THUNDER BAY — A Thunder Bay-area market gardener is throwing her support behind a national campaign to help ensure more resilient local food supplies post COVID-19.
Evalisa McIllfaterick owns Root Cellar Gardens in Gillies Township.
She says recent garden seed sales have "gone through the roof."
"Most companies people would typically order their seeds from have stopped taking orders or had to shut down their online stores for weeks on end to keep up with the demand," McIllfaterick told Tbnewswatch.
She said it speaks to the value of local residents saving their own vegetable seeds and supporting local seed-savers.
McIllfaterick endorses a new public education program by SeedChange, a non-profit organization that encourages Canadian farmers to save seeds and grow food sustainably.
SeedChange executive director Jane Rabinowicz said COVID-19 has revealed the importance of being prepared for a crisis.
"We need to learn from this and increase seed production to improve our country's food security," Rabinowicz said.
The organization is enlisting more than 200 farmers across Canada this summer to grow sustainable local vegetable seed crops, save seeds at risk of extinction, promote biodiversity, and breed new seed varieties best suited for local climate and soil conditions.
SeedChange has also set up a website to help the public support the effort by purchasing locally-adapted vegetable seeds from farmers in their region.
McIllfaterick describes it as "a cool tool."
She said it's invaluable to have access to seeds proven to do well in local conditions.
"I'm going to grow Stella Blue squash this year in my garden. When you buy that seed from me next year, you know that it grew in a climate very similar to what you're going to be growing your squash in."
McIllfaterick said it's one of the vegetables she never would have considered growing, until she was introduced to it through a vegetable seed producers' network.
"It was a pleasant surprise. It's delicious, and it grows really well in our area," she said.
The squash is one of the vegetables she supplies to her regular winter customers, but she also distributes the seeds through Superior Seed Producers, a local collective.
McIllfaterick is currently involved in a trial of a dozen different types of storage carrots.
"I grow 12 different types of carrots, and I take notes. This trial is replicated all across the country. The goal of it is to try to figure out what type grows the best, and therefore what types of seeds do we need to be saving."
After having customers do a taste test, she's decided to include Bangor carrots in this year's planting.
"It was a great find...it was super helpful for me to see that 'these three varieties grew really well, and this is the one that everybody wants to eat,' " McIllfaterick said.
She produces a wide variety of produce, mostly root vegetables suitable for winter storage.
McIllfaterick started her garden in 2014.
She had no background in farming, but after moving to Thunder Bay to attend Lakehead University, she fell in love with the area.
Deciding that food security was a serious issue, McIllfaterick said she "just kind of came into" market gardening.
From there, through the SeedChange program, she said she came to understand that although food security is important, food comes from seeds, so seed security is arguably even more important.