Join the Backyard Seed Bank

Farmers, artisans, cooks, and eaters have developed ways to recover from the American institution known as the supermarket by developing first farm CSAs, then distribution models for the bounty of fruit trees, local meat, wild foraged food, ferments, canned goods, backyard fruit, ready made traditional food, charcuterie, homemade goods, wild game, and on, and on, and on. We’ve neglected, however, to focus the know how and social networking developed by the food movement on one vital lynchpin of our agricultural systems – the genetic diversity underlying the food we are fighting for.

Correctly saving open-pollinated, also called heirloom, seed can be a bit of a challenge in small, urban garden plots. The main issue is isolation distance, the space required between plantings of the same species of crops of different varieties to ensure the variety remains pure. Recommended isolation distances vary from 25 feet for self-pollinators, such as tomatoes, lettuce and peas, to a mile or more for outbreeders, such as corn and brassicas like cabbage and broccoli. Correct isolation distances could be maintained if you were to grow, for example, Bull’s Blood Beets, Cosmic Purple Carrots, and Country Gentlemen Sweet Corn; the couple on the next block grows Chiogga Beets, Arkansas Traveler Tomatoes, and Perisienne Carrots; and the family across town grows Amana Orange Tomatoes, Strawberry Popcorn, and Tete Noir Cabbage.

With this concept in mind, Agrariana announces the Backyard Seed Bank initiative. We’re looking for approximately 100 Bay Area gardeners for the inaugural season who would like to work as a community to save heirloom vegetable seed. A kickoff potluck and seed sale/swap is in the works. Agrariana will organize regular produce trading meet-ups during the summer to ensure everyone can experience the full variety of the crops grown and couple those events with workshops on composting, compost tea, cover cropping, canning, and other gardening and rural skills. As harvest approaches, Agrariana will lead hands-on workshops in participants’ gardens on properly saving seed. The Backyard Seed Vault is working in conjunction with the Bay Area Seed Interchange Library (BASIL), a project of the Ecology Center, for their immense knowledge on properly saving, labeling, cataloging, and storing seeds. Seeds not redistributed to participants will be donated to BASIL, providing an opportunity for any community member to “check out” seed to grow in their gardens. Gardeners of all skill levels are welcome to participate.  Sign up for the project by filing out the below survey.