Our survival begins, and ends, with seeds. Making sure there is sufficient diversity and supply of viable seeds, people to grow them, and a supply of the nourishing food they produce is a core philosophy of the Butte County Local Food Network. Long-time Chico resident Pamm Larry founded and directs this educational non-profit organization, whose mission is “to create a strong local food system as the basis of a strong local economy, anchored in a healthy community that thrives on neighbors helping neighbors.”
Larry believes that it is our community, made up of individuals and neighbors, “a group of folks who share … dreams of health and community” that will create a successful food system enabling us to survive the threats and challenges of a changed climate.
Which brings us back to seeds. While the Butte County Local Food Network has a variety of educational and outreach programs (for more details visit their website), this article focuses on their work with seeds. Prior to the COVID pandemic, the Butte County Local Food Network organized Seed Swaps, which took place regularly at local libraries. Individuals brought seeds they had saved and traded them with other gardeners to add to the varieties of edibles they could plant each season.
Seeds are dispensed in specially-designed packets through existing neighborhood Little Free Libraries in Chico and Paradise (told you it was ingenious!), or delivered by request. Seeds chosen for this program grow well in our area, do not cross pollinate, and have seeds that are easy to save. The four seed varieties distributed in Summer 2020 were rainbow chard, Waltham butternut squash, sunflowers, and black-eyed peas. The Fall 2020 packets included snap peas, Swiss chard, Russian kale, and winter density lettuce. To participate in this project, please go to Save Our Seeds.
The big answer to “why save seeds?” is, according to Larry, Food Sovereignty, Food Justice, and Food Autonomy. The rising cost of both seeds and food in general is a good reason to save seeds. But the real beauty of this program is that it starts with seeds and ends with finding ways to work together. As Larry pointed out, food supply is a multi-faceted system that interconnects us all. To create a stronger local food system, we need to address all of the pieces. A community that grows food together is stronger, healthier, more resilient, and ultimately less divided.
Among the many geological, climatic, and geographical phenomena that make Butte County a special place to live is the access we have to fresh and healthy food all year long. For example, due to dedicated and talented local farmers, we can buy vibrant, nutrient-dense greens whether it's 104 degrees during the summer, or a hard-freezing week in winter. The stalls and tables at our Chico Certified Farmers Markets, whose vendors proudly state “We Grow What We Sell,” are rich with food variety and quantity in a riot of colors and textures. Many local restauranteurs buy from our growers.
In 2013 the Chico Farmers Market was listed in the top five international farmers markets in the Essential Travel website. Larry attributes this to the variety and quality of the food grown by trustworthy farmers, our special climate (Mediterranean), and our incredible soil (primarily Vina Loam). She notes that here in the north valley, and particularly in the “banana belt” of the lower foothills, we will be able to grow local food and raise enough animal products for our use well into the future.
Being a part of the effort to do something for and with our community members is what drives Larry in her efforts to develop more food security at the most simple and local of levels. After all, as Larry says: you buy insurance for your house; why not insure the most important part of your survival – food? It all comes down to seeds!
UC Master Gardeners of Butte County are part of the University of California Cooperative Extension (UCCE) system. To learn more about us and our upcoming events, and for help with gardening in our area, visit our website. If you have a gardening question or problem, email the Hotline at email@example.com (preferred) or call (530) 538-7201.
Photo credit for seed packs: Butte County Local Food Network.