Preserving Seeds for the Future

October 14, 2008 Updated: October 17, 2008
The vegetable garden at the Digger's Club.  ()
The vegetable garden at the Digger's Club. ()

We are all used to hearing about global warming, ice caps melting, CO2 emissions and, of course, genetically modified foods. The rate at which our world is changing has spurred some people to action, determined to preserve plants from extinction. The Digger’s Club is leading the way.

With a product range of 1800 items and over 200 heirloom vegetable seeds, the Digger’s Club located at Heronswood, 80km from Melbourne is the largest garden club in Australia.

Many of the seeds have been preserved for generations. Generally, to classify for an heirloom variety a seed has to be pure-bred for at least 50 years.

To compete with the big food chains the Digger’s Club is a mail order distributor of seeds and plants.

Their purpose was to rescue the old varieties of vegetables, such as Scarlet Runner Beans, which the mainstream companies were dropping from their lists, says owner Clive Blazey.

“People are sick of the horrible flavoured food that comes out of a supermarket,” he told The Epoch Times.

Mr. Blazey points out that buying food from the supermarkets rather than growing it at home, is a greater contributor to climate change than the CO2 emissions from coal fired power stations.

“If you garden organically it puts CO2 down, there are no food miles, no packaging, no transport, no shopping at supermarket so that is what the difference is between zero emissions and what happens now.”

Heirloom seeds are always open-pollinated varieties. This means that if the seeds produced from the plant are properly saved, they will produce the same variety year after year.

This cannot be done with hybrids, which are a cross between two separate varieties, as the seed produced from those plants will either be sterile or start to revert back to the parent plants.

Digger’s Club

Situated on the Mornington Peninsula, Digger’s Club supplies heirloom seeds via catalogue to gardeners nationally and internationally.

Vegetables and flowers are grown for their seeds without the use of chemicals or having their genes modified. They are proving to be the best seeds for back yard gardeners.

Mr. Blazey says that Australia grows enough food for 70 million people. “This is 50 million greater than the population and we are short of water and we are short of good soil,” he said.

People from other states pay regular visits to Heronswood when on holidays and many have been members of the Digger’s Club and growing their own vegetables for years.

GM Concerns

Mr. Blazey says that multinational chemical companies, like Monsanto, can now introduce chemicals into our food supply, namely genetically modified (GM) seeds, which may threaten our health and the existence of our best plant varieties. 

As there is no compulsory labelling identifying GM foods, Mr. Blazey says the consumer is not able to determine whether or not the product has GM content.

“So when you buy a GM product it’s not labelled in the market or supermarket and so you don’t have a choice to refuse it,” he explained.

In addition, once patented, GM companies own the seeds which means farmers cannot reuse the seeds and are forced to buy new ones every crop.

“They actually have a network of farming police that come round and make sure that you don’t [replant] it so you could be sued for replanting,” he added.

Mr. Blazey said he is not confident that food companies will do the right thing.

“We have heard of all the food scares in contaminated beef in the UK, and there is also the contaminated milk in China. There’s no proper surveillance of the food we eat and it is all based on trust and I don’t trust these food companies to get it right.”

There is a growing interest in Australia and worldwide in sustainability and the need to produce our own food and be self sufficient. It is evident that many countries are reliant on supplies from someone else for their daily food.

In the UK and Europe, it is thought that thousands of heritage vegetable varieties have been lost since the 1970s, when European Union (EU) laws were passed to make it illegal to sell any vegetable that is not on a national list of any EU country.

On the other hand groups like Lambi Fund in Haiti are helping farmers' families with sustainable agricultural projects to increase food security and income.


Tips: Make a Change


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Compiled by Daniel Granger, Sustainability Consultant for Neco Holdings, Sydney