Orcas has a seed bank | Guest column

Submitted by Katie Wilkins and Dan Borman, curators of the Orcas Island Seed Bank

I am writing in response to the Island Sounder’s recent article, “Reminder: San Juan County is GMO-free.” I would like to provide some clarifications and further ideas for consideration.

First, I want to address councilman Rick Hughes’ suggestion in the above-mentioned article that the county could capitalize on its GMO-free designation by starting a seed bank. There is already at least one seed bank in San Juan County: the Orcas Island Seed Bank, of which I am one of the curators. Its mission is to contribute to local food system security by acquiring, testing, propagating, and sharing varieties of seeds of store-able staple crops suitable to local growing conditions. We obtain seed from local, national, and international sources, and provide seed to interested members of the community free of cost.

The islands also boast two seed libraries that I know about: The Orcas Island Seed Library, which is housed in the Orcas Island Public Library, and the Lopez Community Land Trust Seed Library, found in the Lopez Community Land Trust Office. The idea with a seed library is to “borrow” seeds that interest you, grow them to maturity, save seeds (keeping some for yourself of course), and return some seeds to the seed library, making them available to other growers. Rather than new organizations, we need better awareness of and support for the ones we already have.

I don’t know if Mr. Hughes intends it, but he implies that seed banks or GMO-free organic organizations would enable us to take economic advantage of the GMO ban. While there may be economic opportunities for local seed production, seed banks (and seed libraries) as a rule are not established with the goal of direct economic gain. They are designed to empower individuals and communities by giving them access to seeds and knowledge that they need and to empower through participation in growing and saving seeds.

To get the most out of San Juan County’s GMO ban, we will also need a ban on the GMO industry’s sidekick, glyphosate (Roundup). Companies that pedal GMOs profit not only from seed but from chemicals like glyphosate that are designed to go with them. Let’s hit them where it hurts—in the pocketbook. There is ample information available on glyphosate’s negative impacts on human and environmental health, so I won’t go into detail here. Suffice it to say we neither want it nor the companies that sell it, to have a place in our county.

If you are interested in learning more about seed saving and plant breeding in the context of a changing climate, consider attending Dan Borman’s class this Saturday, April 8, 6-8:30 p.m. at the Turtleback Folk School on Orcas. The class is free or by donation. Please see further details and register in advance through the school’s website: https://www.turtlebackfolkschool.org/.

Most importantly, get your hands dirty and join the effort: grow and save seeds!