Did you ever wonder how generations of farmers without advanced degrees not only produced their own seed, but developed the food-crops that we eat today? We've created a vital organic movement, but almost forgotten a key aspect.
Seed-saving, once an essential skill passed from generation to generation, is almost a lost art. Although small farmers world-wide grow and improve their own seed, minimal work is done in the United States. Multi-national seed companies breed vegetables for large-scale food systems; for uniformity, durability in shipping and shelf-life. In contrast, organic farmers growing for local communities seek a diversity of flavorful, nutritious varieties, and especially value the farming heritage that heirlooms carry.
Conventional seeds are bred for "broad adaptability" to produce in a range of climates. Unfortunately, plants that produce well in one zone, but poorly in another are eliminated. Conventionally-bred seeds become dependent on high-input agrochemicals. Seeds grown by organic farmers thrive on our farms without reliance on chemicals. Season by season we can select for exactly what small New England farmers want - superior flavor, early maturity, resistance to local pests and disease, and reliability in our cool climate.
'If you're already running a market farm, you have the backbone to manage your own crop genetics. If you are a farmer surviving in this competitive and corporate era, you've got more than enough braincells to manage your own crop genetics very well. Most importantly, seed-saving and crop improvement can be integrated readily into the seasonal operation of most market farms.' Brett Grosgahl
New England organic farmers, extension and seed companies have come together to build our knowledge and networks for skilled organic seed production and crop improvement. NOFA-MA, NOFA-VT and MOFGA are working with Restoring Our Seed, funded by SARE, to help farmers and gardeners bring seed-growing into their lives.
Eli Rogosa and CR Lawn are coordinating New England conferences and a seed-growing center at Common Ground in Maine, in cooperation with Dr. Mark Hutton, Maine cooperative extension. Mark has established a crop improvement demonstration at the Highmoor Research Farm in Maine, and conducts seed-growing workshops for farmers and gardeners. Matt Rulevich and Rowen White are developing a network of seed growers and a center for seed-saving at the Hampshire College Farm; with seed cleaning equipment and a seed garden with indigenous, heirlooms and creative breeding projects. Jeremy Barker-Plotkin is funded by SARE to breed heirloom tomatoes for early blight resistance. We are developing public organic breeding projects with the Public Seed Initiative, based at Cornell University, and with Dr. Raoul Robinson, who has vast experience working with farmers world-wide in traditional crop improvement. Download his work on www.sharebooks.ca.