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Saving seeds: Atlantic Canada's first regional seed bank finds its home at the Faculty of Agriculture

- October 21, 2014

Campus artwork celebrating the seed on the Agricultural Campus. (Provided photo)
Campus artwork celebrating the seed on the Agricultural Campus. (Provided photo)

It all starts with a single seed.  

From a seed lending library to a seed bank, Dalhousie University’s Faculty of Agriculture is becoming the region’s hub for all things seed.

Atlantic Canada’s Regional Seed Bank, in partnership with Seeds of Diversity Canada and the Bauta Family Initiative on Canadian Seed Security, promotes conservation and advancement of seed biodiversity, access to seed and promotion of seed production under ecologically sustainable practices.
 
One of the objectives of The Bauta Family Initiative and Seeds of Diversity Canada is to encourage applied research, as well as training and education and public access to seed. Stephanie Hughes works for the Atlantic Canadian Organic Regional Network (ACORN) as Regional Program Coordinator for The Bauta Family Initiative on Canadian Seed Security. She is excited to see this seed bank, the first of its kind for the region, installed at the Agricultural Campus.

“Our goal is to focus on high quality and diverse, local seed that has agronomic, historical and cultural importance to our region,” she says.

Hughes adds that with 60,000-100,000 plant species at risk globally, encouraging biodiversity within this project is critical. “By storing seed, our genetic resources will be less vulnerable,” she explains.

David Gray, dean of the Faculty of Agriculture and principal of the Dalhousie Agricultural Campus, celebrated the bank’s official opening on Monday.

“Through the establishment of a centrally located seed bank, the Faculty of Agriculture and Dalhousie University are serving growers, researchers and others around the Maritime Provinces, who are already deeply engaged in the work of saving and safeguarding the seed that ensures our food supply,” he said.

A welcome addition to campus


Nancy McLean, professor within the Faculty of Agriculture’s Plant and Animal Sciences Department, is hopeful this seed bank will bring recognition to local seed companies who focus on sustainably produced heirloom varieties, such as Annapolis Seeds, Hope Seeds, Incredible Seeds and Pumpkin Moon Farm. Heirloom seeds are non-GMO, non- hybrid and are open pollinated. Heirloom cultivars were selected for taste, texture and resilience and many have been propagated for more than a century.

“This project offers a unique opportunity for local seed companies to work with the seed bank and is a good partnership for seed accessibility,” she says

The seeds will be utilized by researchers, plant breeders and farmers and stored on campus. Over time, the seeds will need to be refreshed to address viability. Dr. McLean says germination tests will be carried out and when below a certain rate, methods to grow out and obtain fresh seed with the same genetics will be used.  

Unlike the seed saving library and a seed bank, the seed bank will not be accessible to the public. Instead, trained seed savers will be responsible for multiplying the seed, which often includes more difficult species. 

“Cross-pollinated species can be difficult as they sometimes require 0.5 km isolation distances to ensure the genetics are maintained,” says Dr. McLean.

While the bank won’t host large quantities of seeds, the variety will be quite wide, starting with

Although large quantities of seeds will not be stored, a wide variety will be. The seed bank will begin with storing 24 varieties of ten different crops including tomatoes, beans, peppers and wheat.  The seed will be vegetable and grain crops.

Hughes sees great potential in the seed bank and hopes it will be a model for other groups and provinces. “This seed bank will take a daunting global statistic [of decreasing biodiversity] and work toward solutions for our community. This project takes some of the intimidation away from a global problem.”

Dr. McLean agrees: “It feels like you’re actually involved in trying to save and advance biodiversity. It makes me excited about plant breeding.”

A call to action


Although slightly different from the seed bank, the seed lending library currently on campus through MacRae Library is a way for students to get involved with seed diversity. Hughes and Dr. McLean encourage students to learn about the program and receive training about diversity and seed saving.  

“Starting to save seeds from easier species like peas, beans and tomatoes is a good place to begin,” Dr. McLean explains, as these species are self-pollinated and isolation distances are minimal.

Dr. McLean emphasizes the importance of the public thinking about what they’re eating, how it was grown, how far it has travelled and the impact on the environment. She encourages people to try gardening and learn about seed production and saving. Dr. McLean also plans to incorporate information about the seed bank into her genetics and plant breeding courses at the Faculty of Agriculture.

“Bringing together education and training, research and innovation and engagement with farmers and farming communities is a natural fit for Dalhousie University and in particular the Faculty of Agriculture and we are very proud to have helped make this happen on our campus,” added Dean Gray.


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