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Seedy Saturday returns for an online seed swap this weekend

Kingstonian backyard gardeners, Wolfe Island farmers, Napanee flower enthusiasts, and everyone in between with an interest in local seed and food sovereignty are invited to join this year’s Seedy Saturday. The annual event hosted by Kingston Area Seed System Initiative (KASSI) will be held online on Saturday, Mar. 12, 2022, from 1 to 2 p.m.

This brief model of the typically day-long event lends an opportunity for seed-savers to swap their seeds and arrange for no-contact pickups. It also offers educational opportunities about local seed-growers and the importance of regionally-adapted seeds.

A patron browses KASSI’s booth at Seedy Saturday in 2018. Submitted image by Cathy Christie.

Seedy Saturday had to adapt to pandemic restrictions

Historically, the event had been held in person at the Loyalist Collegiate & Vocational Institute (LCVI) gymnasium. Seed-savers and gardeners from all over the eastern region of Canada would come to be a part of the event, offering workshops for novice gardeners and children alike. Soups made by KASSI volunteers from their locally grown, heritage seed vegetables would be served as well — a delicious display of the value of local food.

But in 2020, the timing of the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic couldn’t have been worse. “In March 2020, after more than a decade of very popular in-person Seedy Saturdays, we had to cancel the event due to the pandemic — the day before it was set to happen,” said Dianne Dowling, a KASSI board member, in their press release. “It was an enormous disappointment to the organizers, and to the hundreds of people who love to come out for Seedy Saturday.”

Last year the event moved to a virtual format, which is being continued this year, with hopes that Seedy Saturday can return to an in-person event in the future.

“We realize that there is nothing like being together in person to swap seeds, to buy seeds from local vendors, and to talk about seeds and seed-saving with others,” Dowling said. “In March, it’s too early to be out in the garden, but Seedy Saturday [is still] a chance to build your anticipation, your learning, your planning — and for a lot of dreaming!”

Heritage seeds grown with “a good heart” available for swapping

“The big box stores, which, not to put them down, but their seeds are usually grown somewhere else in the world,” explained KASSI chair Cathy Christie. “And the research is really showing, especially with the changes that are happening with our climate crisis, we really, really need locally grown, locally adapted seeds… Local seeds can continue to adapt and thrive in changing local conditions, in ways that seeds grown elsewhere in the world cannot,” Christie said, pointing to a recent article about work at the University of Calgary’s Simon Farm project. “And the seeds in our collection have been adapting to our area now for over 50 years. They’re good seeds, grown with a good heart.”

Christie also noted that KASSI, being a not-for-profit group that operates on the basis of donations, relies on Seedy Saturday every year as their major fundraiser.

KASSI Heirloom seeds, as displayed at Old Farm Fine Foods.
Submitted image by Cathy Christie.

A history of local-seed champions

Christie, who is a Master Gardener in training, explained the history of seed marketing and business in Canada: “We got out of the habit of seed saving, and that probably happened postwar. And even from the get-go [of European Settlement], seeds were sold, especially coming from England as being reputable and high-quality. So right from the beginning, in Canada, we were relying on imported [seeds] even more than locally grown,” she revealed.

In regards to how this relates to KASSI, Christie mentioned that “there were some quite large seed companies in Canada that did, most of them grew their own seeds here. And then they got bought up in the ’70s by different international conglomerates. And that’s exactly when the seeds in our collection, the farmers, Carol and Robert Mouk — they were market gardeners with us near Napanee — and that’s when they started saving their seeds, just because they couldn’t find the ones they liked in the catalogue.”

The Mouks, although now retired, ran the Sisters of Providence Seed Sanctuary from 1999 until 2008. From 2010 to 2018 the Sisters of Providence of St. Vincent de Paul sponsored Seedy Saturday, and the Heirloom Seed Sanctuary had a booth at the event each year. In 2017, as the group was preparing to close its operations, the Heirloom Seed Sanctuary agreed to donate its collection to Kingston Area Seed System Initiative (KASSI) and Ratinenhayen:thos, a Tyendinaga Mohawk community group. On Earth Day, Apr. 22, 2019, the Heirloom Seed Sanctuary officially transferred the seeds to the two receiving organizations.

Promotional Poster for Seedy Saturday. Image from KASSI website.

What to expect for this year’s Seedy Saturday and how to join the event

Local seed growers Ratinenhayen:thos, of Tyendinaga and organizers of the Kenhteke Seed Sanctuary, Kitchen Table Seed House of Wolfe Island, and Bear Root Gardens of Verona will all be presenting at this year’s online Seedy Saturday and will have seeds to offer during the seed swap portion of the event. Christie also pointed out that KASSI seeds are available for purchase by donation at Old Farm Fine Foods. Kitchen Table seeds are available at Tara Foods and Bear Root seeds are available online by mail order.

When planning to participate in this Saturday’s event, “come with a list of seeds you have to offer, or that you want to obtain,” said Christie. “This gathering will be a chance to learn more about local seed growers, and how you can help us grow local seed and food systems that are more resilient than the current industrial model.” 

Although being online doesn’t hold the same amount of excitement as “the wonderful, buzzing community event”, as Christie described it, KASSI remains hopeful that Seedy Saturday will return to in-person on the second Saturday of March in 2023.

Until then, seed-savers and gardeners can join the online seed swap on Saturday, Mar. 12, 2022, from 1 to 2 p.m., by using the link at seedsgrowfood.org.

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