REMPEL, Sharon Lynn

Author Tags: Agriculture

Sharon Lynn Rempel would like to be remembered for her grassroot solutions for food security around heritage seed; for bringing heritage 'Red Fife' wheat out of the historic closet and recommercializing it in the global food system and creating Canada's 'Seedy Saturday’ community seed exchanges.

Rempel has a B.Sc. Agriculture and MA Conservation Studies from York England in heritage garden and landscape conservation. She created agritourism and heritage gardens in the 1980s at The Grist Mill at Keremeos historic site.

Rempel's book "Demeter's Wheats: growing local food and community with traditional wisdom and heritage wheat" offers practical growing information, seed saving basics and a list of Canada’s heritage wheat varieties. The book also offers insights into today’s ‘green’, ‘local food’, ‘100 mile diet’, ‘food shortages’ and ‘carbon credits’. Sharon uses wheat and bread as metaphors to discuss issues in society. She shares hope and inspiration that is rooted in the Mystery School cycle of ‘seed’ from Neolithic times in Greece.

Her promotional literature states: "Demeter's Wheats is a practical 'how to grow wheat' guide as well as visionary statement and wake up call to produce food 'gently' with Nature. Demeter's Wheats tells us we can go back to our cultural roots and relearn how to live in 'community' with each other and our ecosystem. Demeter's Wheats introduces a hope for the future grounded in ancient wisdom and a philosophy based on Abundance and Regeneration. Demeter's Wheats teaches, preaches and inspires us to co-create a reality that is truly sustainable."

DATE OF BIRTH: July 17, 1956

PLACE OF BIRTH: Calgary Alberta
In 2010: living on Vancouver Island between Nanaimo and Victoria

EMPLOYMENT OTHER THAN WRITING: agriculture, food, seed and music folklorist; project manager with The Garden Institute of B.C.


Self-publisher Sharon Lynn Rempel is an innovator of projects that work towards regional healthy food systems and community development work around seeds. She facilitates connections between "people, plants and place." As an organic agronomist, she has worked with heritage wheat for twenty years. She’s convinced the old varieties have the ability to adapt quickly to a diversity of growing conditions and produce crops without chemical inputs. As founder of seasonal festivals to celebrate seed (‘Seedy Saturday’ and the ‘Bread and Wheat’ Festival) she recognizes that ‘culture’ is missing from today’s agricultural system. Nominated for the 2001 and 2002 Slow Food Award, she is a seed guardian for a large collection of heritage wheats from around the world. She has a B.Sc. Agriculture and MA Conservation Studies from York England in heritage garden and landscape conservation.

Her 2008 book Demeter's Wheats offers practical growing information, seed saving basics and a list of Canada’s heritage wheat varieties. The book also offers insights into today’s ‘green’, ‘local food’, ‘100 mile diet’, ‘food shortages’ and ‘carbon credits’. Rempel uses wheat and bread as metaphors to discuss issues in society. She shares hope and inspiration that is rooted in the Mystery School cycle of ‘seed’ from Neolithic times in Greece.

Rempel believes ‘community starts with a seed bank’ and intentions of finding ways to work together cooperatively and collaboratively. In May of 2008 she visited Tell Halula, a Neolithic site of agriculture (one of the first human communities where grains were cultivated 8000 B.C. and where there are no weapons found in the ruins). She was inspired by the courage of a young woman farmer to take over ‘on farm’ variety development on her family farm and by the typical ‘Syrian flat bread’ baked in tandoor ovens.

The cover of Demeter's Wheats shows a handful of ancestral heritage wheat that tops three photos from Syria. The back cover shows Rempel holding a handful of Red Fife wheat. It links with a photo of a hand holding seed with a quote “The hand that holds the seed controls the food supply”.


1. How to Grow Heritage Wheats and Save the World. 2002/second printing 2005. ISBN 0-9689248-2-4.

2. DIG. Diversity in Gardens. 1999/second printing 2003. ISBN 0-9689248-0-8.

3. Heritage Gardens...Inspirations from our Past. 1997. ISBN 0-9689248-1-6.

4. Demeter's Wheats (Victoria: Grassroot Solutions, 2008) $19.95 plus $1 GST and $6 shipping: 3741 Metchosin Road, Victoria, B.C. V9C 4A8, Canada). Demeter's Wheats. Growing local food and community with traditional wisdom and heritage wheat. Published in 2008 by Grassroot Solutions, Victoria B.C. 124 pages.

[BCBW 2010] "Agriculture"

Grassroot Food Choices

from Sharon Rempel 2008-09
There’s a growing interest in eating ‘local’ food and the 100 mile diet. But ‘local’ doesn’t mean the grower has used ‘organic’ land management practices. They may be using herbicides and pesticides to manage the crop and land. They may be using chemical fertilizers to enhance soil fertility. They may be buying hybrid or contract seed that cannot be saved and there’s always a chance a local grower is using GMO seed.

Don’t always assume that ‘local’ food is more sustainable and ‘carbon friendly’ than buying organically grown food from larger farmers in the region, province or even from within Canada. As we don’t have a legal definition of ‘carbon credit’ recognize the term is being used to promote products and services; ‘green’ doesn’t always mean it’s healthy or that grassroots organic philosophy is being applied to producing or processing the product.

It’s very wise to ask questions as you source out growers and products that you want to eat. You decide who’s philosophy matches your own and then vote with your food dollars and purchases. (A list of six questions is included at the end of the article).

Today corporations attempt to take control of the food and seed and their 'Mystery School' is for an elite few scientists, economists and marketing specialists. Their 'community' focuses on patenting and hybridizing plants so they control the genetics and resources.

Through global trade and controlling natural and human resources they are isolating people from the power of regeneration of life through choice of seeds and varieties of food products. Imported food is a growing concern for contamination; people are seeking food closer to home for a sense of 'safety' and 'security'.

A growing number of people are realizing they must find their community roots for local food and 'green solutions'. There are sparks as ideologies and 'local' and 'corporate' models touch each other in trade and practical daily life.

The roots of today's challenges go back, way back. In 10,000 B.C.people began to live in communities and cultivate grain crops began along the Euphrates River about 10,000 years ago. As people grew crops they developed celebrations around the seed cycle of planting, waiting, growth, flowering, seed and death.

Their communities developed deities like Demeter who 'controlled' life and growth; the myth and spirituality were deeply connected to the science and art of agri-culture. So was music, festival, celebration and conservation of seeds that grew well in the region.

Demeter's 'Mystery School' provided an opportunity for the common person to connect to the energies of regeneration through the seed cycle.

Organic growers today are often the closest link to the old ways of celebrating the seed and growing cycle. Organic food is widely available and in December 2008 the Government of Canada will take over the use of the word 'organic'.

When searching locally for food don’t assume that a non certified ‘organic’ grower isn’t one of the best organic farmers around. As the government of Canada prepares to take over the use of the word ‘organic’, increase the paperwork and hassles of certification of organic food and products many small scale growers will ‘opt out’ of the certification process. Some don’t like the idea of government controlling food and the word ‘organic’. Others have established clientele who don’t request the certification seal to prove the crop is ‘organic’.

Grassroot organic folks who have grown local food for a decade or more have figured out ways of managing and enhancing the soil quality. At the heart of organic agriculture is ‘good soil’ and learning how to build and manage soil fertility is the ‘art’ of organic management. They often grow a crop they plough into the soil as a ‘green manure’ crop.

Some organic growers recognize the value of ‘open pollinated’ seed; they can save their own seed year after year. Some buy hybrid seed for crops but can’t save the seed. Usually there’s an awareness with organic growers about the ‘value’ of the ‘name’ of the variety; heritage varieties can often get a higher price.

You can visit the home of Canada’s heritage seed program for more information about heritage seed and the trans Canada and UK event ‘Seedy Saturday’ where you can buy heritage seed.

Conventional growers may choose GMO but there’s zero tolerance to GMO in grassroot organic philosophy. Some growers buy ‘wheat’ or ‘barley’ seed that doesn’t have a ‘variety name’ or audit trail of who grew the crop. There’s a growing interest in ‘variety preserved’ crops such as ‘Red Fife’ wheat. These varieties have a ‘story’ and chefs and consumers are paying for ‘story’ in food choices.

Corn, wheat and soybean crops may have GMO contamination as herbicide resistant varieties have been sold for all these crops and seed mixing is possible without ‘farmer’ and ‘variety’ identification on the seed lot.

Organic management practices support biodiversity conservation. Crop rotations help break disease cycles. Sometimes organic growers do use chemicals to control disease and pests. There are ‘approved’ products for organic growing and as with any product it’s ‘buyer beware’. As you vote with your food dollar find growers who have the same philosophy you have about conservation, soil management, GMO seed and ethical treatment of workers and land conservation for growing local food.

When you buy ‘local bread’ as the baker where he or she gets the flour. Is it being grown and milled in Canada? White flour is often used in breads; is it ‘bleached’ or unbleached flour. Again, remember ‘local’ grain doesn’t mean ‘organic’ grain.

Is an acre of ‘local’ conventional grain more carbon credit friendly than an acre of Saskatchewan grown organic grain? Nobody knows; there’s no established ‘value’ for carbon credit so we can’t compare which is better.

Remember that ‘local’ is not always sustainable or appropriate for the land; organic can mean monoculture. You can only find out answers by asking questions.

Looking for local food?
Six questions to ask a grower or producer about your food

Remember you vote with your food dollar. Find out what philosophy and growing methods a person is using to produce the food you are interesting in buying. Always do this at a time when the grower has time to spend with you to answer your questions. If they are preparing for a market day they are busy and less interested in providing you information.

Tracing your food is a great family exercise to source out what’s being consumed, how it’s grown and the history of the seed from seed to plate.

Here are a few questions to ask the local grower or processor about the food you are buying:

1.Do you use pesticides to kill insects? What do you use? (there are many approved products for ‘organic’ growing and the more conventional products. You can get a list of approved products from the COABC website or OMRI based in Oregon). If the grower has a lot of pest problems then it’s a chance to learn more).

2. Do you have a lot of land? Do you do any crop rotations on the land? Do you use legumes or cereals as part of that rotation?

3. How do you increase the fertility of your land? (organic growers use green manures that are ploughed into the soil as manure usually isn’t available for large scale operations).

4. Where does the manure come from? (Urban compost that uses city waste that includes everything is pretty questionable. Separation of toxic compounds, plastics, etc will resulting a more ‘natural’ product for the soil). People who use a lot of sea weed and kelp may be depleting ocean resources; always good to ask abut quantities.

5.What’s the variety name of the crop you are selling? Who did you buy the seed from and did they grow GMO seed (this indicates to you if there’s a chance of contamination from GMO into their seed stock and also their philosophy about GMO).

And when buying ‘natural’ or ‘artisan’ or ‘sourdough’ bread. What’s the method of leavening the bread? Natural sourdough wild yeast for all or part of the process (this breaks down the starches and carbohydrates of the wheat making it easier to digest). Some bakers add ‘sourdough’ to flavor the dough then fast acting yeast to finish the loaf.

DIG up some additional information about food……If you are interested in exploring your food supply consider downloading a free book called ‘DIG. Diversity in Gardens.’

Free Downloads

Sharon Rempel's '3 Ps' plant breeding philosophy links dynamically People, Plant and Place. She teaches about finding varieties adapted to the bioregion, finding varieties that thrive without high inputs of chemicals and recognizing that plants and place have wisdom.

1. "DIG. Diversity in Gardens" 1999/second printing 2003. ISBN 0-9689248-0-8. Free download"

2. "Heritage Gardens...Inspirations from our Past" 1997. ISBN 0-9689248-1-6. Free download

3. On Farm Research Guide. Free download