Planting seeds at the 2014 Organic Seed Growers Conference

A few days ago I had the pleasure of attending the 2014 Organic Seed Grower’s Conference, arranged by the Organic Seed Alliance, in Corvallis, OR. Despite the intense, whirlwind of workshops, lectures, and conversation, I have left the conference feeling energized! I am thrilled to be doing work among such a solid group of people: passionate, intelligent, fun-loving, kind, warm, wholesome, dedicated, persistent are just a few words to describe the organic seed community.

In case you missed it, eOrganic has posted many of the talks on YouTube. Also, the conference proceedings are freely available for download from the Organic Seed Alliance.

Highlights:

1. The community research network received 24 new members, which triples the membership of our first year!

2. Matthew Dillon’s keynote address on Friday night. He stressed that seeds are about relationships, that biology is about networking and nourishing connections, that organic seed breeders are drawing from the 10,000 years of human ingenuity. I am told his address will be available on the web in the coming weeks.

3. The Open Source Seed Initiative seeks to create a protective umbrella for seeds against the bane of intellectual property rights, much like the Open Source Software license does for software. How it will actually look is still unclear, but here is a great article written on the subject by Jack Kloppenburg.

4. There was a workshop for making open-pollinated varieties out of F1 hybrids. While hybrids are great for particular suites of traits, and uniformity in growth and timing, ecologically speaking I feel that they are not very adaptable in the long-term. Novel hybrids often require specialized expertise, space, and 7+ years to produce, and their breeding trials are usually not  situated within the particular ecosystems (microclimates, soils, pest pressures) where they end up being grown for food. This makes them less adaptable to changing climate, insect, weed, and pathogen pressures. On the other hand open-pollinated has been a tried-and-true method for thousands of years, are relatively easy to manage, and can more easily be situated within the ecosystems in which they are grown for food. It was nice to see techniques for taking the offspring of proprietary F1 hybrids and letting them grow wild and differentiate for a couple years before selecting for desired traits.

I am excited to move this project forward, as I get a bigger picture of the current state of open-pollinated seeds, interact with the individuals and communities dedicated to their perseverance, and reflect their utmost importance of an adaptive seed supply for the future of our food.

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