The monopolisation of seed production and the advent of seed patenting have restricted the use of traditional Irish seed varieties, which are now rare. The genetic diversity and disease resistance have suffered as a result. The Irish Seed Savers Association was formed to preserve this neglected but vital part of our heritage.
This organisation collects and distributes as many traditional varieties of fruit and vegetables as it can locate. The Seed Savers Association maintains a seed bank of all the rediscovered seeds to ensure they won't be lost for future generations.
These seeds aren't commercially available as they have never been registered, and because of an EU directive in 1980, their sale is now illegal. The seed savers have seeds that have been grown for centuries in people's back gardens. They have been passed from generation to generation.
The scarcity of such seeds is worrying because the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the UN has said that 75% of the genetic diversity of agricultural crops has been lost since the beginning of this century.
In the past it was common for Irish people to save their own seed and share it with their neighbours if their yield was good. this practice has largely died out, and with have gone many of our native Irish crops.
These seeds were important because they evolved in different regions, and in the process they built up resistance to different strains of disease. They were well suited to the regions where they were grown, and because of the continued use of the same strain of seed, chemical pest control was less crucial than it is now.
"People do not see the whole life cycle of plants any more, and there is this whole loss of the sense of abundance. They used to share their seed and we are hoping that they will share them again."
"We do a lot of work here to ensure that we keep only the very best quality mother plants for seed. You can get bad seed very easily, and this may be why the belief developed that you cannot save your own seed. You can, if you learn how to do it right and train your eye to pick things up properly- which is something we can all do- and then it can be done successfully,"says Anita Hayes, member of the Irish Seed Saver Association.
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