Kate has been delivering free seeds across the borough to help people in lockdown.
Photograph: Kate Poland

Buying seeds now is like trying to get tickets for Glastonbury.

On some sites you are put in a waiting room until the company can begin to serve you.

One organic supplier says that they are getting 400 orders an hour, when they have the capacity to pack 600 a week.

Another can only open for an hour a day.

I’ve been giving away hundreds of seeds around the borough and have seen a huge demand from people wanting and needing them, with several saying it would be “good to watch them grow”.

As well as the soothing nature of growing something from seed, there may be other reasons for this increase in demand for growing your own.

More time at home and in the garden is a big one, but we are also realising how precarious and limited our food supply chain is and perhaps want more control over it.

This is a different way of looking at what is commonly called ‘panic buying’.

In the case of food, what we were doing was just some sensible stocking up of dry goods – we listened to government advice about quarantining for up to a fortnight and planned ahead.

The problem wasn’t with us buying madly but in the supply chain, which couldn’t cope with the extra demand.

The chain broke (and, incidentally, the small independent and ‘corner’ shops have no empty shelves as far as I’ve seen).

There is a need, in times of uncertainty, for self-reliance and stocking up on flour to make bread seems to me like a sign of pragmatic control, not mad uncontrolled panic.

Similarly, the big increase in demand for seeds – and organic seeds in particular – could be partly this need simply to look after ourselves.

We import 40 per cent of our food but 80 per cent of our organic seed.

I’ve written about seeds before and how precarious our food system is if it relies on just FOUR mega suppliers (Bayer-Monsanto, DowDuPont-Corteva, ChemChina-Syngenta, BASF), so maybe now is the time to change that.

We have several small suppliers of open pollinated seed in this country. They are currently overwhelmed by demand which is good, but maybe we need to go back a step further and learn how to create our own seed supply.

Most of us have lost skills familiar to everyone a century ago – sowing, growing and saving seeds. I’m hoping that those people who have taken the free seeds we’ve been giving out will save some for next year and start a local trend.

In the meantime, Cordwainers Grow and the Union of Hackney Gardens is running a weekly virtual advice session. Email hello@cordwainersgrow.org.uk for more information.

For further reading, have a look at this article at theecologist.org

Kate Poland is an award-winning community gardener. She was chosen to be the UK’s first ever postcode gardener in E5 as part of Friends of the Earth’s 10xGreener project. For more information, head to cordwainersgrow.org.uk and friendsoftheearth.uk

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