The nonprofit is also working with 200 Canadian farmers to boost local seed production, save seeds at risk of extinction and breed new varieties
Rising food prices has been a consistent problem throughout the pandemic, coming to a head with the conflict in Ukraine. But prices are rising for the wrong reasons, according to David Catzel, program manager for the Bauta Family Initiative on Canadian Seed Security at nonprofit organization SeedChange, because farmers are not benefiting from it.
“As somebody who farmed previously, I’m not opposed to food prices going up if it means farmers are making a better living,” he says. “But that’s not what’s happening right now—they’re making minimum wage so I think the price is going up for the wrong reason, for reasons we actually do have control over."
Localizing our food system can alleviate supply chain issues and keep prices lower. Ottawa-based SeedChange (formerly USC Canada) is an advocate for sustainable agriculture and has been supporting farmers and communities around the world since 1945. With $750,000 from Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, it’s launching a dozen local seed demonstration sites this summer, one being at the FarmFolk CityFolk farm in Abbotsford, showcasing local farmer-bred seed varieties.
The demo site in Abbotsford opens with a public tour and event on June 24. It will see similar events throughout the summer, featuring seed experiments and ongoing breeding projects to educate people. Throughout the year, the nonprofit’s partners in academic institutions like UBC, University of Fraser Valley and Kwantlen Polytechnic Institute helps it run “variety trials,” which includes planting varieties of a crop (like rutabaga). The demo in Abbotsford will replicate some of those trials based on surveys with farmers across the country to display what people need to learn about. These educational demos happen a few times a year, but there’s always activity on the Abbotsford farm, which hosts field days, grows seeds and does trials and experimentation all year long.
SeedChange is also working with some 200 Canadian farmers on other projects to boost local seed production, support organic agriculture, save seeds at risk of extinction and breed new varieties better suited for the local soil and climate.
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For example, the Bauta program ran a variety trial with 100 domestic farmers over the last six years where it facilitated the breeding of a popular carrot that farmers flagged as being at risk. Because it’s a hybrid seed produced by one company in France, a lot of local farmers growing it were insecure about it disappearing. The hybrid variety couldn’t be reproduced and grown here, so the Bauta program helped breed the carrot, which farmers saved seeds from. The result was similar to the variety they worried would disappear, and now the program is ready to test this variety that the farmers helped select.
“Rising food prices are hard on everyone, especially on the 1 in 10 Canadians who are already food insecure, which disproportionately affects people on low incomes, children, women and those who are Black, Indigenous or People of Colour,” Leticia Ama Deawuo, executive director of SeedChange, said in a release. “That’s why we urgently need to equip farmers so they can react quickly to keep their communities securely nourished, and that starts with ensuring they have access to the seeds they need.”
SeedChange has developed a list of Canadian seed companies that gardeners can contact to buy local.