The UK’s only community-owned seed company, the Seed Co-operative produces and sells open-pollinated seed that ‘belongs’ to everyone and no-one. Established as a community benefit society in 2014, the Seed Co-operative is an incredibly important endeavour. The Biodynamic Land Trust is proud to support it, alongside the Biodynamic Association, Garden Organic, and the Organic Research Centre.
Demand for seed has been exceptionally high. Pressures caused by the Covid-19 pandemic and the UK’s departure from the EU with resulting import delays have contributed. The only way the Seed Co-operative could ensure that orders were delivered in reasonable time was to restrict the incoming flow. From the beginning of January, they opened their website checkout for just two hours at a time. Initially every two weeks but from the end of February this was twice a week.
Demand for seed is very high across Europe, and in the USA too. Many seed companies have been adopting strategies to cope. Demand for organic and biodynamic seed seems to be particularly strong. Many people had assumed, correctly as it turned out, that seed availability in the spring would be more difficult due to import delays from the EU. The Seed Co-operative had many many more orders both from commercial growers and gardeners in the autumn, and even in the summer of 2020. It was clear from what was on the orders that people were ordering their spring seeds in August!
Word seemed to get out that some supplies were tight. This provoked much higher demand at the beginning of 2021, leading to the checkout restrictions. Although they sold out of some varieties, including all of their broad beans, the story is more complicated than this. Producing seed is a long term business and capacity has been limited by a number of factors over a few years. When combined with three times the number of previous sales in March, April and May 2020 due to the lockdown, coupled with not being able to bring in new staff, they simply couldn’t sow a broad bean crop. Last year also saw another summer of extreme heat and dry in Europe. This is causing a compounding impact on seed production. Crop failures in Europe meant that orders for seed placed with their European seed company partners, in June and July, were cancelled. Then seed which didn’t make it to them before Christmas has been held up in customs for weeks at a time.
The pandemic has been a very challenging time for everyone. The Seed Co-operative have been very grateful for all of the orders that they have received as people have looked to grow their own seed, or sought local organic food which has led to growers placing orders. The whole reason for the Seed Co-operative was to build resilience within the food system in anticipation of major disruptions resulting from environmental degradation. The last year has demonstrated that, in a small way, they are already doing this. They have also seen just how much there is still to do!
Sustainable farming needs to be adaptive to changing climate and environmental conditions and open-pollinated seed provides this resilience in a way that no other seeds can. This is seed that is renewable, so farmers and growers can save it for the next year. It can also be used to naturally breed new varieties – it is the open source software of food.
Currently 80% of the organic vegetable, flower and herb seed sold in the UK is imported, so the Seed Co-operative is establishing a network of seed growers to grow the UK adapted seed that we so critically need.
Not many people realise it, but most of the vegetables that we eat are grown from seed that is, in one way or another, ‘owned’ by one of the six global corporations. The use of F1 hybrids also means that seed saved by growers does not ‘breed true’ and the seed is useless. In addition, patents on plants secure the ownership still further, and breeding techniques using genetic engineering (but not labelled as GM) can make seeds saved from these plants infertile: all of which means seed has to be bought every year.
opportunity to invest
The Seed Co-operative has successfully raised over £450,000 so far and now has more than 350 members. It is seeking additional investors to reach its £750,000 target. For more information about investing see the Seed Co-operative website.
donate to the seed co-operative
It is also possible to donate to the Seed Co-operative via the Biodynamic Land Trust. We will use 100% of your designated donation (less online payment fees e.g. Stripe fees) to buy shares in the Seed Co-operative for the purchase of its farm, Gosberton Bank Nursery. There are two methods of payment available:
Bank transfer or cheque (no bank charges incurred)
Click here to download and print the donation form.
Please complete and send to us at the address on the form and make your donation by your preferred payment method – cheque or bank transfer.
If you are a UK tax payer, please tick the Gift Aid box to ensure we can boost your donation.
Alternatively you can make an online payment below.
Seed Co-operative is the trading name of Biodynamic and Organic Plant Breeding and Seeds Limited, which is registered under the Co-operative and Community Benefit Societies Act 2014, registration number 7013. Registered office: Gosberton Bank Nursery, Spalding, PE11 4PB