The question of organic has already been raised once this year and this has been debated by Maloca members in the past and I’m sure that it will continue to be debated in the future.
This post was written as a response to a question posted on Maloca’s e-mail list and reflects my knowledge on organic seeds and seedlings. Please use the comment feature to add your thoughts.
The organic certification of seeds usually means they are a heritage/heirloom variety, non-hybrid, non-GMO, have have been grown using organic methods (no chemical pesticides/fertilizers, etc.).
To the best of my knowledge as long as seeds are grown using organic methods, the resulting plants and food that they produce are organic. A seed that come from a plant that had chemical pesticides/fertilizers will produce a next generation plant that is just as organic as a plant grown from a certified organic seed from the exact same species – provided that they are from a heritage/heirloom variety and both grown following identical organic methods. This is something that I have now done some research on.
Last year, our focus was on getting non-hybrid and non-GMO seeds when organically certified seeds were not available.
Hybrid seeds don’t save well. They have been designed as a one time product – and seeds saved from hybrid plants will not have a consistent quality product or yield. For example, a hybrid tomato plant might produce lots of beautiful tomatoes the first year, but in subsequent years the tomato plants are nothing at all like the plant the seeds were saved from and likely will have lower yields and the tomatoes will not look like those from the original plant. There has been a move toward seed saving at Maloca and therefore I would recommend avoiding hybrid seeds.
GMO is something we also want to avoid at Maloca. This is when a plant is genetically altered using genetic engineering techniques and the resulting plant will not meet most organic certification standards no matter how organically it is grown. To me genetic engineering is something that we still don’t know the full ramifications of and does not fit well with the sustainable agriculture that Maloca attempts to practice. Chances are we won’t find many of these seeds, but they are not labeled so it is really hard to say how pervasive they really are.
The best method of avoiding hybrid and GMO seeds is to look for seeds that are clearly labeled heritage or heirloom – or to simply Google the name of the seed to see what shows up. For a seed to be heritage or heirloom it means that the plant’s origins can be traced back to at least 1951, which is when hybrid plants became widely used.
Last year, Maloca did get seedlings from a range of sources. Some we grew for ourselves, which were organic or heirloom seeds and grown organically. Others from Urban Harvest, that used organic seeds and grown using organic methods – but these are REALLY expensive. We also went to some more grassroots events like plant sales by local horticultural societies and Foodshare’s plant giveaway – and the origins of these seedlings were unknown but we came beck with some really interesting plants at a reasonable cost. And finally, there was one Loblaws garden centre (when everything was on sale) purchase when trying to fill in the garden on our limited financial resources – and based on our increased organization this year it will not be repeated.
I can’t answer Helena’s question on organic alone. I personally think that bringing seedlings grown at home or seeds saved from other gardens would fit with Maloca’s philosophy as I understand it. So long as Helena (or anyone else bringing seeds, seedlings or cuttings) can be relatively sure they are not hybrids and totally sure they are not GMO (again this is very unlikely for the kinds of plants we grow).
We do however need a certain amount of flexibility for some of the things that Maloca members would like to see grown. For example, things like rhubarb are best obtained from someone else’s garden. Also, the current bushes, Jerusalem artichokes, and onion perennials we got last year from plant sales are things that are hard to find and while we might not know if they were from an organic garden, they will be grown organically at Maloca and last for many future seasons.