An interview with Maria Hunter of Dragonfly Seeds By Jody Franklin
Maria Hunter has been operating Wilson Creek Blackberry Farm for 30 years. She has been saving seeds from the plants on her farm for more than two decades now, and sells her seeds at the Roberts Creek Farm Gate Market under the name Dragonfly Seeds. I visited her at her farm one sunny April afternoon where she was harvesting a variety of early greens with her farm assistant Summer Labecki. Maria is enthusiastic about saving and sharing seeds and passing on her knowledge to people in the community, and her passion is very infectious. Seed saving is a relatively easy way to foster personal food security, and it allows lower income people get into the gardening game a little more easily. Maria answered some questions as we sat amongst mint, oregano and rhubarb while we watched Summer gather herbs to put in her wicker basket.
Wilson Creek Blackberry Farm assistant Summer Labecki gathers veggies & herbs
When did you start saving seeds?
I started about 20 years ago when I grew some scarlet runner bean plants and I just left the pods on and I was amazed at how easy it was. They're such a beautiful bean. Gradually, I just got to know more and more plants and just loved being able to let them live out their life cycle. There's such an abundance of greens, beans and herbs to harvest. I love the value added to the plants, we can collect the seeds and share them and even sell them as a business. So it gradually worked into a really joyful farm product that I just love to share with people. I think it's really fun and economical.
So it's quite an easy process? Gardeners often buy seeds every year, is that something they have to do?
Not at all. I think when we save our own seeds they are more vigorous, we know they are fresher and we don't need a large area to save a lot of the seeds. Tomatoes, lettuce, arugula, red Russian kale, parsley, chives, beans and peas, those are good easy ones to start with, we can save seeds from small numbers of plants. Even tomatoes and lettuce, they love to grow in pots, all you need is a sunny windowsill. On a small deck you can grow things in pots and save the seeds from them – nasturtiums, calendula and other edible flowers are good, too.
What portion of your crops do you need to save?
It depends on the type of plant. With greens like kale, chard, mustard and lettuces, we can harvest 30% of the bottom leaves. We want to leave enough on the plant so that it has enough vigor and health to create good seeds. If you save seeds from squash or cucumber you let the fruit get fully mature on the vine and then you harvest them. And then you can eat the squash or pumpkin and still have the seeds inside. Tomatoes are wonderful to save seeds from because we just need to let the tomato get fully mature on the plant. Oftentimes when I'm slicing them for dinner I'll put a few seeds on the side of the cutting board and let them dry out. You can also ferment them to prevent disease.
Why do you feel saving seeds is important?
It's important for food security, If we have our own seeds we never have to buy them again so we can be really self-sufficient with food growing, we've seen it here this past year with the pandemic. I was a single mom raising two girls here and we always had something to eat. If we save our own seeds we can make sure that good varieties we love will always be maintained. It is a lot harder for corporations to patent seed varieties if they're in the public domain, if they're being actively saved or even recorded as being saved.
The Sunshine Coast Seed Collective is really a hub, an amazing hive of people who are saving seeds. It started with Robin Wheeler originally, she was the founder of the One Straw Society and has since passed away. The Seed Collective develops projects in the community to facilitate seed-saving and sharing. They used to run the seed exchange table at Seedy Saturday, which unfortunately we haven't been able to do this year because of the pandemic, but now they have set up are seed libraries at the Sechelt and Gibsons Public Libraries. You can go and take out seeds and it's free, and ideally you bring back seeds at the end of the season.
Permaculturalist Toby Hemenway talks about how food security is not just about how many days worth of foods do our supermarkets have in storage or we have packed away in our freezers or cans, but how much food do we have in any given month or year growing in the ground, or what can we go out and find or forage. I really like expanding food security to include what is in the soil, extending it to saved seed as well. When we have all of these things in our yard we always have something fresh to eat for dinner. I love that
To acquire seeds for your own garden, visit the new seed libraries at the Gibsons & Sechelt Public Libraries, or visit Maria's Dragonfly Seeds stand at Roberts Creek Farm Gate Market every Wednesday afternoon 1:30-5:30. Dragonfly Seeds may also be purchased at Shaggy Jack's Wild Mushrooms stand at Gibsons Farmers Market Sundays 10-3 at Peresephone Brewing.
For more information on local seed saving check out