Introducing the Regional Coordinators for the Seed Sovereignty UK & Ireland Programme

It’s been an exciting few months for the UK & Ireland Seed Sovereignty Programme as we piece together a team of Regional Coordinators to represent the project in every corner of the British Isles. We’re delighted to introduce the new team, each of whom are poised to begin reaching out to seed growers, savers, gardeners and businesses in the new year to realise the ambitions of this collaborative programme.

Maria Scholten – Regional Coordinator for Scotland

Maria will be supporting growers and crofters across Scotland. She has been working in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland collaborating and advising on seed issues and policy with the Scottish Crofting Federation (SCF) for many years. In this capacity she has organised conferences and workshops including Let’s Liberate Diversity, in 2012. Maria has advised the RSPB on strengthening the local seed system on the Hebridean islands of Uist and, through Crofting Connections, delivered educational workshops for schools in the Outer Hebrides to learn about local landraces and seed. Originally from Holland, Maria holds an MSc in Conservation and Utilisation of Plant Genetic Resources from the University of Birmingham, through which she received seed technology training at the Millennium Seed Bank at Wakehurst Place.

 

Katie Hastings – Regional Coordinator for Wales

Katie will be coordinating the activities of the seed sovereignty programme in Wales. She lives in Machynlleth where she has been growing vegetables for sale in a cooperatively run veg box scheme for five years. Katie is a co founder of the community organisation Mach Maethlon which works to strengthen food sovereignty in Mid Wales. As part of this work she has set up the community growing project Edible Mach, set up a community land share scheme and coordinated the running of the growers coop. She has been part of the local seed saving movement, organising seed swap events and community seed saving workshops in the Dyfi Valley. Katie has a passion for seeing the food landscape of Wales diversified and sees huge potential in Welsh rural communities for building resilient food systems. Katie is a Trustee for WWOOF UK and also works in Social Forestry for the Coed Lleol (Small Woods Association).

 

Ellen Rignell – Regional Coordinator for Western England

Ellen will be supporting growers in the West of England to increase their seed production. The rest of her time is spent market gardening in East Devon where, amongst other things, she works for Trill Farm Garden, a small-scale vegetable garden which supplies produce to restaurants and grows seed for the Real Seed Catalogue. Previously, Ellen has worked for the National Institute of Agricultural Botany (NIAB) organising pathology-based varieties trials on broad leaf crops. She also holds a degree in Plant Sciences at University of Sheffield, during which she specialised in the effects of low tillage on soil health.

 

Wayne Frankham – Regional Coordinator for Ireland

Wayne will be supporting growers across Ireland, hosted within and working closely alongside the already well-established Irish Seed Savers. Wayne lives in rural Leitrim with his young family, where he has worked as a Community Organic Gardener since 2006. This has been a diverse role that includes growing & selling produce, working with schools, hosting training & events, and co-ordinating a community seed system and its associated website – SeedKeep.com. Wayne says: “While seed challenges are as varied as the seasons, community built resilience enables valuable connections for cultural and agricultural diversity; the environment, and each other. Drawing on the experiences of SeedKeep and meetings with various seed growers and organisations, I look forward to helping others to create many more of those essential connections for seed sovereignty and production through this extraordinarily timely opportunity with both the Irish Seed Savers Association and The Gaia Foundation.”

 

Page Dystra – Regional Coordinator for Eastern England

Page will be supporting growers in the East of England. Originally from South Dakota in the United States, Page has a long-standing interest in sustainable food systems. After spending a number of years working in international development, in 2016 Page completed a two-year apprenticeship at Stroud Community Agriculture, a community supported agriculture project supplying weekly vegetable boxes to roughly 250 members, as well as managing beef cattle, sheep and pigs. In addition to her work for Gaia, Page also carries out Organic and Demeter production inspections for Biodynamic Association Certification.

 

Neil Munro – Programme Manager

Neil joined Gaia at the start of 2017 to lead the UK & Ireland Seed Sovereignty Programme, connecting and supporting seed growers right across the country. Well respected across the European seed movement, Neil was formerly the Head of the The Heritage Seed Library at Garden Organic, producing around 120 varieties per year for an annual catalogue. Prior to that Neil completed an MSc in the ‘Conservation & Utilisation of Plant Genetic Resources’ at University of Birmingham. His thesis focused on assessing the Genetic Erosion of Vicia species in Syria, where he interviewed farmers on changing land-use and agriculture, and carried out molecular analysis of former and current seeds collected from various sites across Syria. Neil has also worked on a city farm teaching horticulture to children and those on probation. He lives in the Midlands and travels extensively, collaborating with partners across the UK food and seed sovereignty to movement.

 

A website will be coming in spring 2018 but if you’d like to find out more in the mean time, click here or contact neil@gaianet.org