Meet Our Partner: Irish Seed Savers

The visit with Irish Seed Savers on our Ireland trip is a highlight along the journey, listed among our clients' favorite experiences. In a picturesque setting in rural County Clare, their 20 acres of land are put to great use as they lead the charge in Ireland for seed saving as well as further sustainable, eco-friendly, and educational goals. We couldn't be more enthusiastic about our partnership with this wonderful organization, and were keen to dive in to this Q&A with Jennifer, an ambassador from their staff, in order to share more about their mission and achievements throughout the years.

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Tell us about how Irish Seed Savers started and its history up through the present. 

Created as a living testimony to the richness and wealth of the agricultural legacy of our ancestors, Irish Seed Savers Association was founded by Anita Hayes in 1991 with a focus to conserve and preserve heritage and rare heirloom seeds and native fruit trees to protect Ireland’s long-term food sovereignty in this ever-changing climate.

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 The work was initially done on a small farm in County Carlow before movingto a 10-acre site in in County Clare. Becoming a registered enterprise in 1997 and in 2001 becoming a registered not-for-profit conservation enterprise, our work brought us nationwide. We investigated, sourced, and researched food seeds and trees that were indigenous to Ireland, ensuring their viability to the changing soil and climate conditions as well as creating effective protection through collaboration with other research and government agencies to ensure our ability as a nation to feed ourselves. 

The success in our time here in County Clare allowed for the purchase of an additional 10-acre site in 2002 which made room for the creation of our offices, shop and café, making our work accessible to the public. 

Tell us more about Irish Seed Savers' primary projects and current goals.

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Irish Seed Savers Association’s purpose is to carry on the preservation and saving of open pollinated heritage vegetable seed and fruit tree varieties; to cultivate and research food varieties of plant material; to provide training programmes on horticulture and bio-diversity; to produce seed and fruit trees and make them available to the Irish and international community; to save as wide a spectrum (as possible) of food plant genetic resources for future generations.

In 2012 we secured funding to build the country’s only public seed bank. This is a very important piece of national infrastructure as it houses over 600 varieties of heritage vegetable seeds and provides a safe storage facility for emergency seed stocks should the need ever arise. However, we do not just keep the seeds in cold storage. These seeds are regularly removed from storage and grown in our seed gardens, ensuring the seeds we save are constantly adapting to the changes in climate, making ours a living Seed Bank.

Talk to us about the Seed Savers team. Are they volunteers or is it a full time job? What types of daily tasks do they do?

We employ 21 people– 3 full-time, 18 part-time. We also have approximately 30 volunteers ranging from regular volunteers who come on a weekly basis to our Tuesday’s volunteering afternoon, to horticulture students learning about our work and how they can implement that in to their own horticulture practices, and international students or visitors eager to connect more with food heritage and food conservation. All volunteers are supervised by members of our team to ensure they get the most from the experience of their time with us, as well as to ensure their contribution benefits our work.

What can you tell us about the community and educational programs that you offer? Why are these important to your overall mission?

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[Students of all ages] visit our site and learn about nature, seed growing and seed saving, biodiversity protection and practical skills they can implement in school and at home. We connect with approximately 30 classes (10 schools) each year and we would like to increase this to 20 schools by 2020 (60 classes). 

We also currently run bi-monthly workshop weekends for adults covering topics ranging from beginners organic gardening, polytunnel management, bee-keeping skills, tree grafting and orchard management, to hobby skills as basket making, bush craft skills, natural cosmetic making, to wild food cookery.

In 2018 we launched our Seed Soveriegnty Programme in collaboration with The Gaia Foundation to connect more farmers and food growers to the importance of protecting and growing open pollinated food seed and creating greater support for local seed production. From November 2018 we will also be providing seed-to-seed training to train in seed growing, seed harvesting, seed saving and proper seed management. 

Our ultimate aim is to connect more people to the importance of seed in the food cycle and to create a sustainable food cycle through food growers, food suppliers and the general public to ensure our food heritage becomes our food security for now and future generations.

Can you speak more about the need for the work that Irish Seed Savers accomplishes? 

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As the nation begins to focus on food security and understanding the importance of [being] less reliant on other countries to feed us, we at Irish Seed Savers Association focus on engaging more people to reduce seed miles, given that the majority of seed available in Ireland are imported. We are the main organic seed producer in Ireland and through our work to engage more people to grow, save and share seeds, [we get closer & closer to] our long-term goal for the wider public to understand the importance of protecting our seed sovereignty [and] protecting our food heritage in their own back yard.

What are the things you’re most looking forward to about this collaboration and the time that our clients will spend at Irish Seed Savers on our Ireland trip?

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Collaborating with Traverse Journeys is an exciting opportunity to not only connect more people to the importance of understanding food heritage, but also the impact we each play on the world around us for now and future generations.

We look forward to welcoming you all to experiencing our little piece of heaven and helping us learn more about your interest in our work. Together we can do so much more!

Want to join us in Ireland and check out Irish Seed Savers yourself? Check out our unique and immersive itinerary focusing on Ireland's Wild Atlantic Way from Cork to Galway with plenty of secret spots along the way. We’d love to have you along!