Two months ago a friend was taking her regular generous donation of goods to St John's Care in Reid. While there, she noticed rows of vegetable seedlings and was told they were a gift from Canberra Seed Savers Cooperative.
So I contacted Arian McVeigh of Canberra Seed Savers who said the seedlings were Aquadulce broad beans and Melting Mammoth snow peas. They are raised for a community program where a group of volunteers grow seedlings at home from seed and a group of coordinators work with local charities and other groups to distribute the seedlings for free to those in need and to promote local growing of food.
Rosemary Castle and Natasha Hardy explained that Canberra Seed Savers first grew seedlings to give away in Spring 2020 and then again in Autumn 2021, with the aid of two small ACT Government Community Connections Grants. The aim is to distribute them to people in our community who are doing it tough and to share the joy and benefits of delicious home-grown food.
The edibles are seasonally appropriate so, in Autumn, they included sugar snap peas, coriander, dill, spinach, lettuce, roquette, various Asian greens, daikon, calendula, radish, beetroot, silver beet and the broad beans and snow peas.
About 20 seedling growers contributed to the autumn program, backed by an organising/delivery group of six volunteers. Some of the growers were home gardeners and others worked in community gardens and some individuals grew hundreds, others half a dozen as that's what their space/time/experience allowed. Canberra City Farm also donated some seedlings and all were gratefully received.
While some members and volunteers have horticultural qualifications, most don't and they are not necessary. Growers for the program are supported with information and advice. It's a great way to learn how to grow vegies and other edibles from seed, especially as seeds and growing materials are provided. This includes commercially produced potting and seedling mixes.
Castle and Hardy said everyone learns together, celebrating their successes and commiserating over their failures. They use seeds from their community seed bank, saved and shared by growers in this region.
In spring 2020 they distributed seedlings through the Canberra Relief Network which passed them on to a variety of community organisations but this year the seedlings were distributed directly to seven organisations either to pass on to their clients or to grow to feed their communities. They donated 1600 seedlings to these organisations.
The Migrant and Refugee Settlement Services used the seedlings in an innovative way, giving them to people graduating from its leadership program and attending its women's outreach program.
At St John's Care, the spring seedling program led to one of its clients taking a tomato seedling home. He lavished such care on the plant that he ended up with a bumper crop. He then took his excess tomatoes back to St John's to share with other clients.
Canberra Seed Savers Cooperative is a not-for-profit cooperative and network of urban growers and farmers who, grow, save and share open-pollinated, heirloom food seeds. They are building a living seed bank for this community. This writer has purchased their seeds from a box at Local Press Wholefoods in Kingston where the colourful tiny packets have planting notes and seed origin and sowing date. Cost is by donation, minimum $2.
If any people or organisations are keen to hear bout the future community seedling programs and/or other activities you can go to the website canberraseedsavers.org.au or find them on Facebook or get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org
Rosemary Castle has provided her favourite broad bean recipe which she originally found online at Home Grown Happiness. This is a great website of Ellen from New Zealand who grows all her family's food on their suburban section in Wellington. Ellen says this pesto is great with pasta or on crusty sourdough (she makes her own).
Vibrant broad bean pesto
1 1/2 cups broad beans, podded, unpeeled
1 cup fresh basil leaves
6 fresh mint leaves
2 tbsp lemon juice
1/2 cup toasted almonds
1 cloves garlic
1/2 cup grated parmesan
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup olive oil
1. Bring a pot of water to boil the broad beans and simmer for two minutes. Drain and allow to cool. In a blender, combine the broad beans, herbs, almonds and salt and blitz until roughly combined.
2. Add in the olive oil and parmesan and blend until it reaches your desired consistency. Store in an airtight container in the fridge for up to a week or in the freezer for up to six months.