Seed Banks

Do we have sufficient seeds to guarantee our future food supply? This was one of the questions posed to us at Ballymaloe Cookery School in order to raise our consciousness about the threat of climate change and new diseases that threaten the limited seed varieties that we have access to. The new National Geographic magazine www.ngm.com July 2011 issue has an excellent article entitled “Food Ark” which talks of the threat to chicken breeds as nearly one third of these breeds are at risk of extinction. At Ballymaloe Cookery School’s Palais des Poulets we walked amongst the Black Silkies, Speckled Sussex and Light Sussex. Many chicken breeds have special traits such as heat or pathogen resistance that could be invaluable to our future. As people are consuming more poultry and eggs there is an urgent need to ensure that the myriad chicken breeds, along with heirloom varieties of fruits and vegetables and seeds that yield excellent harvests to ensure sufficient food for mankind. Excellent seed banks exist in Russia and also in Norway.The Seed Savers Exchange close to the town of Decorah in Iowa, USA is one of the largest non governmental owned seed banks in the USA. A Seed Savers Exchange 2011 Yearbook list seeds availabl from its membership of 13,000.

The problem with relying on a small number of food crops is risky. We saw this on our visit to the Queenstown Experience in Cobh (pronounced Cove) outside the City of Cork in Ireland. The Irish farmers were planting the Lumper potato which succumbed to blight and caused the great Irish Potato Famine that began in 1845.