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Jo Newton and Deirdre Morrissey sowing seed and potting on crops to produce seed for the forthcoming season at Seed Savers in Scariff. Photograph by John Kelly.

Seed Savers on track for bumper harvest season

FUNDING crises, climate change the Covid-19 are among the challenges faced and overcome by the conservation organisation, Irish Seed Savers, over almost a quarter of a century in Clare.

The centre in Scariff has just re-opened to the public from Tuesdays to Saturdays, after coronavirus forced it to limit access over the summer months. Because it is a farm, Seed Savers was designated an essential service, and work continued throughout the lockdown and beyond, in order to build up seed banks and respond to a huge rise in public demand for its stocks.

We had re-opened to the public on Saturdays only, from July,” said Jennifer McConnell, General Manager of the facility. “From September 1, we opened five days a week for the public. During lockdown, because of our designation, we were working away with outdoor staff coming in for staggered hours, in accordance with our Covid-19 plan. We’ve had a very busy time, with a 220% increase in demand for our seeds in the month of March alone. People had more time for the garden and a new interest in growing their own food. By now, we’re harvesting and our seed banks are full once again.”

One of the aims of Seed Savers, which will mark 25 years in Clare in 2021, is to conserve traditional, native varieties of fruit and vegetables and to raise awareness of the importance of protecting indigenous seeds. “People don’t always realise this, but 95% of seeds sold in Ireland are imported,” explained Jennifer. “There is no requirement for country-of-origin labelling, so it’s difficult for people to know what they’re buying. What we want to do is to encourage people to grown their own and to harvest seeds themselves. Ideally, we’re looking to develop community growing groups and then community seed hubs. We are one of only two organisations in the country who are recognised as conserving Irish seeds.”

Ambitious plans for the autumn and winter months will continue, albeit in a scaled-back way to ensure compliance with Covid-19 guidelines. “We will go ahead with our workshops, which will now be able to cater to groups of ten,” said Jennifer. “We can go guided tours for groups, as long as they’re booked in advance, and our Forest School will run on Sundays for groups of eight. We will cater for 3-5 year-olds and 6-10 year-olds with facilitators for each group. The school is about getting children to connect with nature and it’s a really nice option for families who have really had a challenging time with home-schooling, working from home and fewer opportunities to get out of the house. In fact, a trip out to Seed Savers is something that we are now able to offer families, because we’re conscious that so many activities have been curtailed or stopped altogether.”

More details of Irish Seed Saver’s forest school, workshops and supporters programme is available from 061 921856 or info@irishseedsavers.ie.

About Fiona McGarry

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Fiona McGarry joined The Clare Champion as a reporter after a four-year stint as producer of Morning Focus on Clare FM. Prior to that she worked for various radio, print and online titles, including Newstalk, Maximum Media and The Tuam Herald. Fiona’s media career began in her native Mayo when she joined Midwest Radio. She is the maker of a number of radio documentaries, funded by the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI). She has also availed of the Simon Cumbers Media Fund to report on development issues supported by Irish Aid in Haiti. She won a Justice Media Award for a short radio series on the work of Bedford Row Project, which supports prisoners and families in the Mid-West. Fiona also teaches on the Journalism programmes at NUI Galway. If you have a story and would like to get in touch with Fiona you can email her at fmcgarry@clarechampion.ie or telephone 065 6864146.

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