If you’ve taken a look around the produce aisle at your local grocery store, you’re lucky if you find more than two or three varieties of common fruits or vegetables. On the other hand, if you visit a farmer’s market, you’re likely to run into some foods you’ve never even heard of before. As it turns out, there’s a reason for the lack of biodiversity in our commercial crops: large agribusiness companies have spent the past century quietly eliminating all but a select few varieties of seeds. In fact, National Geographic found that 93 percent of vegetable seeds available worldwide in 1903 have since disappeared. A new documentary, SEED, explores this startling loss of biodiversity and the scientists, farmers, and indigenous communities that are fighting to protect their cultures’ historic seeds.
Directors Taggart Siegel and Jon Betz are the minds behind other documentaries exploring humanity’s relationship with nature and food, including 2005’s The Real Dirt on Farmer John and 2010’s Queen of the Sun: What Are the Bees Telling Us? Siegel and Betz found themselves drawn to the issue of seed diversity not only due to the incredible loss of our worldwide heritage, but also due to the challenges of climate change. When the agriculture industry is focused only on a narrow variety of crops, it’s easier for disease or environmental changes to completely wipe out a nation’s food supply. (One need look no further than the Great Famine of Ireland to recognize what a disaster it can be to rely on a monoculture.)
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So how did we lose so many of our historic seed varieties? The answer comes down to industrialization of the food process. While the past century’s progress has allowed agribusiness to streamline the farming process and produce more food than ever before, these innovations have come at a heavy cost: not only have the bulk of the crops carefully cultivated by farmers for millennia vanished, but ten large corporations now own about 60% of the seeds on Earth. Monsanto alone owns a shocking 25% of the world’s crop seed.
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The new film explores the rise of this agricultural shift, as well as the efforts of activists, scientists, and farmers to preserve traditional seed varieties. From seed libraries to community gardens, a new generation is rising up to protect the world’s seeds and help make agriculture more diverse and sustainable. The film is now showing in theaters across the US – visit the SEED website to find a screening near you, or request one at a local theater.