UBC Farm Seed Hub
Supporting Community Seed Systems
The UBC Farm Seed Hub supports community seed systems in BC through interdisciplinary and community-engaged research and education through the Centre for Sustainable Food Systems (CSFS).
Seed cultivation at the UBC Seed Hub provides an opportunity for education and outreach for UBC students, farmers, and the public. The Seed Hub also serves as a connection point for community stakeholders and CSFS associate members to engage in research that furthers knowledge for and about community seed systems.
Initiated in 2012 under the guidance of a UBC Land and Food Systems directed studies program, today the Seed Hub is an integrated part of the CSFS at UBC Farm. The Seed Hub is rooted at the UBC Farm, but also engages across a broad geographic region through research and outreach at local farms throughout BC, including on-farm variety trials, field days, workshops at a variety of locations, and online outreach to farmers across Canada. The Seed Hub also fosters collaborations with local, national, and international organizations and universities to advance knowledge about plant breeding and seed systems for resilient agriculture.
Why Community Seed Systems?
Seeds are fundamental to agri-food systems because they produce the diverse, adaptable crops needed for healthy environments and communities. Since the beginning of agriculture, communities have engaged in saving and selecting seeds, resulting in thousands of unique varieties (types) of crops adapted to different environments and cultural uses. This gives seeds deep cultural significance, as the means to produce and reproduce crop varieties that have played important roles in human sustenance and cuisines around the world. Modern plant breeding carried out by both public universities and private companies builds on a long history of variety selection by farmers and gardeners around the world.
Seed systems include all of the practices, infrastructure, and institutions involved in plant breeding and seed cultivation. Agricultural sustainability can be enhanced by seed systems that provide communities with diverse crop varieties that are well-adapted to the regions where they grow and are resilient to a wide array of stresses and disruption such as pests and diseases, droughts, weed pressure, and climate change. Seed systems are crucial in building community food systems that provide nutritious and culturally important foods through sustainable means.
Networks of farmers, gardeners, seed companies, and scientists throughout North America are building community seed systems that help to diversify the seeds available to local agriculture through regional seed cultivation, seed swaps and exchanges, and farmer-engaged plant breeding. Community seed systems include regional seed businesses, farmers who grow seed, farmer-plant breeders, university scientists, cooks and eaters, and many other stakeholders.
Seed CultivationThe UBC Farm produces seed of 20-30 different crop varieties each year from 15-20 different crops, including an array of vegetable, bean, flower, and herb species. Seed crops are produced as part of integrated cropping systems at the Farm and are harvested and processed using small-scale equipment that comprises the Seed Hub infrastructure. Some of the seed is used for crop culvitation at the UBC Farm, while the rest is sold to gardeners and farmers. Packets are sold in multiple venues, including a seed rack at the UBC Botanical Garden and a pilot online platform. The CSFS at UBC Farm was a founding member of the BC Eco Seed Cooperative, a cooperative of local seed producers, and a substantial portion of the seed grown at the UBC Farm is sold to gardeners and farmers through this co-op. Finally, the Seed Hub provides seed donations to community gardening groups and seed libraries.
Education & Outreach
The UBC Seed Hub offers opportunities for students, farmers, and community members to learn about seed cultivation and variety selection through classes, field days, workshops, hands-on activities, and online programming. The seed cultivation plots, research plots, and seed processing facilities serve as demonstration sites for programs on seed saving, plant breeding, and seed crop cultivation, cleaning, storage, and marketing. UBC student Work Learn positions and the UBC Farm Practicum in Sustainable Agriculture offer opportunities to engage more deeply in these topics. The Canadian Organic Vegetable Improvement (CANOVI) program provides outreach to farmers both at the UBC Farm site and at participatory variety trials on collaborating farms.
A selection of the education and outreach activities connected with the Seed Hub include:
UBC Farm Practicum in Sustainable Agriculture
Open to all. UBC students receive academic credit.
Find out more.
UBC Student Work Learn Position in Seed Production
Open to UBC students, offered in Fall and Winter.
Find out more.
UBC Students in Applied Plant Breeding
APBI 318 is a course open to all UBC students. Includes education on making crosses and selecting varieties.
Find out more.
Farmer Workshops and Field Days
Open to all farmers and held at the UBC Farm, collaborating farms, or online. Focused on vegetable variety trials and participatory plant breeding.
Find out more.
Community Workshops and Presentations
Open to all community members and held at the UBC Farm or online. Focused on seed saving principles.
Find out more.
For information on UBC Farm Seed Hub cultivation and educational opportunities, please contact Evan Goh.
The BC Seed Trials project was a collaboration between the Bauta Family Initiative on Canadian Seed Security, UBC Farm, and FarmFolk CityFolk from 2016 - 2018. Through conducting vegetable variety trials on farms throughout the province we, with input from local farmers, identified varieties that performed best in each region, as well as varieties that could be scaled up for bulk seed cultivation. The success of the BC Seed Trials formed the foundation for a nationwide vegetable variety trialing network that began in 2019 as part of the Canadian Organic Vegetable (CANOVI) project.
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Canadian Organic Vegetable Improvement (CANOVI) is a five-year collaborative project launched in 2018 by the UBC Centre for Sustainable Food Systems, the Bauta Family Initiative on Canadian Seed Security, and FarmFolk CityFolk.
The goal of CANOVI is to contribute to the resilience and growth of Canada’s organic vegetable sector through the characterization and development of varieties that excel in Canadian organic farming systems. Working with regional farming organizations, the CANOVI team coordinates a network of on-farm variety trials in which farmers generate and share data about regional variety performance. 2021 trial crops are radicchio and rutabaga, while past trials have focused on carrot and sweet red pepper.
SeedLinked variety trial software (https://www.seedlinked.com/) and Tableau data visualization are used to give farmers real-time access to variety performance information from across Canada. In addition, data from the CANOVI on-farm trial network contributes to broader understandings of crop-environment interactions through functional trait analysis. Finally, CANOVI supports participatory plant breeding projects that leverage farmer variety trial input for breeding decisions. These include:
1) selection of a long-storing orange Nantes-type carrot with excellent flavour and early vigor;
2) selection of a red Nantes-type carrot with deep red colour, good flavor and resistance to bolting in BC’s moderate temperatures and long daylight periods;
3) farmer-initiated breeding and commercialization of an early-maturing, blocky, red bell pepper
These projects represent collaboration among universities, NGOs, and farmer groups to facilitate decentralized plant breeding approaches that address regional and crop-specific gaps in seed systems for sustainable agriculture.
The UBC Farm serves as a field site for CANOVI vegetable variety trials and participatory carrot breeding, as well as a host site for field days.
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A mostly unknown fact is that carrots are one of the more complex seed crops to produce. First, the crop is a biennial, meaning it requires two years to grow out and specific overwintering storage requirements. Secondly, domesticated carrot will readily cross with Queen Anne’s lace (Daucus carota var. carota), a progressively common weed in British Columbia. Complete isolation between the wild and domesticated varieties is necessary to produce true-to-type seed. Isolation structures also allow farmers to produce different varieties of carrot seed in close proximity.
The long-term objectives of this project are to:
1) Increase the viability of growing organic and ecologically-grown carrot seed in high-tunnel isolation structures. This approach is meant to eliminate cross-pollination with Queen Anne’s Lace.
2) In addition to addressing the reality of cross-pollination with Queen Anne’s Lace in British Columbia, the outcomes generated by this research will also point to best practices in increasing the yield of regionally-adapted seed through the potential of growing out multiple carrot varieties without cross-pollinating.
This research complements the work of the BC Eco Seed Co-op, the Bauta Family Initiative on Canadian Seed Security, and the UBC Farm Seed Hub to increase the quality, quantity and diversity of ecologically-grown vegetable seed in Canada.