As lockdown came into effect, and supermarkets struggled to restock their fruit and vegetable aisles, the idea of “growing your own” took on a new significance. In towns and cities across the UK, those of us lucky enough to have access to gardens or balconies – even if we’d never grown anything before – suddenly started looking for compost, tools, and seeds.
Many of us discovered, perhaps for the first time, the joy of eating freshly picked, homegrown fruit and veg. It’s a joy that you just don’t get when you bite into something that’s been harvested unripe on the other side of the world, flown across oceans to be processed somewhere else, then eventually picked up from a supermarket chiller here in the UK – maybe weeks later.
But, to grow your own food, the first thing you need are seeds. For millennia – for the vast majority of our agricultural history, in fact – farmers saved their own seed. Over time, plants adapted to the specifics of the area they were growing in, and local varieties emerged. But when seed companies developed F1 hybrids, which can’t be harvested and re-sown year after year, things changed. The genetics of these hybrids are too unstable – there’s no knowing how your crop will turn out. So farmers and growers reliant on F1 hybrids have to buy their seeds every single year.
By saving and sharing open-pollinated seed, farmers and growers – and communities – are helping make sure our food supply can withstand the shocks of climate change. And, they’re also reclaiming collective control of the seeds we all depend on to feed ourselves – ensuring that we all have access to those seeds, even during a crisis – like a pandemic.
Join us this week in the Midlands, where we hear from Astrid Guillabeau, an east-Birmingham mother who started asking the question, “how do we live in cities and produce our own food?”. Then, we hear from Walsall-based landworker and allotmenteer, and founder of No Diggity Gardens, Neville Portas, who realised that he needed to create self-sufficiency for his whole community.
Further south, in London, we learn from Dee Woods, a food actionist, and co-founder of Granville Community Kitchen, about peoples’ desire for connection during the lock-down, and the importance of reclaiming the power to grow food for the people. And, we meet Helene Schulze, a passionate seed saver who shares why seed sovereignty is vital to a resilient food future.
This episode was produced by Alice Armstrong. The executive producers of Who Feeds Us? are Jo Barratt, Abby Rose and Katie Revell. Thank you to everyone we heard from: Dee Woods, Astrid Guillabeau, Helene Schulze, and Neville Portas. The community collaborators for this episode were Andre Reid and Dhelia Snoussi.
The project Manager for Who Feeds Us? is Olivia Oldham. Our artwork is by Hannah Grace, and the original music for the series is by Michael O’Neill.Who Feeds Us? is possible thanks to the Farming the Future COVID Response Fund. We’re very grateful to The A Team Foundation, the Roddick Foundation, Thirty Percy and the Samworth Foundation for providing the funds to make this project happen. Many thanks also to Farming the Future Advisor Dee Woods for her guidance in bringing the team together.