Annual Report 2013
I'm writing to share Organic Seed Alliance's 2013 annual report. In it you'll find that over the past year we doubled our educational reach and published two new seed guides to support farmers' success as seed stewards. Our team also planned the nation's only conference that brings together the best organic seed expertise around, and made extraordinary advancements developing new organic seed varieties thanks to our participatory breeding partnerships with farmers and universities. Our advocacy staff had the privilege of meeting with the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture twice on critical seed policy issues, and our communications team unveiled a new website in light of our ten-year anniversary. It's been a big year!
Will you donate today to support the continuation of this crucial work?
This year your donation will be matched up to $25,000, doubling your support. Help us reach our goal - we have a ways to go.
Thank you for your commitment to an abundant, diverse, and secure seed supply that allows us to grow not just good seed, but good seed stewards.
Warm wishes this holiday season,
P.S. For gifts in the amount of $50 or more, we'll send you a commemorative ten-year anniversary poster featuring a botanical print of our 'Abundant Bloomsdale' spinach. View it here.
Color, flavor, nutrition, vigor, shape, and smoothness were all qualities under consideration as we selected carrot roots this year to replant for breeding populations as part of the Carrot Improvement for Organic Agriculture (CIOA) project. In 2013 we continued to evaluate promising carrot populations on organic and conventional farms in Washington, Wisconsin, Indiana, and California with the goal of identifying traits important in organic farming systems. This year, six promising populations, which included orange, purple, and red varieties, were grown on organic farms in Washington as part of OSA's participatory plant breeding work. OSA's senior scientist, Dr. John Navazio, also evaluated a wide diversity of breeding populations that were collected from around the world and grown in El Centro, California.
The Northern Organic Vegetable Improvement Collaborative (NOVIC) completed its fourth and final year in 2013. This collaborative research resulted in critical organic variety trial data and an online database of trial results, which was launched earlier this year (see "Organic Variety Trial Database"). The collaborative also resulted in improved organic plant varieties of broccoli, corn, peas, winter squash, and carrots. Watch for newly released NOVIC varieties in organic seed catalogs within the next couple years. This report and more details about NOVIC can be found at http://eorganic.info/novic/.
Winter fields in the Pacific Northwest generally offer little to eat. That will change with our variety trial and breeding work focused on winter season extension. This year we continued evaluating (and tasting!) our purple sprouting broccoli project. The breeding goals are to produce a crop that reliably overwinters in the Pacific Northwest, and that has flavorful, consistent, four to five inch heads, born on highly productive shoots with tender stems. This project is a collaboration between Organically Grown Company (OGC) and OSA. OGC, the largest all-organic produce distributor in the Pacific Northwest, is investing in the project to expand access to regionally grown produce developed for organic farming systems. In 2014 we will also expand our winter trials of cabbage, storage onions, and chicories (see "Increasing Year-Round Access to Local Vegetables").
This year OSA nearly doubled its educational services, providing lectures or trainings at 45 events representing 10 states. More than 3,100 participants attended these events (one-third were farmers). OSA is seen as the prominent leader in delivering education on farm-based organic plant breeding, seed production, variety trials, and advocacy. In 2013 more than 2,840 farmers and other agricultural professionals downloaded our publications. We added two new publications to our website this year: The 2012 California Organic Variety Trials Report and Climatic Considerations for Seed Crops: Guidelines and Field Trainings for Organic and Specialty Vegetable Seed Producers. OSA staff also provided consulting services to farmers representing 30 on-farm breeding projects across the U.S.
Thanks to support from USDA's Risk Management Agency, we published a new seed guide this year, titled: Climatic Considerations for Seed Crops: Guidelines and Field Trainings for Organic and Specialty Vegetable Seed Producers. We also hosted five courses on the topic in Oregon, Washington, and Idaho. In any given climatic region there are certain crops and varieties that are best suited to the environmental conditions. The new guide, which is also available in Spanish, provides growers with an understanding of what climatic challenges they face in their region, which seed crops are best suited to their local climate, and what tools may be used to modify their local environmental conditions.
We are meeting the need for a more robust seed system in California by partnering with the USDA, Columbia Foundation, Gaia Fund, and the California Wheat Commission to expand our outreach in the state. In 2013, OSA:
- Taught more than 430 people seed saving, seed production, and/or variety improvement at 20 workshops throughout the state
- Purchased specialty seed cleaning equipment for seed producers to share
- Worked with California farmers to breed varieties of zucchini, winter squash, sweet corn, carrots, and spinach for organic systems
- Conducted variety trials on eight farms, evaluating more than 100 vegetable and grain varieties to identify the best choices for organic farmers
- Provided one-on-one mentorship for beginning and experienced seed producers to help them more successfully produce and market their seed crops
- Published the 2012 California Organic Variety Trials Report
Organicology was a huge success this year, bringing together a record turnout of more than 800 participants representing diverse sectors of the organic community. We continue to be a proud co-host of Organicology alongside Organically Grown Company, Oregon Tilth, and Sustainable Food Trade Association. Together, our organizations host this unique biennial conference to identify gaps and interdisciplinary solutions for growing the organic food industry. The next conference will be held February 5 - 7, 2015 in Portland, Oregon. Learn more at www.organicology.org.
Registration our 7th Organic Seed Growers Conference -- Innovation in the Field -- is now open. The conference will take place January 30 - February 1, 2014, in Corvallis, Oregon. OSA spent much of 2013 planning this unique conference focused on trading knowledge, techniques, and ideas that strengthen our rapidly growing organic seed community. The agenda includes 70 experts in the fields of organic plant breeding, seed research, enterprise development, seed economics, policy, and more. In addition to two-dozen sessions there will be a wine tasting, vegetable variety tasting, organic meals, a seed swap, trade show, and live music. There is also a pre-conference tour of seed production in the Willamette Valley. Learn more at www.seedalliance.org.
As we celebrate our ten-year anniversary, we are more confident than ever in our approach to ensuring farmers have the seed they need to be successful. We have spent this year articulating a concrete strategic plan for guiding the next ten years of our work. Our strategy will result in transformative change by positioning OSA as the primary resource for organic seed information and services at the regional and national level. On a national scale, OSA will serve as a collective voice in national policy and in helping to create a national supply chain of organic seed. The outcome will be a thriving and secure organic seed system.
OSA continued to support organic priorities in the farm bill this year, in addition to educating members of Congress, and leadership within USDA, on the importance of classical plant breeding and public cultivar development. We again collected more than 100 signatures on a letter in support of a farm bill amendment to reinvigorate classical breeding that supports the diverse and regional seed needs of farmers. We were also invited to speak at a USDA Plant Breeding Working Group listening session where stakeholders came to discuss the needs and challenges of the plant breeding community. OSA met with the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture on the topic of public plant breeding as part of a National Organic Coalition meeting earlier in the year. We had the privilege of meeting with the Secretary of Agriculture a second time in August about a genetically engineered (GE) wheat contamination event in Oregon. As part of this meeting, OSA brought a delegation of farmers and other seed stakeholders to meet with the Secretary to ask for improvements in the USDA's oversight of experimental GE crops. OSA organized around other policy priorities, including the National Organic Program's guidance on "Seeds, Annual Seedlings, and Plant Stock in Organic Crop Production," a comment period on the recommendations coming out of the Advisory Committee on Biotechnology for 21st Century Agriculture (AC21), and decisions around canola planting zones in Oregon. View our policy positions at http://seedalliance.org/policy_positions.
Organic Seed Finder is celebrating its first year of success. Launched in October 2012, the website allows seed companies to post their organic varieties in a central location where growers can search for the seed they need. It is also a valuable resource for organic certifiers who need access to documentation of organic seed availability. Already the site hosts more than 2,700 organic varieties representing fifteen seed vendors, and the website is expanding each month. Organic Seed Finder includes a link ("Couldn't find what you need?") that allows users to report which varieties they cannot find in a certified organic form. This has created a feedback loop to seed vendors, certifiers, and organic plant breeders. To learn more, visit http://www.organicseedfinder.com/.
Farmers are at the heart of our work. We rely on farmers' experience, knowledge, and land to build organic seed systems -- from breeding to production to distribution. We believe the role of farmers in stewarding our seed must be promoted, protected, and propagated as vigorously as the conservation of seed itself. Our Farmer Seed Stewardship initiative promotes farmers as seed innovators and recognizes this growing movement across the U.S. The initiative is a partnership with the Clif Bar Family Foundation's Seed Matters. This year more than 100 farmers joined our Farmer Seed Stewardship map to showcase their role in seed conservation and improvement. We provided these farmers a free OSA seed guide to support their work. By expanding education, we are helping more farmers save, breed, and produce seed for on-farm and commercial use.
The Student Organic Seed Symposium is organized by and for graduate students who are involved in plant breeding for organic agriculture. OSA was honored to participate again this year by leading students in field tours of organic seed research and production throughout the Olympic Peninsula. OSA's advocacy and communications director provided the keynote address, "Advocating for Organic Seed Systems." Many thanks to our local businesses for their generous donations at this event, especially Nash's Organic Produce, Mt. Townsend Creamery, Finnriver, Midori Farm, and Washington State University.
More than 150 supporters joined us in celebrating our 10-year anniversary this autumn. People traveled to Port Townsend, Washington, from across the country to share a meal, celebrate our roots, and learn about where OSA is headed next. Highlights of the evening included sharing seed from our newly released 'Abundant Bloomsdale' spinach, an organic harvest dinner from our local farms, tastings from our carrot trials, an art sale featuring some of the region's finest artists, and live music.
This year we launched a new website that makes it easier to download our free seed guides, register for events, receive timely news, and more. Check it out at www.seedalliance.org, and let us know what you think. And don't miss our anniversary timeline that highlights some of our accomplishments.
OSA received funding this year to address the high demand for year-round availability of locally grown vegetables in Oregon and Washington. The project is co-funded by a specialty crop block grant from the Washington State Department of Agriculture and Oregon Department of Agriculture. Farmers in these two states excel in producing high-value specialty vegetable crops during the traditional growing season, but the region remains dependent on imported crops during the winter and early spring months. Many farmers are eager to expand production of overwintering and storage crops to retain customers through the off-season. OSA's project will focus on four priority crops for which there is much interest and potential in expanding year-round production in the region. These crops include overwintering chicories, overwintering sprouting broccoli, winter cabbage, and storage onions. OSA will evaluate the agronomic and culinary qualities of these crops with farmers and produce buyers, including chefs and distributors. The project will also include a number of tastings and networking events to promote these crops and help farmers identify the most appropriate seed varieties for the region.
In 2013 OSA continued to lead the Southeast Seed Working Group. This included meeting twice with working group members, establishing a listserv, and identifying fundraising opportunities to expand organic seed projects in the region. OSA provided one workshop this year to help Southeast growers build their skills in on-farm plant breeding for organic systems. OSA also advised on two variety trial projects in the region. The first project, led by Cornell University, involves regional trials of cucurbit crops, including summer squash, melons, and cucumbers. The second project also focuses on cucurbit variety trials and is led by a farmer in Virginia with support from Southern Exposure Seed Exchange and Sow True Seeds. In 2014 OSA will continue to work with Southeast stakeholders to grow these and other organic seed research and education projects.
OSA is a proud partner in the Organic Variety Trial Database - the only searchable website of its kind that includes hundreds of organic variety trial results from across the U.S. This database was created as part of the Northern Organic Vegetable Improvement Collaborative (NOVIC) project. The Organic Variety Trail Database includes results from the NOVIC project and hundreds of other trials from around the U.S. To visit the database and learn more, go to http://varietytrials.eorganic.info/.
The Provender Alliance is a membership non-profit organization that provides networking opportunities, outreach, and education to natural food industries doing business in the Northwest. This year OSA was proud to receive the "Perfect Propagator" award at the Provender Alliance's annual conference for "protecting organic seed and ensuring vital food security for generations to come." We look forward to future collaborations with the Provender Alliance's hard-working board, staff, and members.
OSA's senior scientist, Dr. John Navazio, received an award from the American Horticultural Society for his book, The Organic Seed Grower. Each year the society recognizes outstanding gardening books published in North America. Dr. Navazio was one of six authors recognized in 2013.
OSA's communication team works hard to showcase the importance of our work. As a result, our staff appeared in The New York Times, Washington Post, Salon, The Oregonian, and more than three dozen other news outlets this year.
Washington State University
Oregon State University
Seed Savers Exchange
National Organic Coalition
Organic Seed Finder
Farm Folk City Folk
Clif Bar Family Foundation
USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture
Risk Management Agency
Washington State Department of Agriculture
Oregon Department of Agriculture
Organic Farming Research Foundation
Organically Grown Company
California Wheat Commission
North Coast Co-op
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“We know system diversity is one of the foundation stones to successful organic production and we have seen a demonstrated commitment from OSA to build that component of diversity relating to seed. I want to ensure my dollars to on-the-ground projects, a place where an emphasis to make an enduring difference is part of the mandate and where my dollars can be leveraged to build a stronger, healthier food system around the world.”