Meeting The Seed Savers, Jude + Michel Fanton

In a small house in Byron Bay, surrounded by lush gardens sporting edible plants from ever continent on earth, live two of Australia’s living legends. No truly, I’m not being romantic – if i can achieve but a fraction of what these folks have done to create resilience for future generations, I’ll die happy.

Jude and Michel Fanton founded The SeedSavers in Australia in 1986 to preserve local varieties of useful plants, and have since played a crucial role in over 37 countries, within communities and networks motivated to preserve seed sovereignty. Recently I was luck enough to visit them… 

Michel showing me through the Seedsavers’ suburban food forest

It’s rather tricky to encapsulate the huge role that Michel and Jude have played in Permaculture, in the Transition movement and in the struggle for seed sovereignty and diversity that continues in many countries today, including our own.

In a nutshell, in the mid-80’s Michel and Jude mounted a ‘rescue mission’ to preserve some of the many local varieties  of food plants that Australians were growing in either their backyard or on a small farm scale by providing a nation-wide seed saving network.

That network was at one point centered at Michel and Jude’s home with all donated varieties being logged, recorded and re-distributed, and later evolved to a de-centralised model to ensure long-term stability.

Today there are over 100 active seedsaver network nodes in Australia, still actively swapping, preserving and growing many local, heirloom and adapted varieties of the food we eat every day, ensuring their ongoing availability with the small but huge gesture of seed saving.

While I was there, Michel did a bit of filming of Jude and I checking out their veggie patch and such… here’s a couple of snippets:

You can view the seedsavers’ entire and extensive video catalog (featuring seedsaving excursions, interviews and local food enterprises from across the planet) on their Youtube Channel

The Fantons’ also wrote the definitive book on Australian seedsaving, The Seedsavers’ Handbook. This modest but brilliant book should be in every public library as it contains invaluable, do-able information on how to save seeds to ensure future harvests of every scale.

Since then Jude has also written a great seedsavers and gardening book for schools: Seed to Seed: Food Gardens in Schoolsreview here

Of course it doesn’t stop there, the Fantons’ website Seedsavers.net is chock-a-block full of resources, videos, how to start a seedsaver network manuals, and on and on.

While seed saving is not all about discovering Glass Gem Corn on a daily basis, this practice is the basis for ensuring resilience for each of our communities food supplies, in the sense that locally adapted, open-source seed genetics are best placed to withstand a range of futures.

I’ve been most surprised in our 5 years of learning about small farm systems in Australia to find how rare it is for small-scale commercial producers of annual vegetables to save their seed. In short, I haven’t found one who does yet.

There’s a lot of reasons for this that I can identify so far (including that I should get out more, perhaps), but still, I find it unnerving. All the more reason to learn, and to (re)discover new ways of doing things that used to be a given part of the yearly cycle…

Big thanks to Jude and Michel Fanton for taking the time to answer well over a million questions, and for sharing a morning of acorn coffee and gardening…

Expect more in-depth blogposts on the various conversations had that morning about seedsaving future strategies soonish!

>> More on seed saving at Milkwood.net

4 Comments

  1. Posted July 25, 2012 at 6:47 am | Permalink | Reply

    I L O V E this!! Thank you for sharing, these people are truly inspiring. :)

  2. Posted July 25, 2012 at 10:08 am | Permalink | Reply

    It’s true, they are legends. It\’s lovely to see a photo of them.
    Maybe the reason for the small producers not collecting their seeds is the cross pollinations/space issue?

    Another interesting post. Thank you.

  3. Matthew
    Posted July 25, 2012 at 11:51 am | Permalink | Reply

    I sent this to my sister who is looking to buy a farm with her partner – a fantastic post. Milkwood is an addictive place and I have never been there….

  4. Posted July 25, 2012 at 5:15 pm | Permalink | Reply

    They really are legends! I’ve got those leeks although they came from one of the local Permies (who probably got them from Jude!) If you spread them out they’ll grow into larger leeks with a bulb at the bottom and lots of babies around the sides. They never get to the big leek size of traditional leeks but they’re great as an onion substitute in winter.

    I couldn’t catch the name of the plant you mentioned, in the second video, that you used as an overstorey in the Milkwood garden. Was it Cosmos?

    I suspect as rhondajean has indicated that small producers aren’t saving seed because of space and management etc. It’s all about throughput and crop rotation. Letting pants go to seed means that you have space tied up that would otherwise be producing a new crop. Cross pollination as well is an issue. Being a bit lazy with my seedsaving I don’t protect my brassicas from cross pollinating but will leave some to flower for the bees. I’ve had some weird hybrids come up as a result!

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  1. [...] had the great pleasure to meet Michel and Jude Fanton a couple of months ago, and their warmth and depth of knowledge was really inspiring. As is Dr Vandana Shiva and her seed [...]

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