying no to a system that robs us of our natural heritage and yes to the diversity and the potential that each seed and each one of us holds.
Thank you to Heritage Lottery Fund for supporting this project. Thank you to Heritage Seed Library and London Freedom Seed Bank for bringing along seeds to swap. And thanks to all those who came to celebrate life with us!