USC Canada in Guatemala

The SoS program in Guatemala will build on our local partner organization’s work by focusing on seed security and supporting farmers in doing collective research on their farms. This support includes facilitating the creation of local agricultural research committees – or CIALs for short.

CIALs are groups of farmer-researchers who work together and with the larger network of CIALs to solve farming problems. They take on issues like poor soil, changing climate, and lack of water, learning to grow more, diverse food by implementing new, Earth-friendly techniques, breeding crop varieties well-suited to these growing conditions, and starting seed banks. Seed banks and grain storage systems come in particularly handy in times of food shortage. The CIALs have built-in policies to promote women’s empowerment and youth engagement.

With training and support from USC Canada and our SoS partner in Honduras – where we have been working with farmer-researcher groups since 2000 – farmers in the program area have embarked on creating eight CIALs. Advice from USC Canada's partner in Bolivia will also support a move toward organic production and marketing of potato seeds.

Our Local Partner: ASOCUCH

The Association of Organizations of the Cuchamatanes (Asociación de Organizaciones de los Cuchumatanes, ASOCUCH) is an association of indigenous farmers' cooperatives. It represents 13 coops, eight farmers' associations and 68 women's groups for a total of more than 9,000 members, most from Maya Indigenous communities. With 14 years of experience, ASOCUCH has a proven track record supporting food security at the community level. ASOCUCH supports marketing for the products its farmers produce and starting small businesses. The association helps its members adapt to climate change through programs like participatory plant breeding and agroforestry.

Where Do We Work?

During this first year of the Guatemala SoS program, we will work in 17 communities in the department of Huehuetenango. These communities were seen to have critical levels of food insecurity.


Core Work

Priorities for communities where we work include

  • finding agroecological solutions for farming on rough hillsides with poor soils
  • learning how to adapt their farming to climate change
  • building their seed supply (and the storage and banking systems to go with it)
  • preserving the area's biodiversity of maize and beans
  • increasing yields in all crops

Women's Leadership

Herlinda Matías is a young facilitator with the farmers' group Association of Buena Vista Campesinos in Forestry (Asociación de Campesinos Forestales de Buena Vista, ADECAF), a member of ASOCUCH. As part of her new role, she participated in women's leadership training to learn how to better support other women in community organizing. Around the world, women are often responsible for the work that goes into growing food and the care that goes into tending the land. But recognition of this doesn't always happen.

Herlinda Matias, a young woman, sits smiling between a man in a hat and another woman at a table. She is holding a pen in her hand and papers are spread out on the table in front of them.

Herlinda Matías (centre) in training. (Photo: ASOCUCH)

Through working with ASOCUCH, Herlinda is learning how to be a leader and a listener, so that women's voices are heard and their work is recognized.

ASOCUCH's policy for gender equity – which includes empowerment of rural and indigenous women – lists ways to help achieve the active participation of women in its network. This policy states that at least 40-50 per cent of leadership positions must be occupied by women and at least 20 per cent of the budget is allocated toward gender policy actions.


Marisol Guillen Martínez (Photo: Beatriz Oliver/USC Canada)

USC Canada in Nicaragua

This is the first year of the Seeds of Survival program in Nicaragua. The SoS program supports farmers dealing with climate change and repeated droughts in the region, including a pronounced drought in 2015/16. We work with farmers to diversify and improve crops to withstand the challenging local conditions and provide for food security and income.

The SoS Program in Nicaragua is piloting local agricultural research committees (CIALs), as used successfully in Honduras, in five municipalities (Totogalpa, Palacaguina, Cusmapa, Somoto and San Lucas), in order to expand farmer participation and program reach. CIALs are groups of farmers who work together and with the larger network of CIALs to solve farming problems. They take on issues like poor soil, changing climate, and lack of water, learning to grow more, diverse food by implementing new, Earth-friendly techniques, breeding crop varieties well-suited to these growing conditions, and starting seed banks.

The SoS program seeks to strengthen community organizing to improve agricultural systems and seed supply, develop local micro-enterprises, and engage more rural women and youth.

Our Local Partner: FECODESA

Our partner, the Federation of Cooperatives for Development (Federación de Cooperativas para el Desarrollo, FECODESA) unifies 16 cooperative associations and unions, and one non-profit organization under a common banner. With more than 6,000 members from 144 grassroots coops, FECODESA assists its members in farm improvement, diversification and marketing. The team works with communities in a highly drought-prone area, called the Dry Corridor, to increase food security and income through participatory plant breeding, sustainable, Earth-friendly farming (agroecology) and cooperative marketing. 

Where Do We Work?

The SoS program will support and amplify our partner's work in 34 municipalities in the Madriz department, an area facing critical challenges due to climate change.

Core Work

  • Completed baseline study of the region's seed system (seed security assessment)
  • Creation of farmer-researcher groups (CIALs) with support from our Honduran partner, who has been using these farmer networks for more than a decade. CIALs will help farmers collectively tackle challenges.
  • Training for farmers in participatory plant breeding (PPB) and participatory varietal selection (PVS)
  • Development of drought-tolerant, early-to-harvest maize using PPB and PVS
  • Development of nutritious sorghum varieties that can be harvested sooner and can survive drought
  • Establishment of a network of community seed banks, each with seed cleaning and storage equipment

Self-Sufficiency through Diversification

In Cayantú, Totogalpa, the farm of Juan González, his son Daniel and their families, is now brimming with diversity. Coffee, vegetables, fruit trees and medicinal herbs are planted together, next to local maize and tortillero sorghum. They made these changes with support from FECODESA over the last few years and have a magnificently productive farm despite their region's regular drought. The key is trees, says Juan.


Daniel González (Photo: Beatriz Oliver/USC Canada)

"By planting trees, there is water," he explains.

Now self-sufficient for most of their food and able to sell the surplus, Juan and Daniel are teaching their neighbours about the benefits of agroforestry, passing along both information and seedlings. They are adamant about the benefits of this approach: food security, firewood and an increased water supply.

The SoS program will build on this approach in this region which is suffering from climatic extremes and lack of regular precipitation causing crop failures and out migration.


Juan González (Photo: Beatriz Oliver/USC Canada)

Supporting youth mobilization and education


We at USC Canada are inspired by the increasing number of young people getting together to grow gardens, prepare food and learn what they can do to encourage greater food security at home and abroad. In recognition of the special contribution these growing citizens are making to our movement and mission, USC Canada is developing new programming focused on youth of all ages.

University and college

USC Canada is proud to connect with participants of the Campus Food Systems Project, involving 12 campuses across the country, to support their work towards sustainable food practices.

We also encourage interested student groups to participate in their local Run for Biodiversity event or to organize their own. For example, Ottawa’s Algonquin College mobilized a team of 42 runners and walkers for the 2014 Tamarack Ottawa Race Weekend.

For more information about how your group can support small-scale farmers by running (or walking or skiing or hiking…) contact David Rain, Legacy and Special Projects Coordinator, at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or by phone at 1-800-565-6872 ext 231.

High school

In the coming months, USC Canada will explore new avenues to collaborate with high school students interested in learning more about our issues and getting involved. If you are a high school student or educator and have ideas to share or would like to invite USC Canada to participate in an activity, please contact Elodie Mantha, Manager of Constituencies and Engagement, at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or by phone at 1-800-565-6872 ext 242.

In the meantime, if you are a high school student or teacher interested in organizing an activity on the theme of food or seed biodiversity, check out our resources for educators for some ideas. Our film kit provides you with a list of short and full-length films that may be of interest to you.

Contact us if you are seeking to meet your community service hours requirement for graduation. We can help!


Reaching out to Canadians about global issues has always been an important part of our work – ever since our founder, Dr. Lotta Hitschmanova, would tour Canada presenting slides shows of our work. Check out our calendar for information about upcoming events or webcasts.

When feasible, USC Canada staff members and volunteers are also happy to offer workshops, presentations or information tables on demand. Please inquire well in advance (three months is ideal) by contacting Elodie Mantha, Manager of Constituencies and Engagement at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or by phone at 1-800-565-6872 ext 242.


National and international policies on agriculture, environment and trade have a global impact on food security and farmers’ livelihoods. This is why a key area of work for USC Canada is championing farmers’ rights, food sovereignty and food system resilience, on the national and international stage.

USC Canada collaborates with a national and international network of civil society organizations engaged in advocating for food justice around the world. Our contribution aims to amplify the voices of our southern and Canadian partners by sharing the lessons we have learned from six decades of work with rural communities. Our direct experience in international development and seed security issues means our positions are grounded in the experiences of those who farm the land, protect biodiversity and seeds, and nourish the health of the ecosystems they depend on.

USC Canada supports our southern partners in their efforts to work with their governments to adopt approaches that are supportive of small-scale farmers. Whenever possible, we convene bilateral or multi-lateral policy dialogues that feature the expertise, knowledge and experience of the small-scale farmers who work with our Seeds of Survival program.

Globally, USC Canada is involved in several key multilateral bodies related to food and biodiversity. These include the Committee for World Food Security, the UN Biological Diversity Convention and the International Treaty for Plant Genetic Resources for Agriculture. USC Canada staff and partners play leadership roles in the civil society mechanisms that interact with these institutions. The goal is to influence public policy to support small-scale farmers and to enlarge space for their voices to be at the decision-making table.

At home, USC Canada collaborates with civil society organizations working on food, agriculture and seed policy such as Food Secure Canada, the Food Security Policy Group and the Canadian Council for International Cooperation, to address emerging policy issues. Activities include holding public events, featuring speakers from across the globe, public awareness campaigns and facilitating dialogue between Canadian politicians, policy-makers and civil society.

USC Canada’s policy work also includes research and knowledge sharing on food and agriculture to inform our policy positions.

Policy Papers and Publications

Growing Resilience: Submission to Canada's International Assistance Review | July 8, 2016

As a Canadian organization that has spent 70 years working in international development and about 30 years with farmers around the world, USC Canada wants Canada make food security and agriculture a top priority and invest in small-scale farmers, ecological agriculture, and human rights. Here is a policy brief identifying the main ways that Canada's international assistance review can accomplish this.

sow and save banner

The following resources highlight the importance of seed biodiversity and seed saving in a strong and resilient food supply. These resources fit with Canadian elementary school curricula and can be used to complement activities in current school garden programs or as part of general science-based activities focused on seeds and biodiversity.

Sow and Save Learning Resources

Gardens provide phenomenal learning spaces for children and can be used in countless ways to satisfy curriculum objectives across multiple subject areas. The resources below satisfy curriculum objectives in a range of subjects, from math to art to social studies, but with a specific focus on the grades three and six Ontario Science and Technology Curriculum, particularly grade three's Understanding Life Systems: Growth and Changes in Plants and grade six's: Understanding Life Systems: Biodiversity.

Consider these resources a diverse menu from which you can select the best tools for your teaching. Most of these resources would ideally be used to complement activities in an active outdoor school garden program. We understand that not every school is blessed with a garden, but that shouldn’t limit your use of these resources. While an outdoor investigation of a plant’s lifecycle from seed to plant to seed is preferred, many of these resources can still be used individually to complement lessons in plant science, biodiversity or environmental studies.

The resources below are provided in unformatted documents that are easily modifiable and shared with others. Please feel free to pick and adapt the resources that best suit your needs. We understand the need to modify content for specific age, grade or student needs and appreciate the personal flair that each educator will bring to their lessons. We value your feedback and if you have any comments or suggestions for improvement or extension, please let us know! Contact us at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


Lessons, Activities and Games




Students play the role of different bean varieties under ever-changing growing conditions in the garden. This game clearly illustrates how planting biodiversity helps keep the harvest safe.



Students plant their garden using scissors, paper and glue, putting biodiversity planning into practice.



Warm-up and channel your inner veggie with these diverse bean-inspired stretching exercises.



Start your engines! Students will track the germination of multiple different varieties of a crop (i.e. 3 different varieties of bean) and see which wins!



Learn to recognize the seeds found in common fruits and vegetables and create a class seed display.



Seeds are not just for the birds! Consider just how much this first step in the food chain makes up a large part of our diets.



Students make qualitative and quantitative observations while investigating the diversity found within a single crop.



Reinforce estimating, measuring, counting, data collection and graphing skills while exploring the diversity of the humble Jack-O-Lantern.


magic-multiplying seeds

How many seeds do you get in the fall for an investment of one seed in the spring? Estimate and count the number of seeds produced per plant.


seeds and pioneer life in Canada

This seed stashing/role-playing activity will get students thinking like hungry pioneer farmers.


design a seed pack

Save like the pros. Design a compelling seed envelope and learn about the important conditions needed to safely store and label seeds.



Examine the diversity of texture, colour and pattern in different seeds to create a biodiverse piece of art.


Background Information for Educators

Why Sow and Save?

Information for educators about the many reasons to teach children the art and science of saving seeds.


seed starting basics

Basic information for starting seeds inside a classroom and transplanting outdoors.



A list of suggested varieties to grow with children that will capture their imagination and provide striking, visual examples of biodiversity in the garden.



Background information for seed saving educators on collecting, drying, processing and storing seeds with students.



Using colour photographs, this document shows the basic stages to look for in the lifecycle of five easy garden crops (lettuce, radish, pea, bean and sunflower) so you will know exactly when to harvest your seeds.



Common vocabulary used when learning about seeds, seed saving and biodiversity within and among crops.


Multimedia Resources

A seed story animation video

The story of food begins and ends with seeds. In one minute, a group of elementary school children explain why seeds deserve our attention and protection.



Food biodiversity powerpoint

Take your students on a visual food diversity tour! Differences in size, shape, colour and traits create the bountiful, beautiful and resilient biodiversity of the food we eat. Learn why planting, saving, and sharing this food biodiversity is so important.


seed saving and seed banking powerpoint

Take your students on a visual tour of seed saving and banking efforts around the world. How and why would you ever save seeds? Learn the practical tools of the trade and take part in the global effort to protect our agricultural food crops.


Match the seed to the crop quiz

Guess which food grows from which seed? Take the 'Match the Seed to the Crop’ Quiz! to visually reinforce your new seed knowledge.


diverse food collages

From tomatoes to beans to sunflowers, these colourful collages visually showcase some of the astonishing diversity found within 12 common food crops. Pictures can be colour printed and laminated for use in the classroom and garden to promote an appreciation for the variety found within our agricultural crops.


Please check back often. Materials will be added and updated regularly.


This program was made possible through the generous support of The W. Garfield Weston Foundation, Mrs. Gretchen Bauta, and TD Friends of the Environment. On-going support through donations will help ensure the future of this program and ensure that healthy diverse seeds get into the hands of the next generation of Canadian children.

Make a donation to this program today.

Seed Saver Run - Stepping up for healthy local food for all.

Got questions about the Seed Saver Run? Contact Holly at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or (613) 234-6827 ext. 231.

Click here to sign up now!

P.S. Don't forget to scroll to the Scotiabank Charity Challenge section, create your personal fundraising page, and select USC Canada (Seed Saver Run) as your charity of choice!

When? May 28-29 Where? Tamarack Ottawa Race Weekend in Ottawa What? Tons of different races to choose from:  2 km family run, 5 km, 10 km, half-marathon or marathon. Who? You can join the Seed Saver Run on your own, with friends or colleagues, or with your partner and kids. how? As you prepare for the event, you’ll be taking on a double challenge: getting fit for a great race, and asking your friends and family to sponsor you with a donation towards a future of healthy, local food for all.

Click the image below to see what you can receive when you raise money with USC Canada's Seed Saver Run!

reward structure

Go BIG with the Seed Saver Run Team Challenge

Rally together at least three friends, family members or co-workers, register for your race, create your team, and start fundraising!

The team that raises the most money will WIN TICKETS to see one of our eight Canadian artists from our I Am A Seed Saver campaign!!

Need help creating your team? Give Holly a shout at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

team challenge

Am I a Seed Saver?

You're a Seed Saver if you're willing to break a sweat for good seeds!

Seeds are the underground heroes of food – rarely in the spotlight, but ready to save the day by transforming into the healthy crops communities love and need.

Despite what we often hear, farming to feed the world doesn't have to deplete the soil, compete with wildlife, and pour fertilizers and pesticides into our waterways and bloodstreams. The kind of farming that USC Canada supports treads lightly on the planet – it also produces more nutritious crops and more varieties!

That's because the family farmers we support work with the very best locally saved seeds. These seeds grow into crops that can stand up to local pests and tricky climate conditions. They make farmers' lives a little bit easier, cost less and require less chemical help to grow.

In other words: it's when seeds are kept local that their superpowers really shine. But there are strong forces at play replacing local seeds with armies of imported commercial seeds.

That's why we need Seed Savers like you to make sure these seeds stay, or return, into the hands of the family farmers who need them!

Thank you to our super sponsors!

 herb and spice seed saver run sponsor bridgehead seed saver run sponsor  pure kitchen seed saver run sponsor 
the green door restaurant seed saver run sponsor  wild oat seed saver run sponsor 
 National Arts Centre - Centre national des arts

Raise the most funds in the Seed Saver Run and you'll receive a voucher for two tickets to NAC Presents (total $80.00) for the 2016-17 season!

Thanks to our hundreds racers who since 1995 have raised more than $170,000 to help farming families in Africa, Asia, Latin America and Canada under the name Run for Biodiversity! 


The destinies of Canadians and others around the world are connected. Whether they live in Saskatchewan or Burkina Faso, farmers are regularly confronted with the same global challenges. Citizens across different lands and cultures share similar values, concerns and hopes for a better world.
USC Canada has a long tradition of leadership in community initiatives and events, public education and resources, and dedicated volunteer networks. Beyond the farm, learning, sharing, volunteering or spending recreational time together helps build strong communities.


Our online portal on seeds, biodiversity and information about where our food comes from. For practitioners, educators, students and anyone interested in global food systems and issues.

Take a look and visit hundreds of locations around the world where agricultural biodiversity originated, is threatened, or where people are working to safeguard it.

seed saver run

Seed Saver Run

You would love to see a world where everyone could access healthy, local food. And you want to be part of the change. How about taking your passion for better food to the next level, while doing something good for your health in 2016?

Rise to the challenge: join USC Canada’s Seed Saver Run!.


Sow and Save

USC Canada is thrilled to be offering resources to educators as part of its Canadian elementary school program called Sow and Save. Sow and Save highlights the importance of seed biodiversity and seed saving in a strong and resilient food supply by supporting students and educators wishing to learn more about how good seeds grow good food. Start sowing the seeds of learning today!


Policy and Advocacy

USC Canada is part of a national and international network of civil society organizations engaged in advocating for food justice around the world.


Volunteer Program

Volunteers have been at the core of our work for almost 70 years. There’s a home for your contribution, wherever you are.


Community Events

Reaching out to Canadians about global issues has always been an important part of our work – ever since our founder, Dr. Lotta Hitschmanova, would tour Canada presenting slides shows of our work.

Check our calendar and stay in touch with what is going on near you or on the web.


On Campus

We are working with a dynamic new network of campus garden, cafeteria and food issue organizers and do-ers.

Get connected!

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Bauta 1

The Bauta Family Initiative on Canadian Seed Security is USC Canada’s Seeds of Survival program in Canada. Launched in 2013 in five regional hubs across the country, the program works with farmers and researchers to build a more secure and diverse ‘made-in-Canada’ seed supply. It features training, applied research, market development and support for expanded production and improved public access to seed.

With farmers and partners, we are building a national movement to conserve and advance seed biodiversity, keep seed in the public domain and promote ecological seed production.

Here’s why we care so much about seed:

  • Nine out of every ten bites of food consumed around the world today begin with seed. Food security is seed security.
  • Canadians rely on only 4 plant species – wheat, maize, rice and potato – for 60 per cent of the calories in our diet.
  • Plant breeding can have a major impact on nutrition: In the last 60 years, the average Canadian potato lost 100 per cent of its vitamin A content, 57 per cent of its vitamin C and iron, and 28 per cent of calcium.
  • 95 per cent of the seeds that grow our major food crops are bred for uniformity, performance under controlled conditions and routine application of synthetic inputs.

As Canada’s climate changes, so must our approach to food production. Broadening the range of crops and varieties we grow, and investing in the development of varieties adapted to ecological farming and Canada’s diverse growing environments will increase the resilience of our agricultural system.

This program is made possible thanks to the vision and leadership of Gretchen Bauta, a member of the Weston family. It is delivered by USC Canada, in partnership with Seeds of Diversity Canada and through the generous support of The W. Garfield Weston Foundation.

Please explore the Bauta Family Initiative website for more information.

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LottaHitschmanova tbnWhat's in a Name?

We’re called USC Canada because we started out way back in 1945 as the Unitarian Service Committee, founded by the energetic Dr. Lotta Hitschmanova. We’re still planting the seeds that Lotta sowed. Find out more about our founder, Dr. Lotta Hitschmanova.


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  • Phone: 1-800-565-6872

USC Canada is a Registered Canadian Charity 11927-6129-RR-0001

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