Banking with a different kind of currency

Filed Under: EARTH Stories
Date: November 2nd, 2015

Often when we think about saving for the future, we think in terms of money. However, two individuals at EARTH have their minds set on a greener kind of investment: seeds. Fourth-year student David Molina (’15, Costa Rica) and Integrated Organic Farm manager Arnoldo Avila have spent the last year developing an organic seed bank with the goal of promoting food security in the surrounding communities and encouraging the conservation of native species.

The bank currently houses around 60 different types of seeds.

The bank currently houses around 60 different types of seeds.

Seed banks are traditionally used to store seeds for the sole purpose of preserving genetic material and biodiversity; and while that is a valuable service, an equally important objective of this project is to host seed exchanges with surrounding communities. Through both providing a platform for seed exchanges and teaching others how to store their own seeds, the Seed Bank promotes self-sufficiency, a sense of community and an increased appreciation for biodiversity conservation In the future, global climate change will obligate farmers to adjust their production methods to the changing weather, and the resilient genetics of plants that have survived variable conditions over thousands of years could be crucial in this process.

According to Arnoldo, “The idea is not to keep seeds in a jar for ten or twelve years and eventually plant them; but rather to be planting them continuously, harvesting them and making use of their fruits, and then keeping a portion of the new seeds to continue the process.”

David has been interested in developing a seed bank since his first year at the University, according to his professors. His interest in this subject was first piqued at the Organic Agriculture Center at the National Learning Institute (INA) in Cartago, Costa Rica, where he studied for five years. There, David gained first-hand experience working with director Fabián Pacheco in the institute’s own seed bank called the “Casa de Semillas” (House of Seeds), which has also served as a template for the bank being developed at EARTH.

David Molina (’15, Costa Rica) and Integrated Organic Farm manager Arnoldo Avila pose in front of the Seed Bank they have spent the last year developing.

David Molina (’15, Costa Rica) and Integrated Organic Farm manager Arnoldo Avila pose in front of the Seed Bank they have spent the last year developing.

In the seed exchanges, several of which that have already taken place, people are able to learn about species of crops that they might not have ever encountered and be reintroduced to native species that are not as commonly found today. They also hope to use this platform to educate others about low-tech and inexpensive seed conservation techniques. ways to conserve their own seeds. These workshops will provide individuals with the skills to create and maintain their own seed banks, thus making them less reliant on purchasing expensive seeds when it comes time to plant.

This kind of independence is especially important to David, who believes seed banks are increasingly necessary due to issues of malnutrition and food security. “In many countries around the world people suffer from nutritional problems related to the control of seeds,” says Molina, “these kinds of banks are important because they will allow farmers to always have seeds, and seeds that are adapted to their specific climates and needs.”

The current method being used to store the seeds on the organic farm is both simple and cost efficient. All of the seeds are labeled and stored in glass jars in a temperature-controlled room. To keep the seeds safe form any harmful agents (fungi, beetles, diseases, etc.) a piece of cotton soaked in alcohol is placed in the jar, lit on fire and then the jar is sealed. The subsequent flames use up all of the oxygen in the space, and the seeds are protected from the growth of any harmful pests or pathogens.

“The best way to conserve seeds is by planting them; from one seed you can harvest one thousand,

“The best way to conserve seeds is by planting them; from one seed you can harvest one thousand.”

The bank currently houses around 60 varieties of seeds, including a selection of native flowers, 10 varieties of beans, three kinds of corn, amaranth and other grains, and nine varieties of rice – some of which can be grown without flooding. While there are currently a sufficient amount of seeds to start a bank, in order to be fully operational, they hope to obtain a greater variety of seeds and a larger quantity of each kind. In doing, so they will ensure that there are enough seeds to both exchange with others, give away freely, and keep to maintain the integrity of the bank.

All of this will hopefully be accomplished by November 11th of this year, when Molina and Avila plan to hold a grand opening for the bank, where farmers, universities, and community members will be invited to participate in workshops and a seed exchange. At this event farmers will be encouraged to obtain and plant all kinds of varieties of native seeds, because “The best way to conserve seeds is by planting them; from one seed you can harvest one thousand,” reflects Arnoldo.