Monthly Archives: March 2009

Eat Your Weeds

Fri, 20/03/2009 – Jude Fanton

Westerners tend to look to the garden as their only source of fresh and home-grown produce, ignoring harvests from the wild and semi-cultivated areas. It is like looking at the Gross National Production as the sum total of what a nation produces, whereas non-traded items, such as home-grown fresh produce, are not counted. Similarly reserving and protecting wild and semi-wild areas greatly enhances the quantity and diversity of your diet.

Travelling and filming in Third World countries, I have observed that peasants harvest significant items of their diet from semi-cultivated areas. From these they gather culinary and medicinal herbs, fruits, nuts, mushrooms, vegetables and forage for their animals.
These semi-cultivated areas may occasionally be weeded, cleared and deliberately re-seeded.
Their locations include:
• between rows of crops
• under and around orchard trees
• around gardens, flower beds, fields and forests
• along roadways, pathways and fence lines
• near wells and dams
• in other no-man’s land areas
• in fallowed fields

Wild and Semi-cultivated = Seasonal and Dense
When you eat from wild and semi-cultivated areas, you are guaranteed of food that is both seasonal and dense in flavour. Weeds and self-sown food plants by their very nature germinate when soil temperature and moisture is ideal and grow in their optimum season. That is the reason weeds perform so well!
Wild and semi-cultivated food has denser flavour and more anti-oxidants than cultivated. This is for two reasons. Firstly these species and varieties are genetically complex, unlike cultivated plants that have been selected for yield. See ‘Traditional Apples Keep Doctor Away’ on wild and traditional versus cultivated apples varieties in Seed Savers issue 38.
Secondly there is more density of flavour and nutrition in these plants because they are given neither extra water nor fertiliser and they are not protected from competition so they must struggle to survive. The struggle makes them strong.

Management for Maximum Production
There are several books, and lots of grandmas and grandpas, that can help you recognise which weeds are useful and encourage those species by clearing the rest. Throughout the Third World the favourite tool will be a version of the machete., Third World peasants cut off weeds at ground level so the roots remain and rot to fertilise the soil, rather than pulling them up. In Japan there is a whole movement called Natural Farming that goes beyond organics in that there are no inputs, not even manure. Natural Farmers produce food without digging and uprooting weeds, rather using them as indicators and fertiliser.
You can also enhance semi-cultivated areas by sprinkling on them seeds from plants you favour. By a combination of neglect, luck and design, there are many such areas here at the Seed Centre Gardens. Our most common semi-cultivated species thus far are Cherry Tomatoes, Italian Parsley, French Fennel, Mustards, Endive, Daikon and other radishes and five types of each of Chicory and Lettuce.
We do some selection, such as pulling out or cutting off small individuals at all stages of growth – when the plants are immature, mature, as they flower and as they go to seed. This way we select for larger and more vigorous plants.

We introduce the seeds to new areas by whacking mature seed-heads onto them, at any season and waiting for up to six months for them to emerge naturally. This last year we have concentrated along the newly de-grassed edges between the lawns and garden beds. Although these areas of former lawn have just been mulched, not dug, strong-rooted vegetables such as parsley and chicory thrive as they prefer compacted soil.

Recognise Edible Weeds
Besides recognised vegetables and herbs, the harvest from semi-cultivated areas can include edible weeds. Apart from being palatable, weeds can also be medicinal foods, for example, leaves of farmers’ friends (Bidens pilosa) are reputed to help the body avoid cancer and of black nightshade (Solanum nigrum) are eaten to control diabetes.
Some people make a habit of eating a plate of weeds one day a week, say Wednesday ‘weedy Wednesday’. Most weed leaves are best boiled for one to five minutes, drained then dressed with oil and vinegar or citrus juice, salt and pepper. We sometimes re-fry them, after boiling, with flavourings such as garlic, onion, leek, ginger and soy sauce.

Practise Foraging
Different cultures value and practise varying degrees of wild and semi-cultivated harvesting. In the last ten years we have had over twenty young Japanese as interns here at Seed Savers staying for an average of three months each. We have gardened, harvested, cooked and eaten together. Typically they have been schooled by their parents and grandparents to eat a wide range of foods. One described to us that she was told to ensure that she could count at least thirty different ingredients per day. They have described regularly eating wild harvested foods as ferns, weeds and mushrooms.
To make their spanikopita or any other dish from what Australians call ‘spinach’, Greeks traditionally collect what they call ‘horta’. You can see the origin of the word horticulture. Horta consists of what edible leaves you can find in the garden, semi-cultivated and wild areas and may include leaves of beetroot, chicory, dandelion, farmers’ friends (Bidens pilosa), dock (Rumex crispus and R. obtusifolius) and sow thistle (Sonchus oleraceus). Maoris love to eat enormous quantities of what they call ‘pu ha’, a large leaved cultivar of the sow thistle.
Throughout central and southern Africa cooked greens are eaten daily, and they are not restricted to the species Westerners use in this way. I have seen in a wholesale market in Nairobi, Kenya, huge piles of the leaves of these species sold for eating: comfrey Symphytum officinalis, spider plant (Cleome spp), molokhia (Corchorus olitorius), black nightshade (Solanum nigrum) and cowpea (Vigna unguiculata).

A benefit of having diversity in your semi-cultivated areas is that you have more predators on pests there.
There are many other examples in the diets of the more intact cultures. Some of the people harvesting in semi-cultivated areas that we have documented on film:
• A peasant collecting blueberries in the forest (in Les Vosges, Lorraine, France)
• A Bunun tribal woman collecting a large number of soft thistles and transporting them on her motorbike back to her rabbits (near Taitung, in Taiwan)
• Women collecting weeds and grass for their cattle and carrying it in large baskets on their backs (near Lijiang, China)
• Hâ’mong women with baskets of bamboo and wild honeycomb from the forest (near Moc Chau, Vietnam)
• An old woman collecting frogs and fish in rice paddy runnels (near Mai Chau, Vietnam)


Don’t Round Up This Valuable Harvest
A massive danger to this harvest is spraying with herbicide. Herbicide is routinely sprayed along roadways by councils, in parks by National Parks, on ‘weedy’ species by bush regenerators and even more alarmingly around suburban parks, schools and home gardens. Besides the well-documented severe health side-effects of the globally predominant herbicide, glyphosate (see, theses areas offer the possibility of a valuable harvest.
See also run by Sunny Savage in Oregon, who came here in 2004 as a course participant and intern for a short time. There are short film clips from Peru and Hawaii and several recipes for Prickly Pear for example.

Official Seal of Approval for Wild Plants
From Plants in Human Health and Nutrition Policy in Nutrition and Dietetics, Vol.91. Series Editor: Artemis P. Simopoulos, The Center for Genetics, Nutrition and Health, Washington, D.C., USA.
Because wild plants supply a significant portion of micronutrients to the diet and exhibit higher mineral values than more accessible, cultivated alternatives, substantial — nutritional gains could be achieved by increasing dietary utilisation of edible wild plants. The nutritional quality of diet may decline with agricultural development unless edible wild species that provide essential micronutrients to the diet are considered part of the total food system.

Micronutrients in Wild and Semi-wild Plants
The beneficial effect of a high intake of fruits and vegetables on the risk of cardiovascular disease and cancer may rely not on the well-known nutrients, such as vitamins, but rather on antioxidants or other phytochemicals. In addition to their antioxidant activities, wild plants are also storehouses of essential fatty acids especially linolenic acid and minerals such as calcium, phosphorus, potassium, magnesium, zinc, copper and iron.

There is also the potential of the cocktail effect of interactions between these and different compounds present in fresh foods such as linolenic acid, various phenolic compounds and fibre. Such phenolic compounds have already been implicated in the protective role that fruits and vegetables play against chronic diseases.

Value Edible Wild Plants
Edible wild plants are part of agricultural systems in all areas of the world. Agricultural development should not be at the expense of nutritional quality of the human diet where edible wild species play critical roles. We and others have documented that some edible wild plants not only augment the human diet, but that the nutritional content of some wild species is superior in vitamin and mineral content to domesticated field crops. Furthermore, edible wild plants are regular components of the diets of millions of people and scientists over the past 50 years have continued to stress the importance of edible wild plants as part of the human diet.
It is important to identify vegetable foods of high value such as leafy greens that are native to a region and establish their nutritional profile.

Case Study: The Ivy Gourd
In Thailand, ivy gourd, Coccinia indica, is a common vegetable in the village setting, whereas in Western Australia, the Pacific Islands and Hawaii, ivy gourd is labelled as a common weed or invasive weed, which is destroyed. Ivy gourd is rich in -carotene, a major precursor of vitamin A from plant sources, also a good source of protein, fiber and a moderate source of calcium, and compares well to other commonly eaten vegetables, i.e., Chinese cabbage, amaranth, kale, pumpkin leaves and chayote leaves. In many developing countries where vitamin A deficiency is prevalent, the population depends primarily on plant sources to obtain vitamin A from their diet. In Thailand, because ivy gourd is rich in carotene, readily acceptable for consumption by all age groups, inexpensive as well as accessible to the village households, this plant was selected in several studies to demonstrate an effect of dietary intervention to improve vitamin A nutrition. Additionally, according to, it is an efficacious plant for diabetics.


More Antioxidants in Old Varieties of Apples

Fri, 20/03/2009 – Jude Fanton

The New Zealand Tree Crop Association commissioned assays and a full analysis of antioxidant levels in the skin and flesh of fifty-nine varieties of apples. The analysis found generally that traditional varieties and seedlings contained more antioxidants than commercial ones.
This research will come as a shock to commercial apple breeders when they compare the levels of compounds in traditional (heritage) apples with those of the modern cultivars, and realise just how much is missing from the modern apple. Download a pdf of the apple study. See


Farmers Rice Varieties Flogged

Fri, 20/03/2009 – Michel Fanton

Rice farmers routinely save their own seeds. Massive collections have been made from their selections over the last few decades to be held in trust for public breeding programmes. Now these varieties are being sold off to create hybrid rice, a new phenomenon, that precludes seed saving.
On 9 November 2007, in the midst of the Asian Seed Congress, The International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) announced the formation of its Hybrid Rice Research and Development Consortium. This is the foundation for a first and direct relationship between IRRI and private seed companies, whereby IRRI will supply the parent lines and the corporations, who gain exclusive rights to the varieties, will handle the marketing.
Yet, this is a big change in the way IRRI functions. Before, IRRI had a public mandate whereby seeds were to be kept in the public domain [Only fair as that is where they were collected]. But now, it’s given this up and doing a deal with the private sector. IRRI justifies this major move into business by saying that it is the only way to salvage their work on hybrid rice, which we note has yet to produce any tangible benefits for farmers.
What hybrid rice has achieved in the past ten years is not so much high yield gains, but the development of a multi-million dollar private rice seed industry. And industry is particularly interested in supporting hybrid rice, as farmers will be locked into buying seeds each year. So IRRI wants to join in to earn its share of the profits.
These varieties that IRRI is willing to make a profit from are based on seeds that it holds ‘in trust’ seeds that were collected from farmers’ fields. Although IRRI may talk about the public benefits of this new Consortium it cannot gloss over the betrayal that lies at the heart of this operation.


Screening adventures

Wed, 18/03/2009 – Michel Fanton

In September 2008 we had an enlivening experience on our way to screening the film in a Solomon Islands village. The crossing to the steep volcanic island of Savo from the main island of Guadalcanal was by small motor canoe with neither floatation nor life jackets. Halfway there in rough seas, a heavy rainstorm and night falling, the boatman cut the engine. We were lost. There was no point wasting petrol.
We peered through the rain and mist trying to make out the island’s outline, contemplated our watery fate, the mind flicking through scenes of how we would behave. Who would commandeer the two small buoys? It makes you feel more alive! We resigned to lying in the covered prow out of the rain. It looked like at least a night in the fragile bark drifting across the choppy sea. As with all islanders the four other passengers took this stoically, bailing out the constant stream of sea-water lapping over the gunnels. As strangers to this scenario we felt that we had nothing, no skills, no knowledge, no bright ideas, to contribute that would not compromise all our lives. Forty-five minutes later the rain lifted enough for the boatman to distinguish the island and we pushed through the waves to our destination.
It took three days to organise the screening. The first day the villagers borrowed a DVD player and a television from two neighbouring hamlets. All gathered as the sun set over the coconut framed sea, but the generator did not cooperate. The next day four hefty teenagers carried a replacement from a distant village, with a can of petrol sourced the third day and we were set. By this time news had spread and thirty adults and fifty children gathered around the small TV. They hung on every word and laughed in the right places.
The Solomon Islands is a fully-fledged nation in the Pacific, south-east of Papua New Guinea. The country sells its copra (dried coconut), fermented cocoa beans, minerals and magnificent, yet ever-shrinking, tropical forest to pay its debts. Same deal for their oceans and fishes. It also gives its best land to host massive palm oil palm plantations on 99 years leases. Imported food threatens the islanders’ health.
The Seed Savers DVD, ‘Our Seeds: Seeds Blong Yumi’, may help in a modest way to reverse this trend.


Our Seeds Film shown on National Television in Papua New Guinea

Wed, 11/03/2009 – Michel Fanton

Our one hour documentary ‘Our Seeds: Seeds Blong Yumi’ was shown on national television, EMTV, in Papua New Guinea on April 22nd. It will soon be shown on the other national broadcaster, Kundu 2. We made ‘Our Seeds’ for Pacific audiences and released it in mid 2008. Since then TV networks in Western Samoa, American Samoa, Solomon Islands, Vanuatu and Papua New Guinea have broadcast it. The fresh story attracts Westerners too.
Kindly post a comment if you recommend any film festival calling for this kind of documentary.
DVDs available to everyone here for AUD24 within Australia, AUD31 outside (approx 20 euros and US$18). Airmail delivery included.


Our Location

Tue, 10/03/2009 – Jude Fanton

We are located on the outskirts of Byron Bay, the most easterly point of Australia. The Seed Centre is one acre of Permaculture-inspired bio-diverse subtropical gardens.
In 1998 we commenced the earthworks and planting. We put in 900 perennial plants and constructed nine large raised beds for annual vegetables.
The main orchard is terraced and organised by continent of origin, South and Central America, Mediterranean, Pacific, Central Asia, South and East Asia. There is a large fruity forest with a bush-food trail.
There have been over 5000 visitors to the Seed Centre and fifty-seven interns from fourteen countries.


Film on Seeds Available for Film Nights

Mon, 09/03/2009 – Michel Fanton

At times it was a real challenge shooting this one hour documentary on the keepers of diversity – we were once lost at night in a small canoe on very rough seas in the Solomon Islands. We shot it all, a hundred and sixty hours, in eleven countries.
There is a rich sound track, mostly indigenous music recorded in the making of the film. Audio options are original English soundtrack and Pacific Pigin. Subtitle options are English and French.
See three minute trailer on the website. It was made for you so please now show it to your network of friends. Michel and Jude


Papua New Guinea tales

Sun, 08/03/2009 – Michel Fanton

Here we are in Port Moresby promoting “Our Seeds: Seeds Blong Yumi” documentary and filming for our next films.
Port Moresby has a terrible reputation for danger and looks dirty but we like the company on the dingy buses. Apologies to the westerners that do use them and I am sure they must be a few but in our first week on PMV (Public Motor Vehicules) it seems that we were the only white skins riding.

They were masses of Papuans and New Guineans in a multitude of ethnicities riding happily. We conduct interviews while travelling. We travelled to three markets this morning.
We have strangers looking after us all the time wherever we go. As soon as we arrive somewhere we talk to stall holders. We acknowledge even the bad boys, the criminals, called here the Raskols. We eye contact them. It makes it hard for them to show aggression when they have said hello and smiled.
In one first week we have filmed about four hours which is not too bad when you consider the constraints. Today at Boroko market we interviewed a women selling sago rolled in pandanus leaves, a women selling cooked chicken and pumpkin shoots and interviewed a security guard about his life holding the peace in difficult circumstances. Also we saw the police and security companies pushing out betel nut stall holders, rather inexplicable policy considering more than half the people chew betel.
At Manu market we interviewed people selling seafood and vegies. Some were even growing taro and ibika spinach bushes along the edge of the supermarket building next to the market.
Still no one stuck a gun in our backs. We took the bus again to Koki market at first looking a very poor one with a few drunks and many chewing betel nuts. We filmed interviews with sellers of bananas, sweet potatoes, shellfish, shark, turtle and many reef fish. Women are permitted to collect shellfish, but not fish unless they are with a male family member. Michel gave a commentary in French so as to build up a library of clips for francophones. Once we have published them, you will not see white faces on any of the clips.


Helping Save Traditional Varieties in Bulgaria

Sun, 08/03/2009 – Jude Fanton

In February 2002 we received this email and were happy to help by giving permission to adapt our Seed Savers’ Handbook for Bulgarian and Macedonian conditions. It was published within six months.
My name is Roman Rathkov. I am agronomist & I am chairman of a Bulgarian NGO, Agency for Agricultural Information and Innovation – Veliko Turnovo. Field of our activity is sustainable rural development.
‘Centre for Sustainable Agriculture’ is a project of the Agricultural Information and Innovations Agency – Veliko Turnovo, which is a non-governmental organisation established with the participation of four municipalities (Zlataritsa, Elena, Strazhitsa and Lyaskovets) in Veliko Turnovo District, Central Northern Bulgaria. This project is supported by the ‘Capacity 21st Century’ Project of the United Nations Development Program (UNDP).
As a first phase of the project, with the UNDP financial support, the creation of a certified organic nursery has started for producing sowing material from the following medicinal and essential oil plants: Sage, Chamomile, Rue, Pyrethrum, Lavender. The planned capacity is to plant an area of 150-200 DKr per year with the specified corps.
We are very interested from possibilities to participate in your Seed Savers’ Network .
Six months later Roman had translated and adapted The Seed Savers’ Handbook into Bulgarian and Macedonian.
Roman Rathkov, Chairman, Agency for Agricultural Information and Innovation
5 Poltava str.,v.G, ap. 19, Veliko Turnovo, 5000 Bulgaria.
P.S. Излезе нова книга- AutoCAD 2002. Има я на


Banana Diversity in an Outer Island of The Solomons

Sun, 08/03/2009 – Jude Fanton

Written September 2004 by Michel Fanton, one of the directors at The Seed Savers’ Foundation in Byron Bay, Australia,
I have just returned from two weeks in the Solomon Islands, east of Papua New Guinea in the Pacific. His visit was to support the efforts of their partners the Kastom Garden Association (KGA) and its seed saving arm the Planting Material Network (PMN).
The PMN has a programme to preserve the diversity of bananas on the outer island of Makira, a rich centre of domestication for bananas. Traditional varieties are fast disappearing. Since April 2002 the PMN has made three collections of more than one hundred and fifty types of bananas. This was done with the help of a grant passed on by The Seed Savers’ Network with the aim of helping local subsistence farmers.
There are only few kilometres of sealed roads on Makira, so the first collecting expedition was made by motor canoe and by foot along small tracks. Isolated villages with radio facilities were invited to donate their local banana varieties and delivered the suckers wrapped in woven coconut fronds and banana leaves.
Dorothy Tamasia, who is curating the two highland collections, was recently trained to describe th botany of bananas by international standards. She is now training girl students to recognize features of the plants, flowers, leaf shape and colour, trunk, etc. For the highland collection, Dorothy visited farmers from her language group in isolated villages she knows well. Did you know that there are more than 70 languages in the Solomon Islands ?
Students at the Manivovo Training Centre on the coast have contributed to the collection by bringing in banana suckers from their villages on their return from their annual holidays. Each variety is named and tagged with its origin, local name, donor’s name and utilisation. Some varieties are valued for bride price, others at different ceremonies and feasts. Some particular varieties are chosen for making rafts for transport. The Makira bananas look and taste very different to the commercial Cavendish type banana that we consume in the West, and have more complex flavours.
Support for small projects
This last three years Seed Savers has been able to pass on assistance to a growing number of community based organisations in Asia, Europe, the Pacific and Latin America. Groups supported in this last year were in Australia (50 local seed networks), Afghanistan, Bulgaria, Cuba, Ecuador (new national network), India (5), Indonesia, The Solomons and Vanuatu.
Seed savers volunteers are regularly spending time with some of these groups. Our latest intern, Yan, from Germany, is now volunteering in Bali with a local sustainable agriculture group, IDEP, creating seed posters.