Supplier Stories: Resilient Food Systems with BC Eco Co-op

Supplier Stories: Resilient Food Systems with BC Eco Co-op
BC Eco Seed Co-op started in 2012 from a handful of farmers who happened to love seed saving. They saw the demand for local organic produce rising rapidly, yet the supply of locally grown organic seed was not keeping up. They had the idea that together, they could make their seeds available to a larger community of farmers and gardeners across BC. This transformed into a co-operative business model in 2014 and has since grown to 17 members from 18 farms. The co-op’s goal is to educate and demonstrate that seed sovereignty is an essential part of sustainable bioregional and global food systems.
 
BC Eco Seed Co-op’s supplies are 100% BC-grown, organic, and ecological. All the seeds are open-pollinated, GE-free, regionally selected, and grown by their members, on their farms across the province.
 

In this week’s supplier feature, we have BC Eco Seed Co-op here to tell us more about the agricultural industry and their contribution to the sustainable agriculture movement by growing and distributing local organic seed.

 

Can you tell us more about the benefits of having ecologically grown, open-pollinated, regionally selected, and GE-free seeds rather than commercialized seeds? How exactly is an organic seed better than an industrialized seed for the environment/biodiversity?

  • Local, organic and ecological seeds are good for the planet, the local economy, and regional food diversity and security. Organic seed offers broad public benefit, including minimizing environmental impacts, supporting the success of the organic food industry, and bolstering regional food diversity and security. Seed provides the genetic tools to confront day-to-day challenges in the field, and furthermore, adaptation which is key to achieving resilience in our food system. Adapting seeds to changing climates, resource availability, and environmental conditions is one way to mitigate risks for farmers and the food system we serve

  • Globally, we have lost 75% of agricultural biodiversity in the last 100 years, and 75% of the world’s food is derived from only 12 plant and 5 animal species. Climate change and the weather extremes, pest pressures and the uncertainty that comes with it, put our food system at risk. Genetic diversity in crops is one solution to climate uncertainty.

  • Seed is a natural resource that should be available to all, but open access to plant genetic resources is being limited by utility patents, trademarks and plant variety protections. Due to corporate consolidation in the seed industry, 3 companies now control 53% of the global commercial seed market. The top ten seed companies account for 75%!

  • Growing quality, organic/ecological seeds takes hard work, dedication and skill - your support helps create a resilient local food system! The success of the organic seed industry requires market support. By showing the benefits of organic seed, what goes into its development, and why it may have a higher price tag, public education can build broader support for organic seed.

How do you reduce waste in your supply chain (either with us, other retailers, or both)?

From our experience in seed growing, waste is minimal from field to hand. As we’re ecological and organic growers, soil building and regenerative agriculture practices are used in growing. Seed growing requires less water than market production crops and packaging requirements for seed are minimal consisting of paper and labels. As we provide bulk variants primarily of interest to farmers and larger growers, less packaging is used for fulfilling bulk orders.

How do you ensure quality in your seeds?

Quality assurance is hugely important to us, and  our systems are constantly growing and strengthening. For us, quality starts the minute our members plant the seed, starting with viable seed, growing following isolation distances and a robust population size for genetic preservation, observing how the plant does as it matures (noting vigour and performance, roguing as needed) and then running germination tests to meet and exceed Canadian standards. There is huge value for customers knowing that we as the farmers growing seed can tell you the story of the seed from the moment we plant it until you do!

How does the cooperative work / who can apply to be part of your coop?

The goal was to have a community of growers who work together to produce seeds. The farmer then grows the seed and passes it on to the cooperative, which takes care of the marketing, sales, packaging, shipping and everything in between. Members of the co-op commit to producing crops in volume, which collectively allows everyone to have access to a greater diversity of regionally grown seed in the quantities needed by growers of all sizes.

A co-operative was chosen as a powerful model to achieve greater farmer co-operation to serve the following functions:
  • Pool resources and infrastructure for cleaning and marketing seed.
  • Make bulk amounts of seed, grown in organic and ecological farm systems, available to organic and ecological growers. 
  • Support on-going educational opportunities to better produce seed in the quantities farmers need, and to a level of quality that they can trust.
  • Promote member farm businesses and create networking opportunities for regional seed producers. 
  • Honour and practice the seven cooperative principles.
Anyone growing seed and interested in selling through a co-op of other seed growers is welcome to take a look at our membership information found on our “Join Us” page. Our membership application form and Code of Ethics & Conduct are great tools to work through to see what we’re looking for in terms of experience, training and commitment. Our coordinator Keeley loves talking to folks about potential membership - feel free to reach out after reviewing information!

What's next for BC Eco Seed Co-op?

This spring the Co-op has seen the number of orders placed grow by 300% (April - August 2020 saw over 800% increase in sales with orders up over 500%) and we’ve been able to continue order fulfillment and shipping desire pressures of the pandemic but to be able to keep up the pace the co-op needs to expand their operations space (have operated out of a shared office since 2014).
 

Thanks for taking the time to get to know our supplier BC Eco Seed Co-op more and learn about the sustainable agriculture industry! If you are interested in learning more, you can find them on FacebookInstagram, and their website.
 

You can also support BC Eco Seed Co-op by browsing through their local organic seed that we have in stock.

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Sources

www.stateoforganicseed.org/
www.seedsecurity.ca/en/why-seeds
www.osseeds.org/control-of-seed-and-seed-sovereignty/