Looking Back at the 2022 BC Seed Grower Mentorship Program

Posted on Friday, 13 January 2023 under Stories Featured

In 2022, the BC Seed Grower Mentorship program placed six new seed growers with experienced vegetable seed grower mentors. Through phone, email, and in-person correspondence, mentors helped guide new seed growers through the season, sharing their experience and insight.

Launching the program in the spring, we successfully connected six mentorship pairs by May, and they were off to a great (though a little late) start to the season! The late spring gave more time for mentors and their mentees to get to know each other and work on crop planning.

Stephanie Jacobs from Victoria was paired up with mentor Rebecca Jehn in Central Saanich. Jacobs learned a lot from frequent trips to Jehn’s growing areas. Jacobs described how it “Was great to see ripe seed pods/fruit, harvest and clean them, package seeds, tour Rebecca’s farm, and see her systems in action.”

Jehn’s openness to the financial side of her business allowed Jacobs to assess the economic sustainability of her business and her own way forward. She has decided to pursue graduate studies and work towards teaching food systems.

We are thrilled that the BC Seed Mentorship program connected Jacobs with a mentor to help her navigate the transition.

Stephanie Jacobs (left) and Rebecca Jehn (right)

Mary Alice Johnson from Full Circle Seeds in Otter Point mentored Kristen Lewis in East Sooke. Lewis said, “Once I got to be part of this program and started learning from my mentor, I began to see that there was a lot more I could do with the space that I had.” Lewis described that her mentor gave her the tools and inspiration to grow more varieties and that she has gained the confidence to grow and produce her own seed.

Mary Tress from Terrace was paired with Jolene Swain in the Kispiox Valley. Despite the significant distance between them, their similar growing conditions were especially helpful to Tress. She found “Having a seed grower to share local knowledge of climate and seasonality” very beneficial.

When they were able to get together, Tress expressed that the transfer of knowledge and her mentor’s “Understanding of the local market and connection to other growers” were very valuable.

Mary Tress (left) and Jolene Swain (right) connecting in person on the Northern Mobile Seed Cleaning Trailer Tour

Sarah Cordes was paired with mentor Marsha Goldberg on Saltspring Island. Cordes works for a program for people that identify as women who are re-establishing themselves after abuse. She wanted to expand the gardening program that already exists at the location to encompass seed saving. Goldberg was thrilled to be able to help with the initiative and share her many years of experience growing seeds on Saltspring Island.

Sarah found the experience very enriching. She said, “It had a great positive impact on our farm operations. As a new seed farmer, having the ability to confer with a very experienced seed farmer allowed me to have confidence in what I was doing. I do believe without this support we would not have been as successful and prepared for next season”. Cordes explained that “Seed saving is a very hands-on skill that can’t be learnt well from books. Having a mentor in that experience is priceless.”

Steve van Hassel from Chase was paired with Russ Alcock of Sunshine Farms in Kelowna. Key knowledge was exchanged between the mentorship pair despite their physical distance.

Van Hassel said he would “Recommend this program because it opens the door to a small but important part of our operations that creates more autonomy on the farm.” Alcock said he valued the connection made and the opportunity to share knowledge by mentoring van Hassel.

John, Russ, and Steve with TC Seed Security Program Coordinator, Sara, at Sunshine Farms in Kelowna

While we encourage and facilitate in-person interaction when possible, we had one mentorship pairing that connected solely online due to distance. Ray and Laura Johnson from Dunster were looking to grow their own seed crops for their microgreens business and Chris Thoreau mentored them through the process of financial planning to seed harvest.

The Johnsons said it was a valuable time spent learning as they now have a better understanding of how to integrate seed crops into their farm and they plan to increase their seed growing crops in future years.

Many of the mentees also participated in Farm Club meetings throughout the season to meet other new seed growers across Canada. Participants stated that hearing about other people’s experiences in seed saving helped them feel more encouraged and confident in what they were doing, and that growing these community connections was extremely valuable.

Seeing all the positive interactions between mentorship pairs, we intend to continue this program into the future.

We agree with Rebecca Jehn, one of the mentors, who described, “The free exchange of knowledge and information can only benefit the farming community, bringing everyone closer together.”

This program is part of a program funded through the BC Ministry of Agriculture and Food, and the Vancouver Foundation, with the goal of building a movement to conserve and advance seed biodiversity, keep seed in the public domain, and promote ecological seed production.