A group of high-profile Canadian musicians are shining the spotlight on the tiny (but mighty) seed. Through their participation in a program designed to promote the power of seed saving, and the numerous benefits of growing our own food, stars like Amy Millan, Leslie Feist, Sam Roberts, Jim Cuddy, Tim Baker, Ian Thornley, Tim Kingsbury and Bruce Cockburn are sharing with Canadians why they want to Celebrate Seeds.
We were in touch with two of the Celebrate Seeds stars, Tim Baker (Hey Rosetta!) and Amy Millan (Stars), and asked them about their connection to growing food, why seeds are important, and why it’s so important to know where our food comes from.
Vancity Buzz: How did you get involved in Celebrate Seeds?
Tim Baker: I’ve been working with the inspiring people at USC Canada for a few years now. My band and I made a record called “Seeds” in 2011, and I was really into the idea of seeds as a metaphor (for hope, springtime, rebirth, promise) but I also started thinking about actual seeds, and soon realized the state of real seeds, and therefore food, was not very secure at all. So we created a small section on the website where we could link people to information about seeds and food security. USC was one of the websites we chose. They reached out to acknowledge that and to get us more involved with their work. A year later I was visiting remote mountainous subsistence farms in central Honduras and seeing their programs save seeds (and lives!) firsthand. I wrote a piece about my experience and became more committed than ever to their cause. When they launched their “Celebrate Seeds” campaign they asked me to be a spokesperson, [and] I couldn’t refuse.
Amy Millan: My great friend Jane Rabinowicz works with USC and I asked her if there was anything I might do to help spread knowledge about the work they do. I think it’s important that we pay attention to the way our food is grown, to be involved in understanding what happens from seed to arriving at our tables.
What was your own introduction to growing food like?
Baker: My grandfather had a large vegetable garden in central Newfoundland. Everyone did. The conditions there are so difficult (rocky land, acidic soil, extremely short growing season, unpredictable frosts, little sunlight) so there aren’t many full-on farmers, but years ago everyone had vegetable gardens. If you didn’t you’d go hungry or go broke trying to feed your family. And so my father has also always had a huge vegetable garden at our home in St. Johns, just out of tradition really. Someday I will too, but unfortunately the rambling ways of a touring musician don’t allow it right now.
Millan: I’m a Montreal city girl; we have little outdoor space on the plateau so I have only a bit of experience gardening. For the first time, when my daughter was two, I wanted us to plant a little garden in our tiny plot in front of our house. Even with such little space it amazed me to watch my little lavender plants flourish over the summer. We also planted an herb garden on our back porch and my daughter loved to clip the herbs before we added them to our meals.
What is your relationship to farming and food and planting
Baker: Currently as I say, [from] on the highway, it’s fairly distanced. Mostly on the consumption side. But I think a lot about the journey of food before it gets to me, and try to support only sustainable, smart farming where I can. I think it’s important to know what you are eating and what you are supporting by eating it. I love that this is something more and more people are considering.
Millan: I fell in love with the Jean Talon Market when I moved to Montreal 15 years ago. I grew up with a Portuguese nanny and when I bring her there she always cries and tells me it reminds her of Madeira. I feel so incredibly grateful when I’m at Jean Talon, to live in a city so close to such incredible farms and fertile soil. I know the market like the back of my hand now, and have all my favourite farmers and producers depending on what harvest is coming in. The organic Quebec garlic is outstanding and when it arrives, it is my favourite time of year.
How does saving seeds, and knowing more about where food comes from affect someone’s relationship to food?
Baker: Like I say I think it’s empowering. And also makes you appreciate it more. It’s incredible the food we get to eat, the variety, the flavours, the nutrition – it’s not something we can sacrifice simply so agribusinesses can improve profit margins. Food is obviously (it seems so obvious sometimes that I can’t believe that a “spokesperson” for such a thing is even necessary) the most important resource that we have and protecting it is simply protecting ourselves and our future as a species.
Millan: I think we, as humans on the planet, need to work harder to protect our environment. I think that learning about seeds, the history of seeds in this country, the native ones, the ones that have been imported, etcetera is a big part of the conservation conversation. We are losing huge amounts of nutrition in our foods as well as losing entire species of seed. We have the power to turn this around. Eating is a necessity in life; we all have to get our food from somewhere. If we can be a bit more conscientious about where we put our dollars, if we can think before we spend, maybe put those dollars to support local farmers, we then bring more nutritious food into our homes and inevitably everybody wins. I know it takes a bit more effort in household time management and a bit more money but I think the price tag of not doing it is much higher.
As a musician participating in Celebrate Seeds, what are the ways you are spreading the message of the campaign?
Baker: I wish I could do more but at the moment (bumping down the interstate) I am limited to typing on [my] little device.
Millan: I travel all around the world and I try to learn about the culture of farming in many different cultures. As a band we try to make conscientious choices when out on the road and purchasing our riders. As far as the message, spearheading the campaign is a pretty great first step.
To learn more about Celebrate Seeds check out USC Canada’s website. Thanks to Tim Baker and Amy Millan for taking the time to send us their thoughts while on the road touring with their bands.