I have just returned from an International Organic Seed Alliance conference in Corvallis, Oregon. It was inspiring and exciting, pointing out some great ideas for our farm and seed business, connecting all the people involved in seed saving around the world in a global community. It was great to see so many like-minded people together in one room! This conference has grown from just 65 to over 500 in a little over 12 years or so. I think that is phenomenal. You can see what they do online at
Some of the great ideas that emerged from the conference were:
- Organizing a group of people interested in seed grow outs in cooperation with A’Bunadh
- Organize a co-op of growers for fresh produce
- Growing out varieties for larger seed companies on contract
- Organizing a grower-market network to join Chefs and farm-fresh products complete with public tasting events for new plant varieties
- Integrated plant breeding for resilience and climate change ( making the heirlooms of tomorrow) with open-pollinated and heirloom seeds as parents
- The development of regionally adapted seeds for organic growers and gardeners
Often we think that we need to keep the heirlooms as they are and in one sense that is where my focus has been. However in this mindset we do not allow for the small and subtle changes that the heirlooms themselves go through as they adapt to the climate and the seasons. They are grown here and in Toronto, and in California. The seeds from the next generation are inevitably changed in this very process. That is good. That is what the plants know best, how to survive in different growing conditions, soils, inputs and weather.
So the natural evolution of the seed is one thing. But the next step is natural cross pollination, which we often seek to avoid in growing pure seed. And it is valid and valuable. However, with the advance of climate change, seeds and varieties are under even more strain to adapt and do it quickly. Each season varies dramatically from the one prior; one year it is hot and dry with pests threatening their survival, the next it is wet and cool, bringing viruses and molds, fungus and other diseases, as well as less than optimal ripening conditions. We should not forget that plants hold a plethora of genetic material for the expression of an enormous amount of variation. A plant can adapt if we can help it to survive the worst challenges, grasshoppers and the worst droughts.
I have long been intensely interested in natural development of plants, helping bring out the hidden potentials in the seeds themselves. We are facilitators and even without us the plants would do this natural crossing to create different varieties. We are a fulcrum in their development, tipping the scale in one direction or another by our needs for taste, texture, color, shape, size and other factors that appeal to us as humans with eyes, noses, mouths and stomaches. In the past 50 years, agriculture has tipped the scale to support varieties that handle mechanical seeding, maintenance, harvesting and processing. This has nothing to do with taste.
So where do we come in? At A’Bunadh the year ahead has been planned out. We have a long range plan that encompasses active plant breeding, and for many years I personally have been trying to figure out how we can bring more seed to more people which will ensure the survival of the seed, not just us, around the world. If I lose a variety, chances are if someone somewhere out there has been growing it for seed also, that variety will not be lost forever. So I have thought that the idea of having some people who are interested in becoming a grower, even for one type of seed (lettuce for example) will help everyone in the long run.
So I am opening it up to you. Are you intrigued by the idea of being part of this? Do you have a small amount of space that you could have up to 12 plants that you could save seed from? We would provide the seed and could either arrange to purchase back the seed saved by you for a certain predetermined price or we can do a 50/50 share of the seed. You can share or sell your share with others or plant it out the next year. This might interest anyone who has a market garden since they have larger need for seed and many are organic growers. However, this is also for small backyard gardeners who can amount to a larger population of growers. We would want to highlight you in our catalogue as a grower to share your story (if you like) as people like to know the stories of those who join our community.
We would provide all the training and support as well as the initial seed stock. Please email me if you are interested.
We will work next on doing the chef involvement and food events. But now is the time for planning. So if you have interest in that, let me know.
I am going to start plant variety development soon also. I would love to coordinate with people interested in this. The more the merrier. This is such a cool area of growth! Quite literally! The potentials are enormous, and again involvement with Foody Chefs that want new, different and unique is a must. If you are interested or are a Chef, let me know now, and we will work on creating something wonderful in concert.
Happy growing, Denise