Toronto offers lots of opportunities to save seeds, help maintain food varieties

Saving seeds helps maintain food varieties, says Environment Views columnist Katie Fullerton.


Fall is here and it is time for me to entertain my next door neighbour Leena with my annual “seedy” performances in the backyard. These performances are always the same: I haul out a container of paper bags – full of mysterious dried plants – and spread them out on the deck. I then roll out my tools – bowls, plates, spoons, strainers and envelopes. Once the staging is set I begin the annual “seedy” ritual. Instruments in hand I shake, I toss, I crumble and I strain – and then I blow over (Leena’s favourite part) the contents of the bowls to extract the magic from the dried plants.

What is this performance you ask ? What magic am I conjuring ? Why, it is the annual “Saving of the Seeds”.

For years now I have been a Seed Saver and have grown and saved and stored flower and vegetable seeds. All of my seeds – once thoroughly dried -– need to be processed for saving by drying, sorting, cleaning and finally, properly storing them for the next year.

The seeds grown in my garden are used for next year’s crop, donated to the Toronto Seed Library, or traded at various seed exchanges across the city such as Seedy Saturdays. (For more info on Seedy Saturdays see BM article from March 13 “Time to start Thinking Seeds and Trees”.)

I am far from being alone is this hobby: gardeners across the city and the world – whether in their own backyard, in allotment plot, community gardens or on farms – are producing and saving their own seeds. And, pardon the pun, this seed saving obsession is growing!

“People tell us amazing stories about the seeds they save,” said Rhonda Teitel-Payne, Co-coordinator of Toronto Urban Growers. “They keep varieties that their parents or grandparents grew, sometimes from other countries. They can’t find these seeds anywhere in stores. Other seed savers want to save money, be more self-reliant food wise and have a consistent supply of quality seeds. For others it is a way to be part of nature’s cycle.”

But by far the key reason people are saving seeds is to protect the genetic diversity of our food, plants and trees. As per Seeds of Diversity – a Canadian organization devoted to seed conservation – world-wide we grow only about 10 per cent of the food varieties out there and we have lost 75 per cent of agricultural biodiversity in the last 100 years!

Therefore, we need to conserve and store as many kinds of seeds as possible in order to maintain a diversity of food varieties and to facilitate adaptations to ever changing climate conditions.

Seeds of Diversity members grow local, open pollinated, heirloom/heritage and organic seeds. (At last count Seeds of Diversity had more than 400 members and more than 2,900 regionally adapted and rare seeds have been collected and stored.)

My own seed saving efforts started simply with a few vegetables – beans, peas and lettuce.

If you would like to start to try seed saving this fall, then beans would be a good choice – they are still available, are easy to gather and can immediately be stored with a little cleaning. All you need to do is leave some of the bean pods on the vine until they are brown, bone dry and brittle. To store, release the beans from the pods and place them in a labeled paper bag. I never store things in plastic – best to let seeds breathe.

If you would like to learn more about seeds and seed saving, there are many organizations and online resources to help you. Seeds of Diversity Canada, the Toronto Seed Library, and USC’s Bauta Family Initiative on Canadian Seed Security with manuals, research, event listings and school resources. Workshops are offered throughout the year. Recently, during Toronto Urban Agriculture week (Sept. 8-16) several seed workshops were offered through Toronto Urban Growers (TUG), Access Alliance and the Toronto Seed Library (TSL).

The TSL, which has installed seed library branches throughout the GTA, including two in our area (Toronto Tool Library on the Danforth, and the Riverdale Hub on Gerrard East) will also be having workshops and seed processing bees later in the fall and winter.

For upcoming events check and

Workshops are also offered at most Seedy Saturdays, which run from February to May at locations across Toronto.

— Katie Fullerton has lived in the Upper Beach for over 20 years. Through her work as a Live Green Toronto Community Animator she learned the importance of community support in greening up Toronto. She is a past member of East Toronto Climate Action Group and is a member of Greening Ward 32. Katie is also a member of Toronto Urban Growers and coordinates the annual Scarborough Seedy Saturday and Green Fair.

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