Features of Interest in the BC Seed System

Why is BC seed of interest?

What follows are features of interest of seed production and community engagement in BC – items I can draw upon and build on in my research.


  1. Focus on vegetable seed
    • While Canada is a major exporter of cereal and legume seed, vegetable seed represents a relatively tiny volume of seed production in Canada – with much of it happening in BC
  2. Concentration of regional seed companies
    • BC is currently home to 14 small-scale vegetable seed companies (companies which produce their own seed and/or contract a portion of their seed production to other BC farms) representing hundreds of varieties of dozens of crop types
    • This represent of all such small-scale seed companies in Canada
  3. Focus on organic seed
    • All of BC’s small-scale vegetable seed companies are certified organic or organic “equivalent”
  4. Focus on open-pollinated seed
    • All seed grown and sold by BC seed companies is open-pollinated; there are no hybrid or PvP varieties
    • Only one seed company mentions open-source seed (BC Eco Seed Co-op)
  5. Regional Seedy Saturdays and Sundays
    • BC was home to over 50 Seedy Saturday and Sunday events in 2018 – one-day seed selling fairs that happen in communities throughout BC
    • These events started as a single event in Vancouver in 1990 and have expanded to over 160 events nationwide; this is a uniquely Canadian phenomenon
    • These events are mostly volunteer-driven in communities across BC
  6. Website Sales
    • Almost all of BC’s seed companies have a website in which they offer online sales, giving them access to a global market (if they choose to ship outside of Canada)
  7. Small packet focus
    • BC seed companies currently specialize in small packet sales suitable at a volume suitable for home gardeners
    • With the exception of the BC Eco Seed Co-op, no seed companies list “bulk seed” suitable for farm scale production for sale on their websites
  8. BC Eco Seed Co-op
    • While small scale seed companies have been active in BC for decades, the formation of the BC Eco Seed Co-op in 2014 represents a more formal collaborative effort to increase local vegetable seed production
  9. Grassroots seed community development and self-organization
    • Growth of vegetable seed production in BC has been very grassroots driven, with periodic external funding over the years
    • Seed related activities have remained active in BC by both coordinated efforts and individual efforts for more than 20 years
  10. Collaborations
    • Collaboration between non-profits, post-secondary institutions, seed companies and individual seed growers has played a key role in keeping the vegetable seed grower community active in BC
    • Engagement with the Organic Seed Alliance in Washington State as well as other seed security initiatives in the Pacific Northwest has played an important role in training and engaging BC seed growers
  11. BC Seed Gathering
    • BC has been home to three BC Seed Gatherings since 2012 – biennial conference-like events which bring together seed growers, organizers and advocates from across BC for networking, training, and planning
  12. Program and funding support –  FarmFolk CityFolk Bauta Family Initiative on Canadian Seed Security
    • In 2013, FarmFolk CityFolk became the BC region host for the Bauta Family Initiative on Canadian Seed Security which has brought in $500,000 in funding to support local seed production with a focus on increasing the quantity, quality, and diversity of local seed being grown in BC and across Canada
    • The BC focus has been on
      1. Business development
      2. Scaling up production for farm-scale sales
      3. Supporting the BC Eco Seed Co-op
      4. On-farm participatory research
    • The Bauta initiative has helped fund field days, workshops, and research on vegetable seed in BC
  13. Participatory Research
    • There have been numerous participatory research projects in seed over the past 6 years
      1. Carrot seed production in isolation cages
      2. Seeds of DIversity Canada’s Seed Grow Outs
      3. BC Seed Trials
  14. Seed system and community evolution
    • There are many activities and events which demonstrate an evolution in the BC vegetable seed system
    • There are also indicators of areas where there has been a lack of evolution
      1. Limited scaling up of seed production for farm-scale sales
      2. Limited formal contracts for seed production
      3. Limited to no bulk export of seed
      4. Limited regional plant breeding to complement seed production
      5. Limited engagement with ethnically diverse communities
  15. Understanding Seed Sovereignty in BC
    • The concepts of food and seed sovereignty rose out of the global south but may have a different context in highly developed regions like BC where conditions allow for,
      1. Easy access to seed purchases through the internet from sources around the world of both open-pollinated and hybrid varieties
      2. Few, if any, restrictions on saving seed for reuse on one’s own farm
      3. Few, if any, restrictions on trading seed with other farmers
      4. Reasonable federal regulations around the production and sale of vegetable seed in Canada
      5. Well-developed mechanisms (Seedy Saturdays and Sundays as well as online sales) for marketing and selling seed in BC
  16. Understanding global impacts on seed in BC
    • BC seed growers and farmers are still susceptible to,
      1. Increasing presence of hybrid seed on the market – seed which, if saved, will not match the characteristics of its parent plants
      2. Impact of global consolidation of seed resources including rising seed prices and reduced varieties on the market
      3. Restrictions on reselling seed imposed by national and international Plant Variety Protection regulations, plant patents, and plant trademarks
      4. Potential cross-pollination between organic and GMO crops
      5. LImited supply of bulk organic seed available on the market
  17. Lack of academic and other literature on vegetable seed in BC
    • While the BC seed grower community is very active, there is a lack of general and academic literature on these activities and their impact on agriculture in BC
  18. Potential as a centre of diversity
    • There is a diversity of open-pollinated vegetable varieties available for sale in BC, mostly made up of rare, heirloom, heritage, and endangered varieties
    • The significance or degree of this diversity has not been studied or how to measure the degree of diversity this represents
    • THere appears to be more varietal diversity in self-pollinated crops athan in cross-pollinated crops
  19. Gender balance
    • Men and women are represented well as owners of local seed companies and as individual seed growers in BC
  20. Ethnically homogeneous
    • Vegetable seed companies are owned and operated primarily by caucasian growers with little engagement with other ethnic groups in BC


Questions and Exploration

  1. Seed’s contribution to resilience in BC agriculture
    • How does this scale of seed production contribute to resilience in BC agriculture and resilience to the overall global seed system?
    • Where are the strengths and gaps in a changing global seed landscape?
    • What were the conditions that led to the rise of this seed grower community and how is this an indicator of resilience?
    • What indicators of resilience do we use to understand the degree of resilience in BC’s seed system?
  2. Succession and Resilience
    • Most BC seed companies are strongly associated with the owners that run them, begging the question about succession as these seed growers age and what kind of resilience each of these seed companies has built into its model
  3. Seed Export
    • As a regionally focused seed system, how will seed growers respond to efforts to increase seed production and include more of an export market
      1. How is this an indicator of seed system evolution (or lack of) in BC?
      2. If growers buy seed from international markets why do they not want to sell back into them?
      3. How do BC seed growers selling seed into international markets help support the global organic movement – especially around seed?
  4. Contrasting seed systems
    • How does the BC seed system compare to other seed systems around the world – both formal and informal as well as in Canada (e.g., Quebec and Ontario)?
    • How do vegetable seed systems in developed countries contrast with those in developing countries? What are the different motivators?
  5. Development of the BC seed system as a social movement
    • Is the BC seed system a social movement which has yet to reach its potential?
    • Did the movement get stuck along the way to a bigger goal (global seed systems impact) because it found a comfort spot (packet sales)?
  6. Driven by passion
    • The idea of seed growers being driven by a passion for seeds keeps arising for me:
      1. “It’s driven by passion. Most people haven’t made much money doing it, it’s driven by passion and convictions.”
      2. “People are passionate because they care”
      3. Can personal passion get in the way of community progress and the growth of a vegetable seed “sector” in BC?


Categories: Academia