The Zero Mile Diet: Local Seeds for Local Climates

In the West Coast Seeds catalog, there is a category for The Zero Mile Diet. Click on it, and the buyer is immediately transported to a host of locally-adapted seeds: lettuce greens, peas, and beans that are perfectly suited to the Vancouver climate.

Inspired by the 100 Mile Diet of Vancouverites Alisa Smith and James Mackinnon, companies and individuals are jumping on to the locavore bandwagon with vigor. A new wave of victory gardens is sweeping the nation, this one a citizen response to the need to become more sustainable and more local in their eating. These new victory gardens are sprouting on the front lawns of the suburbs and on the balconies and rooftops of the urban core.

In North Vancouver, British Columbia, the organic gardening program called GardenSmart started more than ten years ago with small fanfare. Now, edible gardening workshops fill up the day that they are advertised. People are eager to learn how to help their fruit trees grow and how to turn their lawn into a thriving garden. Last year, the response from would-be urban gardeners was so overwhelming that the organization had to run many more workshops than they had planned.

Where is all of this interest going to lead? While some might say this is a passing trend in response to the local eating movement, others see it as the harbinger of a greater change. Neighbors are teaching neighbors and the elderly are teaching the young. We’re passing down gardening knowledge from one generation to another. That’s critical. These days, the grandchildren of the victory gardeners are learning how to grow food of their own, this time to sustain a healthy community in the face of environmental change.

As we adapt to local eating and local growing, we need to learn how to save seeds. One of the deep needs in the local growing community is locally-adapted seed that gardeners can also save year to year, building valuable skills for self-sufficiency. Companies like West Coast Seeds, Salt-spring Seeds, and Seeds of Change fill that need to a degree. All of their seeds are suited to the wet climate of the temperate rain forest.

In the world of seeds, there are two very different sorts available. Hybrid seeds are the offspring of two diverse parents. They are engineered to grow with high yield, but this is often at the expense of hardiness. This means that hybrid seeds rely more on infusions of fertilizers and pesticides to remain vigorous throughout the season. When you grow hybrid plants in your garden and save the seed, the seed may be sterile or may not breed true.

Open-pollinated seeds are tough. For thousands of years, farmers have saved these seeds, knowing that they will grow again next year and continue to be vigorous over time. These seeds also adapt to the local climate and tend to have a better flavor, too! Why don’t we have access to more open-pollinated seeds? Well, these seeds are not useful for seed companies. Gardeners need to purchase hybrid seeds every year, while open-pollinated plant seeds can be harvested and saved, so the gardener may not pay for seeds next year.

Open-pollinated seeds are our seed inheritance. As we move into winter, the time for seed catalogs galore, take note of whether you can save your seeds next year. Building this skill is an important foundation for local food security and the self-sufficiency of our communities.

Posted in Natural Living.

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