When the FarmFolk CityFolk mobile seed cleaner recently rolled through town, a couple of us from the KFPC were lucky enough to take part in their seed cleaning session at SSOL Gardens. The mobile seed cleaner is currently being toured around the province to promote commercial seed production and support farmers who are already producing seed for sale. This well-equipped trailer can be a game-changer for farmers thinking about growing for seed as the equipment it brings can produce commercial-grade seed in a fraction of the time it would take to clean it manually.

Seed sovereignty is an integral part of food sovereignty. In order to have a resilient local or regional food system, we need to be producing our own seed so that we are less reliant on large commercial seed companies and able to develop plant varieties adapted to changing local and regional climates.

Prepping beans for cleaning

Seed cleaning can be monotonous and labour-intensive work, but it can also be very relaxing and meditative. When you see that bucket of clean seeds – the finished product of your labor, it’s also immensely satisfying. And sharing the work with a friendly crew of helpers makes for a fun day on the farm!

The seed cleaning unit itself is a trailer that houses several interesting gadgets used in the seed-cleaning process including an air-separator, which uses suction to pull the lighter chaff away from the seeds. David Catzel, who built most of the equipment in the trailer, was on hand for our session at SSOL and was able to finely-tune the airflow for each type of seed, producing a very clean finished product.

David and Daniela screening onions

There is quite a bit of manual preparation to be done before the plant material is ready to go through the separator. This is where the teamwork comes in. The more plant material that can be removed from the seed beforehand, the more effective the final cleaning will be. The mobile seed trailer is equipped with a sizeable collection of hand screens, which make the process easier.

On the day we were there, we helped clean two varieties of beans, six of carrots, ten lettuce varieties, and two onions. Daniela from SSOL Gardens figured the session saved her a week to 10 days of work and was way more fun than doing it alone!

David also facilitated a seed saving workshop for us while he was in town, which, unfortunately, we had to restrict to seven people because of social distancing restrictions. For those of us who got to attend, it was very informative and inspiring. One important takeaway was that although seed saving can be very scientific and particular with tons to learn about plant varieties, cross-pollination, and isolation distances, it can also be very simple. Many of our common vegetables, such as tomatoes, lettuce, beans, and peas are mostly self-pollinating and can easily be saved from one year to the next. And sometimes unintended cross-pollination can result in something new and different!

Thanks to David Catzel and Steph Benoit for organizing and facilitating the event and to FarmFolk CityFolk for making it possible!