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Organic Farming




The Seed Sovereignty UK & Ireland Programme goes online


by Rowan Phillimore, Gaia Foundation;

It’s been almost four years since The Gaia Foundation organised The Great Seed Festival in London, to celebrate the seeds that feed us. It was here, as activists, foodies and farmers gathered together at the Garden Museum on the Southbank, that an idea took root which has the potential to change the face of seed production in the UK and Ireland. Inspired by a Canada-wide programme on seed security, the Seed Sovereignty Programme was born. The aim is simple: increase the amount of agro-ecological (organic and open-pollinated) seed being grown and sold here in the UK and Ireland.

It’s estimated that just 3% of the seed produced in the UK is organic, that is, produced without chemicals and fertilisers. That means that the vast majority of products stacked on shelves and in markets labelled ‘organic’ are not grown from organic seed in the first place. There is a glaring break in the cycle from soil to gut and we are embarking on a journey to close it. What’s more, with five experienced regional coordinators based across Wales, Scotland, Ireland and east and west England, we are working closely with farmers, seed producers, horticulturists and trained and commercial growers in order to conserve threatened varieties and to breed more varieties for future resilience. We believe that a food revolution starts with seed.


On the new dedicated Seed Sovereignty website visitors will find a growing library of resources relating to all things seed. Whether looking for a local supplier of organic seed, for training in seed saving or information about current seed legislation, the website provides a useful stepping-stone to support you in your journey.

The site is also the home of first-hand accounts from the programme’s five dedicated regional coordinators. Katie Hastings, Coordinator for Wales talks here about her first few months in the role as she travelled across the country to meet farmers and growers. You can read her full blog here.

“One of the first things the growers told me is that despite knowing a great deal about land management and vegetable production, many of them didn’t have the skills to produce seed. The art of completing the growing cycle on farm by producing the seed for the next crop is somehow being lost, and the growers I was meeting wanted to change that.


I started by working with the inspirational seed company Real Seeds. Kate, Ben and their team have been producing high quality open pollinated seed for sale for over 20 years. Their passion for seed sovereignty has informed the way they run their business and has led them to encourage their customers to save their own seed. But what has been striking is the discovery that they cannot produce enough seed in their fields in Newport to satisfy demand. The Real Seeds shopping carts have overflowed numerous times as they process orders for a growing appetite for ecological seed.

With a strong market for Welsh grown seed and a burst of energy from growers keen to learn, my work has been centred on bringing these two worlds together.”

Find out more about the aims of the programme and how you can get involved or connect with your regional coordinator by visiting


Ambitious Seed Sovereignty Programme takes root in the UK & Ireland


Ambitious Seed Sovereignty Programme takes root in the UK & Ireland

by Rowan Phillimore, Gaia Foundation


As seed and potato fairs and ‘Seedy Sundays’ take place up and down the country, dormant gardens, allotments and fields are about to spring back into life with another growing season. At The Gaia Foundation, a newly appointed team of Regional Coordinators are connecting with established seed producers, budding amateurs and ambitious entrepreneurs each with the aim to increase the quality, quantity and access to organic seed varieties here on home soil.

Gaia Foundation - Seed Sovereignty.jpg

The Gaia Foundation’s UK & Ireland Seed Sovereignty Programme took root last year and will run until summer 2020. It is designed to increase the amount of agroecological – organic - seed available in the UK and Ireland. The programme is the result of a number of years’ groundwork including the Great Seed Festival in 2014 and a year-long Feasibility Study in 2015, both supported by the A Team Foundation.

Ellen Page, Regional Coordinator for Western England

Ellen Page, Regional Coordinator for Western England

The programme will help to web up the UK and Ireland’s existing organic seed sector by connecting growers and encouraging new initiatives and growers to emerge through up-skilling in seed saving and production. There will better access to resources and equipment that support organic seed production, and these will be disseminated through the Regional Coordinators as well as a new dedicated website.

The final Regional Coordinators, each of whom brings with them a wealth of experience and expertise, are Maria Scholten (Scotland), Katie Hastings (Wales), Ellen Page (Western England), Page Dryksta (Eastern England) and Wayne Frankam (Ireland). Wayne will be working under partner organisation the Irish Seed Savers Association (ISSA), who will be actively involved in the programme’s delivery in Ireland, where they are already well established and respected. 

Through this team, led by Neil Munro, the former head of the Heritage Seed Library at Garden Organic, regional ‘hubs’ will emerge where best practice can be shared and replicated. There will also be plant variety trials to assess which seeds grow best locally, across our own diverse landscapes - from the highlands to the lowlands – and conditions. Participatory plant breeding will follow.  


Story of Origin – Learning from Canada to spread seeds of change


More on the Seed Sovereignty

It was during the Great Seed Festival in 2014 that the idea for the programme was first conceived, as an audience dedicated to seed and food justice heard Jane Rabinowicz, the then head of The Bauta Family Initiative on Canadian Seed Security, present the story of their inspiring programme. The Bauta Family Initiative on Canadian Seed Security is now in its fifth successful year and offers a blueprint for taking seed multiplication and revival to scale.

The Canadian programme is guided by four aims: To increase the quality, quantity and diversity of ecologically grown Canadian seed; to promote public access to seed; to facilitate collaboration within the seed system; and to respect, advance, and promote the knowledge of farmers in seed production. Through these objectives, USC Canada has sought to create “a seed system in Canada that provides a solid foundation for food security, climate resilience and community health and wellbeing.” It achieves this through coordinating trainings and networking, through a small grants programme, through public access to seed through cooperatives and libraries, and through a web extension service offering advice and a database of varieties. 

Katie Hastings, Regional Coordinator for Wales

Katie Hastings, Regional Coordinator for Wales

Upon hearing about the Canadian programme, there was a resounding echo of interest in rolling out something similar in the UK. A feasibility study was conducted and analysis of the information collected at each stage saw key themes emerge, with perceived potential barriers, challenges and opportunities becoming easily identifiable. The study revealed that there was huge appetite for a UK wide programme and the findings facilitated the design of the programme. The need for regional representation in seed production came out of the study with over 90% citing it as an important aspect. The study also showed 85% of respondents felt training was important, as was the establishment of an online space (89%) and a database (91%).

The Seed Sovereignty UK & Ireland Programme was born.


The programme has identified three overarching objectives within which all of the activities have been organised. They are:

  • To support and cultivate regional and national connections and collaboration to provide coherence across the food and seed sector.
  • To support farmers and growers with further skills, resources and information.
  • To foster a more supportive environment for a biodiverse and ecologically sustainable seed system to thrive, leading to an increase in genetic diversity.


Much like its Canadian counterpart, it will deliver this through trainings, regional hubs connecting with local initiatives such as seed cooperatives and libraries; through the development of a database and online service, the establishment of a Legal Working Group to demystify seed legislation and opportunities, and support with equipment and expert knowledge wherever deemed useful.

This is the first time that Gaia have been part of such a large-scale programme in the UK and the A Team Foundation are pleased to have supported them to be working alongside such a diverse group of partners from across the food movement – from the Landworkers Alliance to the Seed Cooperative; the Soil Association to the Irish Seed Savers. The food and seed sovereignty movement in the UK is teeming with enthusiasm and experience, and through this programme there will be more support and cohesion – strengthening its resolve and resistance in these challenging times.

"Building on well-founded experiences in Canada this initiative
could be catalytic in improving the availability of good diverse
seed for growers in the UK, I believe, as well as challenging the
dominant mantra in favour of industrial seeds. It is important that
the momentum is maintained. As we have all recognised, the barriers
 to the availability to good diverse organic seed is a severe limitation to
healthy, localised food systems in the UK. I think those leading this programme
 have the convening power, aptitude and competence to help
steer a process that could help resolve this." 
Patrick Mulvany, former Chair of the UK Food Group.
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