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Seed-sharing event at Toronto City Hall promotes food justice, urban agriculture

Their message is simple: Food is not a commodity.

“Nor are seeds,” said Jacob Kearey Moreland, an organizer with Occupy Gardens Toronto, a growing collective of gardeners plotting to plant & tend food gardens all over the city and sharing the produce with all who are hungry.

“Seeds are life on the basis of our civilization and for tens of thousands of years people have saved seeds. Through natural selection and mutation these seeds have evolved and most of the food that we eat and depend on now is the product of thousands of years of this shared history of cultures from all around the world.”

But the introduction of genetically modified (GM) seeds by large agricultural companies in the last two decades, said Kearey Moreland, threatens to disrupt the world’s biodiversity.

Companies like Monsanto, the world’s largest seed company, argue that GM seeds increase food production while lowering production costs, said the Wall Street Journal in a story published two years ago.

Anti-GM activist groups claim, said the Wall Street Journal, that “GM seeds are unsafe for human consumption and weaken or destroy other seeds and crops.”

The Wall Street Journal said that “according to the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA), a nonprofit that monitors the use of GM crops, there are more than 14 million farmers in 25 countries producing GM crops -- an 80-fold increase since 1996, when GM seeds were first commercialized.”

Kearey Moreland said “Monsanto is systematically monopolizing the global food supply through the control of the seed” because it prohibits everyone else from seed saving.

Which means the seed diversity that we enjoyed for centuries has been reduced significantly.

“But our goal (today) at Seedy (City) Hall is to have an unconventional seed exchange as an unofficial kickoff for the Seedy Saturday events that happen in the city and across the country,” said Kearey Moreland, at City Hall on Wednesday.

"Seedy Saturdays & Sundays" is a national event held across Canada started by individuals who were members of Seeds of Diversity, a Canadian volunteer organization that conserves the biodiversity and traditional knowledge of food crops and garden plants.

Every Seedy Saturday & Sunday event has a place where you can donate or exchange your clean and labeled packaged seeds at a "Seed Exchange Table". 

Occupy Gardens Toronto has spent the last year gathering and cataloguing seeds.

“And people have been donating their extra seeds to us,” he said.

Wednesday’s event was also one of many public information and brainstorming sessions about the Toronto Seed Library, a new initiative supported by a wide diversity of seed and good food projects in and around Toronto. 

Their goal is to find a large, central location that can permanently house the bulk of the seed supply along with small, neighbourhood branches in public schools, libraries and community centres.

So people can come into their local Seed Library, pick up seeds, grown their own crops and return some of those seeds to be handed out to others.

“If we can de-commodify the seed and make food sacred, we can continue to grow a community of community gardens around the city,” said Kearey Moreland.

“To take control of their own lives and destiny.”

At the same time, organizers took the opportunity to promote growTO, the urban agriculture action plan for Toronto.   

This spring, Occupy Gardens Toronto intends on replanting the People’s Peas Garden at Queen’s Park that was, said Kearey Moreland, “violently uprooted on the eve of harvest” last year and call on the Premier to introduce a People’s Food Act.

“She campaigned on the promise to introduce a local food act,” he said. “But we want it to be tailored to the people’s interest rather than corporate insiders.”

For urban agriculture enthusiasts, a local food act would prioritize natural methods of food production, puta garden at every school, create a provincial child nutrition program and promote ‘buy local’ initiatives.

Eventually culminating in a national food act.

Last May, Olivier De Schutter, the UN right-to-food envoy, said in Ottawa that Canada's "rates of food insecurity are unacceptable."

De Schutter pointed out that close to 900,000 Canadians were turning to food banks each month.

“Food is a human right and it should be constitutionally protected under security of the person,” said Kearey Moreland.

“Because if you don’t have access to food, what do you have.”

Until the 1950’s, Kearey Moreland said the urban agriculture movement was a force to be reckoned with in Toronto. 

Then it slowed down. But the last five to ten years has seen a resurgence in the local food movement.

And what’s a garden without tools.

Ryan Dyment and Lawrence Alvarez are the masterminds of Toronto's first tool library, a co-op that allows people to share and borrow power tools, located in the basement of the Parkdale Activity Recreation Centre. 

“With the Seed Library, it’s very consistent with our view of the world,” said Dyment at Wednesday’s event.

“And the kind of world that we’re trying to build here which is less focused on profit at all cost.”

If people participating in the seed projects happen to live in Parkdale or are willing to go there, they can borrow the gardening tools from the library. 

“We’re very open to talking to as many like minded organizations as possible,” said Dyment.

Colette Murphy came to Seedy Wednesday at City Hall. She’s a seed farmer who grows plants for seeds as opposed to growing them for vegetables or herbs.

She owns a small business called Urban Harvest, Toronto’s first urban agriculture business, that grows its seeds an hour north of Toronto on a donated farm.

Tomatoes, squash, egg plant, peppers, pumpkins and herbs.

“We bring most seeds back to our downtown location or to our greenhouse at Downsview Park,” said Murphy.

“Then we clean them. That’s a huge process and very different for every seed. Then we have a lot of young people, often university students, who help us pack seeds.”

Murphy sells her seeds at Seedy Saturdays, online or to other stores in the city.

On Wednesday, Orla Hegarty and a team of volunteers were busy putting together seed packages inside the front entrance of City Hall, including a blurb about the Toronto Seed Library, to hand out to passersby.

“(After the plant has finished producing its vegetable) you do let it go to seed,” said Hegarty. “So you can return the favour and bring back seeds.”

Along with Jacob Kearey Moreland, Katie Berger has also been an organizer with Occupy Gardens Toronto for the past year.

When Berger was looking for a major research project for her Masters in Environmental Studies program, the idea of a Seed Library appealed to her immediately.

“From the time it was even whispered about, we’ve been getting emails and calls from people who want to be involved,” said Berger.

They’ve got appointments with three city councillors who want to learn more about the Seed Library initiative. 

And they’ve received an invitation from Ward 13 Councillor Sarah Doucette to set up an information table at her environment day event in Parkdale.

“So this is looking like a really good collaboration,” said Berger.

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