In a small house in Byron Bay, surrounded by lush gardens sporting edible plants from ever continent on earth, live two of Australia’s living legends. No truly, I’m not being romantic – if i can achieve but a fraction of what these folks have done to create resilience for future generations, I’ll die happy.
Jude and Michel Fanton founded The SeedSavers in Australia in 1986 to preserve local varieties of useful plants, and have since played a crucial role in over 37 countries, within communities and networks motivated to preserve seed sovereignty. Recently I was luck enough to visit them…
It’s rather tricky to encapsulate the huge role that Michel and Jude have played in Permaculture, in the Transition movement and in the struggle for seed sovereignty and diversity that continues in many countries today, including our own.
In a nutshell, in the mid-80’s Michel and Jude mounted a ‘rescue mission’ to preserve some of the many local varieties of food plants that Australians were growing in either their backyard or on a small farm scale by providing a nation-wide seed saving network.
That network was at one point centered at Michel and Jude’s home with all donated varieties being logged, recorded and re-distributed, and later evolved to a de-centralised model to ensure long-term stability.
Today there are over 100 active seedsaver network nodes in Australia, still actively swapping, preserving and growing many local, heirloom and adapted varieties of the food we eat every day, ensuring their ongoing availability with the small but huge gesture of seed saving.
While I was there, Michel did a bit of filming of Jude and I checking out their veggie patch and such… here’s a couple of snippets:
You can view the seedsavers’ entire and extensive video catalog (featuring seedsaving excursions, interviews and local food enterprises from across the planet) on their Youtube Channel
The Fantons’ also wrote the definitive book on Australian seedsaving, The Seedsavers’ Handbook. This modest but brilliant book should be in every public library as it contains invaluable, do-able information on how to save seeds to ensure future harvests of every scale.
Of course it doesn’t stop there, the Fantons’ website Seedsavers.net is chock-a-block full of resources, videos, how to start a seedsaver network manuals, and on and on.
While seed saving is not all about discovering Glass Gem Corn on a daily basis, this practice is the basis for ensuring resilience for each of our communities food supplies, in the sense that locally adapted, open-source seed genetics are best placed to withstand a range of futures.
I’ve been most surprised in our 5 years of learning about small farm systems in Australia to find how rare it is for small-scale commercial producers of annual vegetables to save their seed. In short, I haven’t found one who does yet.
There’s a lot of reasons for this that I can identify so far (including that I should get out more, perhaps), but still, I find it unnerving. All the more reason to learn, and to (re)discover new ways of doing things that used to be a given part of the yearly cycle…
Big thanks to Jude and Michel Fanton for taking the time to answer well over a million questions, and for sharing a morning of acorn coffee and gardening…
Expect more in-depth blogposts on the various conversations had that morning about seedsaving future strategies soonish!