Urban sustainability probably sounds pretty good to your ears right? As a way to illustrate urban sustainability and one of it's offshoots, urban biodiversity, we present you with a story of Danish seed activists and how their activities promote urban sustainability, biodiversity and strengthen community bonds--We hope to convince you of the importance of activists like these for promoting sustainability in your city. Read on to found out what seed activists can do for your city!

What is Urban Biodiversity?

Urban sustainability is one of those catch phrases gaining momentum these days and everybody is seemingly tossing the words around perhaps compelling you to begin incorporating them into your daily jargon. Yet, actually defining what urban sustainability is might not be so straightforward as it seems and taking it a step further to try and define urban biodiversity can prove just as challenging.

As Worldwatch Institute Europe (WWIE) embarks on URBIA, our project about urban biodiversity, we have also had to take a step back to define these terms. In fact, we were having a little debate in the office about what counts as urban biodiversity—is it the number of plants, animals and organisms despite where the species originated? Does a coconut tree in a Danish garden contribute towards biodiversity? Well, fear not, this article is here to take the concept of out the ethers and bring it down to the ground by illustrating how Copenhagen’s thriving network of green spaces promotes urban biodiversity through seeds saving, food growing and building community bonds.

Breaking the Law

During most of February a handful of Copenhagen's green spaces groups hosted an illegal seed-swapping event called the Frø Popup, held despite wildly outdated Danish/EU legislation preventing individuals from exchanging seeds. Yet still, as the Frøsamlerne (that’s Danish for seed collectors) organization states, breaking this law is “mildly illegal” but nonetheless criminal. By the time of this writing, the seed legislation was set to change in March this year, making seed saving and seed swaping between local gardeners a legitimate activity.

As part of the push to change legislation, seed sovereignty activists decided to partake in collectively breaking the law by hosting the three-week seed swap popup, which culminated in a community-wide gathering to sprout those illegal seeds atop a rooftop garden at one of the local Copenhagen primary schools. Many of the attendees of this event were regular gardening members of the community-both veteran and novice gardeners in addition to those who consider themselves urban garden activists involved in one green spaces project or another in Copenhagen.

Seed Activists Are Building a Seed Bank

What’s special about seed swapping is that it’s essentially an active form of seed-banking, preserving diversity in garden species varieties and in this sense, seed savers and growers of saved varieties should be praised when it comes to their efforts in protecting biodiversity.

Two of the seed sovereignty activists at the seed swap mentioned that by saving their own seeds, they are able to select varieties better suited for the Danish climate and these seeds might include characteristics like being cold resistant, needing fewer hours of daylight and having a prolonged fruit bearing period. Seed activists function in nearly the opposite way of common large-scale mechanized agricultural practices which involves primarily growing one type of crop using only a few of varieties of plants species, e.g. the now notorious Monsanto seeds, that may not necessarily be resilient enough to survive sudden seasonal changes, disease or pests. In addition, large-scale mechanized agriculture often involves the use of disruptive tilling methods and nutrient-draining growing cycles.

Based on this, one begins to see the importance of groups like Frøsamlerne and events like the Frø Seed Popup, as they are true gems in the face of climate change, adaptation and resilience through seed selection and also growing methods. Not only do seed activists ensure, protect and encourage seed biodiversity but they also serve as protectors of biodiversity and are an important stronghold in the urban biodiversity network.

What’s more, the patches of land which comprise the network of urban gardens, green spaces, rooftop gardens and other projects like bee keeping help in securing plots for green spaces throughout the city, breaking up that concrete jungle. This matrix of urban green spaces is both directly and indirectly contributing to biodiversity, sustainability and urban livability all contributing to human well being in addition to supporting urban wildlife, insect populations, varied plant species, microorganisms and fungi.

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  • Seed Saving for Resilience and Building Community Bonds

    The art of seed saving and exchanging, especially useful for adapting to regional climates, climate change and encouraging cultivation of numerous varieties of plants in the face of ever more large-scale agriculture, may prove to be invaluable in terms of adaptation and resilience. Seed saving and growing a range of varieties in gardens, especially in an urban context where concrete tends to pervade green cover indeed requires foresight and perseverance but we are definitely better off safe than sorry (and at better pleasing our tastebuds!) when it comes to maintaining species variety.

    Beyond that, urban gardeners, permaculturalists and seed activists are imperative in taking a stand against big agriculture one seed and urban garden at a time. This network also works to help people reclaim a deeper relationship to both food and the land. Seed savers are one part farm to fork, one part protectors of biodiversity and one part lovers of green spaces, urban garden activists have an ever stronger network and wealth of projects going. With our own dear Copenhagen as an example, green space projects offer a way of deepening lost relationships to food and the land by getting hands dirty and working first-hand with local food production while building and strengthening community bonds at the same time.

    The green spaces network in Copenhagen is a matrix of green patches expanding beyond urban gardens and includes seed saving, permaculture, bees, social projects, and more. At the seed pop up, I had a chance to listen to participants and organizers talk about the network of green space projects in the area and as other chimed in, I could see their eyes lighting up and conversation becoming lively.

    It was easy to sense that one of the most inspiring things about this network is the enthusiasm participants seem to have and the bonds make they make with the community through green spaces. As we sat helping fill packets of seeds for urban garden enthusiasts, I couldn’t help but get sucked into the enthusiasm in the air—it was contagious as several people brought bags of seeds and told stories of where they had originally gotten hold of heirloom plant varieties.

    One man brought in wild garlic that he’d saved over a number of years. Another woman and her teenage daughter had made a special date to meet up at the seed swap and share hot pepper seeds they had brought from Mexico when the daughter was still young. Everyone who joined, it seemed, brought more than just seeds that day, they brought an entire heritage behind the seeds, behind their gardens and their connection to the community through urban gardening.

    What Seed Activists Do For You

    It’s easy to see how the community initiated green spaces network provides a concrete example of what biodiversity is and how to promote urban biodiversity and sustainability. If there’s one thing we can learn from any city’s urban gardeners and seed activists, it’s that these activities bring community members together, create dialogue and cooperation between these groups and the municipality, promote biodiversity through a self-made seed bank network, and help secure a matrix of green spaces in the city so pertinent to human well being in urban spaces.

    Share Your Green Spaces Projects With Us!

    If you have an project around green spaces in the city, share it with us and stay tuned for more about WWIE’s Urban Biodiversity in Action project—URBIA promoting urban biodiversity, green spaces and community engagement.