In September the Seed Sovereignty Programme‘s northern network held a Beanfeast. Communities would, traditionally, band together during harvest season for intense work as well as celebration: bringing in crops, saving seed and feasting on bounty. It is a time to, literally, enjoy the fruits of our labour.

“Our recent Beanfeast event in the north of England represents a milestone for our seed network. This coming together is a sacred ritual that we once performed as communities, and in this time of uncertainty, of change, it is so valuable to return to once-familiar rites.” – Sinead Fortune, Programme Manager for The Gaia Foundation’s Seed Sovereignty Programme

Our northern seed network coordinator, Catherine Howell, recounts the best bits…

Beanfeast gathering for the northern network of The Gaia Foundation's Seed Sovereignty Programme © Kev Howard

Gathering at Darlington Railway Museum, our Beanfeast began with an introduction to the ‘three sisters’ planting technique from network member Moya.

Moya manages Barra Organics, a beautiful organic food shop in Sheffield, growing vegetables for herself and her community. She shared her experiences of growing beans with squash for ground cover and corn for support as well as techniques for cooking, including an unusual African recipe for pumpkin leaves! We also discovered how this planting technique had travelled from South America, to the north and across the Atlantic with adaptations for climate and land management implemented along the way. Beanfeast gathering for the northern network of The Gaia Foundation's Seed Sovereignty Programme © Kev Howard

We were fortunate to be joined for the day by Susan Young, author of Growing Beans: A Diet for Healthy People and Planet. Susan’s insight was really helpful, including experience of growing the right varieties to make the three sisters method successful. Sue brought with her a selection of beautiful bean varieties collected from around the world as well as copies of her book, which were eagerly coveted.

Beanfeast gathering for the northern network of The Gaia Foundation's Seed Sovereignty Programme © Kev HowardLocal artists (and enthusiastic growers) Liz, Russ, Kate and Carol provided workshops for our network members, a little time to exercise our green fingers; we made seed collection bags, adorned with drawings based on a selection of the seeds on display; a community beanstalk, with pods, flowers and leaves that we intend to add to each time we meet; and we used a specially commissioned seed catcher to collect fennel seeds.

Beanfeast gathering for the northern network of The Gaia Foundation's Seed Sovereignty Programme © Kev Howard

Meanwhile sound artist, Nell, had us creating some noise with bean shakers. She also collected our stories, thoughts and passions, which will be lovingly edited to provide a podcast that captures the day. 

Lunch was, as you might expect, a spicy stew with Arabic flatbreads and plenty of bean-flavoured chat, seed swapping and exchanges. We were still nibbling as we enjoyed the premiere of the short film that documents our northern network member Tamsin Leakey’s work to protect and propagate her father’s beans – A Legacy Imbued in the Seed. We were all blown away by Tamsin’s story, and resolved to play our part in helping her on this journey. 

 

We opened our doors to the public during the afternoon, inviting them into our space to meet us all and take part in activities. As well as our local gardeners and seed savers, it was great to welcome museum visitors, explain to them why seed sovereignty is so important and how they can help us secure a resilient food system for the future.

Beanfeast gathering for the northern network of The Gaia Foundation's Seed Sovereignty Programme © Kev Howard

Beanfeast 22 was the perfect respite from the busy seed harvesting season and provided us with a great opportunity to pause, collect and share our thoughts, knowledge and experience.  We parted in high spirits, with new friends and renewed enthusiasm to do more of the same in the future. Watch this space for news of Beanfeast 23! 

With thanks to the wonderful staff of the Head of Steam: Darlington Railway Museum, Lara and Jamie, and photographer Kev for documenting our day.

If you would like to know more about the northern seed network, get in touch with Catherine on [email protected] or follow the network on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram @northernseedsov.

Catherine Howell, northern coordinator for The Gaia Foundation's Seed Sovereignty Programme © Kev Howard