Planting the seeds of discovery

Planting the seeds of discovery

Over the next few months, I am embarking on a journey around the Pacific Northwest region of the USA and Canada on my Churchill Fellowship, exploring farmer-led, collaborative and dynamic approaches to seed production.

Holly Silvester with Lane Selman, Culinary Breeding Network. Download 'Holly Silvester with Lane Selman, Culinary Breeding Network'

I applied for the Churchill Fellowship as I felt a growing sense of urgency and a need for decisive change in my sector. As a commercial organic vegetable and seed grower, I was becoming aware of increasingly limited varieties of organic seed available, an issue that has been compounded by Brexit.

We are not only becoming limited in diversity between different plant varieties, but due to restrictions in legislation, we are also restricted in diversity within a single variety, leaving our crops potentially unable to adapt and respond to our changing climactic conditions. Then there is the threat of genetic modification, and what the as yet unknown implications of this might have on food security... It felt like the right time for radical transformation, and I felt empowered to act.

Through my Seed Sovereignty work, I was aware of the exciting seed movement that has been growing in the Pacific Northwest for some time. So, spurred on by my friends and colleagues, I submitted my Churchill Fellowship application at the end of 2022. With a clear idea of what I wanted to achieve, the main challenge of the application process was keeping within the word count! The interview felt like a platform to really share my passions. Confident that I had a community that could really benefit from what I would learn on my trip, I made my case, and by early summer 2023 I found out I had been awarded the fellowship.

"What really shines through so far is the sense of collaboration and community amongst those involved in the seed network, and I’m excited to continue on this journey of discovery."

I arrived in Portland, Oregon, in May, and it’s there where my Churchill Fellowship travels began. I will be travelling around Oregon, through Washington State and into British Columbia, Canada over the next few months. My aim is to spend time with seed growers, farmers, plant breeders and other key stakeholders involved in food and seed sovereignty, to better understand how their practices can contribute to the creation of a resilient, collaborative and diverse food system.

Participatory plant breeding empowers farmers, breeders and customers to come together to improve crops specifically adapted to local areas, soils and local markets - regaining seed sovereignty. It is a partnership that focuses on resilience and adaptation and allows natural diversity to thrive. I plan to learn these techniques and practices from pioneering growers in the USA and Canada who are experimenting with diverse plant populations, building crop resilience, and increasing flavour and nutritional quality of our food.

By implementing these practices and sharing my research with my own farming community and beyond, I hope to reconnect people to a more collaborative way of producing food cultivate curiosity and inspire.

I’m only a couple of weeks into my trip but have already met some incredible people. What really shines through so far is the sense of collaboration and community amongst those involved in the seed network, and I’m excited to continue on this journey of discovery.

You can stay up to date on Holly's Churchill Fellowship journey through her Substack.


The views and opinions expressed by any Fellow are those of the Fellow and not of the Churchill Fellowship or its partners, which have no responsibility or liability for any part of them.


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