Seed bank in Spain brings old fruit and vegetables from oblivion

by Lorraine Williamson
seed bank growing traditional tomatoes

RONDA – A seed bank in the southern Spanish province of Malaga is launching a unique project to improve more than a hundred varieties of vegetables, pulses, fruit trees, grain, and vines that have stopped growing over time for various reasons. 

The pink tomato from the hamlet of La Indiana near Ronda is one that needs to be restored. Previously, this breed was typical of the Ronda region and was known as ‘el caviar del campo’ (the caviar of the field). Jacobo García, one of the producers of this tomato, is ‘the all-rounder among mountain tomatoes.’ The tomato is highly valued for its exquisite taste. Furthermore, it is grown without chemicals and the season can run from August to early October. In addition to this tomato, the Serrania de Ronda seed bank has already rescued more than a hundred varieties from oblivion. 

Fali Galindo is responsible for the seed bank managed by the Paulo Freire Serranía de Ronda Rural University and the association Silvema-Ecologistas and Acción Serranía de Ronda. In the newspaper SUR, he talks about the project, and comments “Traditional varieties retain nutrients and properties better”. 

Gain knowledge about ancient species 

The seed bank has been in operation for around ten years. However, long before that, people were collecting and preserving seeds for multiple purposes. To begin with, field research was carried out and employees of the seed bank. They visited older gardeners, traditional orchards, and farms to gain knowledge about the old species. Following this, the bank was able to collect seeds thanks to the work of these farmers and horticulturists and their families who have kept the seeds from generation to generation. 

Network of Custodians 

Then when employees realised there were still a lot of seeds left, it was decided to value them. Furthermore, the seed bank is trying to create a network of custodians and people interested in growing these varieties in the Serranía. For these people, two meetings are held per year. 

Traditional crops by consumer 

The third objective is to spread the heritage in the form of seeds to farmers who want to grow and sell these varieties. Importantly, in the cultivation of these traditional seeds, the use of chemical products is omitted. So that the traditional products reach the consumer in the best possible ‘original’ conditions. Furthermore, it is hoped that this will promote a different kind of economy. 

Finally, the seed bank is looking for cooperation with restaurateurs in the area who are interested. Such as Bardal and El Cuchareo with whom collaboration is already underway. 

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Fifteen kinds of tomatoes 

There are 10-15 different varieties of tomato. Including the pink tomato from La Indiana, the thick red tomato from Ronda, the heart of a bull, the cornicabra pepper from Salitre, the white eggplant from Júzcar … And a tomato that lasted all year round and hung in the houses and grew like a spider web and was used for meals. 

Many species have a long history in their own right, according to Fali. Also, the traditional varieties retain the nutrients and the organoleptic properties better. They also work with old grains, vineyards, and fruit trees. 

The end of old species 

The traditional varieties stopped growing due to various factors. First of all, traditional gardens are being abandoned. People are moving from the countryside to the cities in search of a different kind of economy. Secondly, there is no more generational change. Many farmers have no children or grandchildren who want to succeed them. 

In addition, in the 1970s and 1980s, other more productive varieties of lower quality were introduced. As a result, the farmer no longer kept the old seeds but bought new ones from nurseries. 

Greater Cultivated Biodiversity 

However, with the seed bank and the resulting project, greater cultivated biodiversity is maintained compared to other regions. This was also apparent from a meeting between the Ronda seed bank and the Andalucian seed network. Resulting in even greater motivation for the initiators to set up their project. 

How does the seed bank work? 

Interested parties can contact us. In the spring there is a seedling campaign. Freshly germinated seeds are sold at the Local Craft Market in La Indiana. Other local products such as honey are also available here. 

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