Deskilling, agrodiversity, and the seed trade: a view from contemporary British allotments
Over the last half-century, quality control standards have had the perverse effect of restricting the circulation of non-commercially bred vegetable cultivars in Britain. Recent European and British legislation attempts to compensate for this loss of agrodiversity by relaxing genetic purity standards and the cost of seed marketing for designated “Amateur” and “Conservation” varieties. Drawing on fieldwork conducted at a British allotment site, this article cautions against bringing genetically heterogeneous cultivars into the commercial sphere. Such a move may intensify the horticultural “deskilling” of British allotment gardeners, who have come to rely on commercial seed catalogs as sources of germplasm and knowledge. Horticultural deskilling also entails the delegation of seed selection activities to professional breeders and the potential loss of agrodiversity. The activities of dedicated seed savers who save and circulate the seed of genetically heterogeneous “heritage” varieties, in a manner similar to the management of landraces in the global South, may provide a better model for attempts to safeguard vegetable diversity in the global North.
KeywordsAgrodiversity Deskilling British allotments Seed saving Standardization
The research on which this article is based was undertaken with generous assistance from the University of Kent at Canterbury’s Leverhulme Trust funded project, “The Ethnobotany of British Home Gardens: Diversity, Knowledge and Exchange.” Special thanks are due to Professor Roy Ellen, Dr. Simon Platten, and Brian Cooke. Thanks are due to all the participants from the Whitstable View allotments. Many thanks to the Editor and anonymous reviewers from Agriculture and Human Values for their helpful and valuable comments.
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