Seedy Saturday, a harbinger of spring and gardening, is moving into town.
The annual seed swap and sale event takes place Saturday, March 17, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Char’s Landing, 4815 Argyle St.
Sponsored by two local groups — the Women’s Food and Water Initiative (WFWI) and Alberni Valley Transition Town Society — this Valley variation on Seedy Saturday tradition draws seed and garden suppliers from across the Island. Green thumbs and greenhorns alike are invited to attend and share in resources available for urban gardening.
“It’s a place to celebrate spring, buy everything you need for your garden and get information,” said Jen Fisher-Bradley of WFWI.
Since it will be St. Patrick’s Day, wearing green is doubly encouraged, she added.
Seedy Saturday (or in some cases Sunday) is an idea that has spread across the country since the first event was held at Van Dusen Gardens in 1990. Agronomist Sharon Rempel created the catchphrase to build a community of interest around biodiversity conservation and heritage seeds. As Rempel put it: “The hand that controls the seed controls the food supply.”
The garden-themed social events are uplifting, in keeping with the prospect of spring, yet there is a serious and sobering side that makes this year’s urban venue (past events were held at Arrowvale Farms) an appropriate choice. Seeds, obviously, must adapt to changes in environmental conditions, Fisher-Bradley pointed out.
“We realize that seeds need to acclimatize along with changes in climate because they’re ‘intelligent,’ they have DNA and need to adapt.”
As an urban farmer, she’s seen profound shifts in climate and growing conditions since arriving in the Alberni Valley a little more than a decade ago. There is more rainfall in late fall and summers are much drier. The mercury at one point peaked at 43 C. A once prevailing westerly no longer prevails, resulting in higher summer humidity, she said.
“The drought is most alarming thing for me. I first started noticing it about eight years ago.”
Fisher-Bradley and her partner operate Mirabel Farm, an urban farm in South Port. As conditions changed, they had to change by adopting permaculture. In order to reduce costs, they’ve had to use less water. That’s meant switching from vegetables that require frequent watering to tree fruits and hardier crops, perennial greens such as walking stick cabbage of the kale family. They practise hugelkultur (which means hill or mound growing), a permaculture technique designed to retain more moisture in the soil.
“I knew water was going to be one of the key issues, but I didn’t realize how big of an issue it would become,” she said.
Mirabel is a social as well as a food enterprise, one that led Fisher-Bradley to form WFWI in 2008. The initiative played a role in laying some of the groundwork for growing within the city proper. They lobbied for an urban farm bylaw, permitting as much as a quarter of city lots to be under cultivation for market gardens, and for setting up the city’s food security and climate adaptation committee.
She wants to see urban farming gain greater viability here through a water assistance pilot program funded by the provincial government since it’s essentially a health initiative. WFWI has already applied for funding.
“We would consider it a participatory research project,” she said. Part of the idea being to study local food production with minimal use of water. The project would involve 5 to 10 urban growers. It’s an idea that hand in hand with initiatives to revitalize the valley’s economy, she added.
“This is why I feel we’ve got to follow through.”
Historically, Alberni Valley was agriculturally rich. The Island in general once grew 80-90 percent of its food supply. Fisher-Bradley views the whole region as a kind of giant mixed farm, capable of rebuilding self-reliance, food security and sustainability.
“I’m looking forward to the future when we can develop that, a local food economy that serves the entire region.”
Seedy Saturday offers seeds for spring planting along with plants, berries, trees and a host of other gardening ingredients at Char’s Landing on St. Patrick’s Day.
Vendors will include SaltSpringSeeds.com and John Mayba of the Transition Town Society with heirloom seeds; Sunshine Goldsberry, an Errington grower, with dried herbs and seed; perennials and vegetable starts from Joan Winder of Garden Lore Country Perennials. As well, certified master gardeners will be on hand to share their local growing knowledge.
Food and refreshments will be available along with “garden yoga” for children. Admission is by donation.