Photo credited to FarmFolk CityFolk
Member Profile: David Catzel of FarmFolk CityFolk
BCESC Member since: 2020
Tell us about the farm:
On March 1, 2019 FarmFolk CityFolk signed a five-year lease on 3-1/2 acres of certified organic land in Abbotsford to launch the FarmFolk CityFolk Research and Education Seed Farm. It is a first-of-its-kind model that trains current and future seed growers and advances vegetable seed research while demonstrating the economic potential of seed production in BC.
How did you get into farming?
I wanted to learn to feed myself without needing to buy food. I started doing garden education in Vancouver and worked with the Environmental Youth Alliance running gardening programs- the Strathcona and Cottonwood Community Garden, and it was the best job ever so I kept doing it.
What inspired you to start saving seeds?
In the early 90’s I was WWOOFing on Galiano Island, and the host was saving flower seeds and it blew my mind that I hadn’t thought of where seeds came from, but growing up in a non ag family it hadn't crossed my mind. I realized that the idea of being able to survive outside of the monetary world we live in is very important to be able to do and I was completely inspired after that.
Tell us about your current seed operation, how many varieties do you grow?
As many as we can. We replicate variety trials and research crops. In 2020 we grew about 25 varieties, but only about 5 for sale.
What is the most unusual/special/unique seed you've saved?
True potato seed. It is unique and special because people don't propagate potatoes like that, they get so confused when you talk about potato seed.
Favourite seed to save?
Brassicas they’re very well suited to our climate.
Best part of seed saving? Most challenging?
The best part of seed saving is the diversity of seeds and things to learn about them, and it’s also the most challenging. The other best part about seed saving are the flowers, nobody gets to see a carrot flower unless you save seeds from it.
What seed saving projects are you inspired by right now?
There’s a true potato seed swap that’s happening, a northern group that’s doing it, it's called the Kenosha Potato Project. There is also a great national Participatory Plant Breeding program run by the Bauta Family Initiative on Canadian Seed Security in partnership with the University of Manitoba that has been going on for some years.
What is your favourite/most used/well loved seed saving tool?
The air separator which cleans brassica seeds really well. Every time I use it I do a slow motion video of it. I love watching the seeds separate.
Why did you decide to join the BC Eco Seed Co-op?
Decided to join because I was part of the co-op through previous job farming with Glorious Organics and FarmFolk CityFolk works closely with the BC Eco Seed Co-op and we wanted to support those projects. The goal for the seed farm is also to promote seeds as a potentially good crop for a farmer to grow and we would like to be able to prove that economically that is true, so it made sense.
What is your favourite seed saving or starting resource/book/mentor?
Favourites are hard. The book that got me started was Breed Your Own Vegetable Varieties by Carol Deppe. Frank Morton is an inspiring farmer breeder from Wild Garden Seed. My favourite seed saving teachers are the plants and I’d say especially the white winter kale sprouts project that i’ve been involved with and I continue to learn how much I don’t know.
Any tips or lessons you could share with a home gardener or new seed saver to help them succeed?
Whether you’re a seed saver, gardener, or farmer- I always tell people to embrace failure and try again! We only get one season to try something out and people tend to get discouraged, but try it again and you’ll probably get it the second time or third time.
How has COVID-19 affected the work you do? Have you had to make any interesting changes to your farm or business as a result? What have you learned from it?
My work is to promote and support the sustainable seed system and covid has brought existing issues very much to the forefront, so my work just got really busy. People saw seed shortages and were running out of seed and freaked out about it and they should be.
Learn more about the farmers who grow your seeds through the interviews in this series.
Interested to see how COVID has affected local seed farmers? Read our Farming in the Face of COVID-19 series here.