Summer 2014 Newsletter
Summer sweet corn: Is there anything better? How about a sweet corn that was developed with organic farmers in mind -- an open-pollinated variety that germinates in cool spring conditions without the use of fungicides and demonstrates superb taste?
Organic Seed Alliance (OSA) is a proud collaborator in a participatory plant breeding project that developed just that. In partnership with breeders at the University of Wisconsin - Madison and farmer-breeder Martin Diffley of Organic Farming Works, OSA is taking this soon-to-be-released sweet corn variety to the next level by adapting the original breeding population to the mild growing conditions of the maritime Pacific Northwest region.
With support from the Port Townsend Food Co-op, OSA's breeders planted a large trial in Sequim, WA, to identify which of these sweet corn plants would thrive in our local climate.
Why is this important? This sweet corn trial is just one example of how regional networks of plant breeders and farmers are supporting national efforts to expand farmer options in organically bred seed -- seed that will deliver high-quality crops without the assistance of synthetic fertilizers and other chemical inputs.
So when we talk about a "regional seed system," region-specific plant breeding is a big part of that system, providing farmers seed adapted to their specific climate and environmental conditions -- like the need for sweet corn that germinates reliably in cold soil and matures early -- while emphasizing enhanced flavor and good market qualities.
Most of the sweet corn seed planted in the U.S. was developed -- and is owned -- by the biggest players in the business: Syngenta and Monsanto. Participatory plant breeding projects like this one help reduce farmer reliance on a handful of seed firms that don't support organic agriculture and seed saving. Farmers can take back control of the seed they sow, but first they need options like this one, and knowledge in seed breeding and production. (Check out our new manual on how to breed sweet corn for your farm.)
OSA encourages a regional approach to seed breeding, production, and distribution because farmers constantly face changing disease, insect, and weed pressures that vary by location. Climate, growing seasons, soil, and water availability also differ dramatically across the country. The best way to meet the seed needs of farmers is to adapt plants to the environment where they will be grown, which is why we continue to expand our cutting-edge work across the U.S.
In this newsletter you'll find a number of new OSA resources that help farmers participate in regional seed systems by starting their own plant breeding projects on their farm. You'll also find two organic seed webinars: one that covers the issue of organic seed availability and the National Organic Program's seed requirement, and a second on "Keeping Your Seed Crops Healthy." Finally, we're thrilled to welcome Mary Black as our new operations manager and Ken Greene of Hudson Valley Seed Library as a new board member.
Our team is strong and growing. We hope you'll join us by participating in an upcoming event, building your skills as a seed steward, or donating today.
My very best this summer,
P.S. Your donation of $25 or more will get you our limited edition 'Abundant Bloomsdale' poster. Thank you for your support!
The deadline for paper submissions is TODAY, June 30, 2014.
The Organic Agriculture Research Symposium invites submissions for proposed research papers to be presented. Organic Seed Alliance is a proud planning committee member for the international symposium that will take place on February 25-26, 2015 before the Organic Farming Conference organized by the Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service (MOSES). Co-sponsored by the University of Wisconsin's Center for Integrated Agricultural Systems (CIAS), the conference invites researchers from all disciplines related to organic farming and food systems, and other systems of sustainable agriculture that employ techniques compatible with organic standards.
Researchers are asked to submit an abstract not to exceed 500 words that includes names of the co-authors, contact information, a working title, the topic area, an introduction that explains the context and purpose of the research, the methods used, and a brief summary of the results and conclusions. Cross-disciplinary papers are encouraged. Works in progress may be considered, but the paper for the proceedings will need to be completed by December 31, 2014.
The intent of the symposium is to provide current information to farmers, ranchers, extensionists, educators, agricultural professionals, and others interested in organic agriculture. The symposium is held in conjunction with a meeting that is regularly attended by organic producers and processors.
In 2011, Organic Seed Alliance (OSA) published State of Organic Seed, the first comprehensive analysis of organic seed systems in the U.S. Next year we will publish an updated version of this report, which will include results from a second survey that assesses certified organic crop producers' attitudes and perceptions regarding organic seed, as well as their current use of organic seed and any obstacles that restrict organic seed sourcing. The survey also asks which crops and traits should be prioritized through organic plant breeding programs. This survey is conducted every five years, and is the only national assessment that helps the organic community understand and address the barriers and opportunities in improving organic seed systems. If you are a certified organic crop producer, please take the survey. Your participation is vital to this national assessment.
Earlier this spring, OSA's research team planted 'Spring Market' carrots at Midori Farm, one of several farms partnering with us on breeding work here on the Olympic Peninsula. The carrots were planted for seed production and will eventually be used in our Carrot Improvement for Organic Agriculture (CIOA) project, a participatory plant breeding effort to develop high-quality carrots that perform well on organic farms.
'Spring Market' carrots are a traditional overwintered carrot for spring harvest from the Pukekohe region on the northern island of New Zealand. This region is particularly well known for onion and carrot production. OSA uses this variety as a parent in our breeding work for its exceptionally strong tops that don't die off during the winter, allowing the root to be pulled from the ground in spring. We also use this variety because of its ability to remain edible for a much longer length of time through the spring compared to other carrot varieties. 'Spring Market' produces large roots with well-rounded carrot flavor and little secondary root growth. This variety was developed as an overwintering type, so its flavor is at its best after an extended period of cold storage or overwintering in the ground.
Seed from this planting will be harvested in late August or early September. Stay tuned for more photos from the field. And if you're interested in learning how to conduct organic carrot breeding and seed production on your farm, check out these two OSA manuals: How to Breed Carrots for Organic Agriculture and The Principles and Practices of Organic Carrot Seed Production in the Pacific Northwest.
As California's dry winter continued through the spring, the future climatic challenges the state faces become ever more immediate, and the need for diverse and resilient agricultural seed systems becomes ever more evident. OSA continues, crop by crop and farmer by farmer, to help organic farmers access more diverse, adapted, and adaptable varieties.
Thanks to generous support from Columbia Foundation, Gaia Fund, the California Wheat Commission, CCOF, Organic Valley, and the USDA Organic Research and Education Initiative, we have a number of projects growing in California.
Vegetable variety trials: In cooperation with Coke Farms in San Juan Bautista and Riverdog Farms in Guida, OSA finished evaluating vegetable varieties for winter and spring regional production, including broccoli, carrots, beets, spinach, kale, and rutabagas. We will be publishing a report from our 2013 and 2014 trials in the coming months. We have more variety trials in the ground for this summer, including specialty red peppers, lettuce, onions, and carrots. See our 2012 California Organic Variety Trials Report for results from our 2012 variety trials.
Silage corn trial: The North Coast of California has a strong organic dairy industry. Many farmers use locally produced corn harvested as a whole plant that is then fermented before being fed to animals. This type of corn is called "silage corn." There are very few varieties of silage corn that can mature and produce high quantities well in the cool, coastal maritime climate of the north coast. OSA is testing 10 promising varieties to provide local farmers with more silage corn choices.
Wheat trials: OSA is continuing trials of promising wheat varieties for organic farmers in Northern California. These trials include a mix of modern and older varieties that will be evaluated for their height, yield, baking quality, and flavor. In addition to these larger trials, we have a nursery where we are evaluating and saving seed of over 100 varieties of wheat, including some ancient wheat, such as emmer and einkorn.
Organic sweet corn and carrot breeding: Thanks to OSA's participation in two national organic breeding projects (NOVIC and CIOA), we are working with California organic farmers to develop new, organically bred varieties of sweet corn and carrots. The sweet corn is a high-quality, open-pollination variety that is vigorous in its growth, disease-resistant, tender, and sweet. The carrots will also provide high-quality options that are vigorous, nutritious, and disease- and pest-resistant.
Efforts to build the foundation for a regional seed system in the Southeast continue to gain momentum. OSA is partnering with organizations and universities on organic variety trials and educational events, and in developing strategic plans for the region.
OSA's partnership with the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association (CFSA) and Georgia Organics is resulting in a number of on-the-ground projects. For example, CFSA is in its second year of an organic broccoli variety trial. Both CFSA and Georgia Organics are also increasing the number of seed workshops at their annual conferences, and OSA will once again be teaching at the CFSA conference from November 10-12, 2014.
In addition, OSA along with project partners Cornell University, North Carolina State University, and Auburn University, are conducting variety trials on melons, squash, and cucumbers in North Carolina, New York, and Alabama. The project is funded through a grant from the USDA Organic Research and Extension Initiative (OREI) and will go through the next two years. The variety trials support future breeding work to develop varieties resistant to Downy Mildew, Striped Cucumber Beetles, and viruses. Variety trials are being conducted at research stations and on organic farms in each state. A field day to share initial results of the trial will be held August 12, 2014, from 9:00 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., at the Mountain Research Station in Waynesville, North Carolina. Learn more about the field day here.
OSA recently released four organic plant breeding manuals that walk farmers through the methods of breeding new crop varieties on their farm. They include an introduction to on-farm organic plant breeding and three crop-specific breeding manuals covering carrots, sweet corn, and tomatoes.
Introduction to On-farm Organic Plant Breeding provides farmers an overview of basic genetics, farm-based experimental design, and breeding techniques appropriate for organic farms, among other useful background and instruction. The introductory guide provides the scientific foundation for the crop-specific instruction provided in the other three guides: How to Breed Carrots for Organic Agriculture, How to Breed Sweet Corn for Organic Agriculture, and How to Breed Tomatoes for Organic Agriculture. Each crop-specific manual provides step-by-step instruction from identifying good breeding material to maintaining a new variety for quality and uniformity.
Participants learned basic biological requirements for plant breeding and seed production, and specifically how to work with self-pollinating crops. In this course, like other courses we offer, participants learned through both classroom lecture and time in the field. We offer these specialized courses throughout the country as part of our work to strengthen regional seed systems.
This course was made possible through a Washington State Department of Agriculture Specialty Crops Block Grant that is also funding an onion and endive trial collaboratively hosted by OSA and our partners at Greenbank Farm.
OSA recently submitted comments to the National Organic Standards Board's (NOSB) ad hoc subcommittee on GMOs. The comments are in response to the subcommittee's report on seed purity and GMOs, which provides a short analysis of the complex issues at hand as well as potential solutions. The report also summarizes some of the public comments that the subcommittee received in response to an earlier discussion document.
On the one-year anniversary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) announcement that unapproved, genetically engineered (GE) wheat was found in an Oregon field, OSA and our allies demanded an end to the approval of GE traits at least until measures are adopted to protect farmers and their markets from contamination. USDA has allowed 22 new GE wheat field trials since its announcement one year ago, despite the fact that its investigation into last year's contamination event is still open. These trials represent more than 960 acres spanning ten states. Last year OSA sent a letter to U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack calling for improvements in USDA's oversight of GE crop field trials. The letter was signed by more than 150 organizations, food processors, millers, retail companies, bakeries, and seed businesses.
"Understanding the National Organic Program Seed Rule and Sourcing Organic Seed" is now archived for anyone who missed the live broadcast on Friday, June 6, 2014. The webinar covers the issue of organic seed availability as well as the National Organic Program's organic seed regulatory requirement and its 2013 guidance document that aimed to clarify this requirement. Presenters share perspectives on challenges in enforcing this requirement and recommendations for encouraging increased sourcing of organic seed. Participants are introduced to tools and resources that support organic seed sourcing and production. This webinar is supported by a contract from the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service's National Organic Program.
This spring, OSA's John Navazio presented in a webinar titled "Keeping Your Seed Crops Healthy" with Jodi Lew-Smith of High Mowing Organic Seeds and Linda Gilkeson of West Coast Gardening. The webinar includes instruction on rogueing (removing of a small fraction of undesirable plants from a crop population) and selection methods, and identifying and reducing seed crop diseases.
The webinar, now available as an online archive, was hosted by The Bauta Family Initiative on Canadian Seed Security as part of their "Growing Good Seed: The Fundamentals" webinar series.
A recent Washington Post article (April 16, 2014) overstates the potential of marker-assisted selection (a molecular plant breeding method) and makes the claim that it's the most promising plant breeding method available today. OSA's senior scientist, John Navazio, responds: "Amid this rush to the 'trendy sphere of molecular breeding' ... we are seeing a troubling de-emphasis on, and de-funding of, classical plant breeding that produces dynamic, genetically resilient crops across diverse -- and changing -- agricultural environments."
The importance of our work is becoming visible to a larger audience and we couldn't be more excited.
Many thanks to all of you who are current donors or have supported OSA with a donation in the past. Your financial support is imperative to our continued work in advancing the ethical development and stewardship of seed.
A special thanks to the following businesses and organizations who have approached us this season to support our work.
- Artist Analisa Barelli donates a portion of her online sales at SHOPAB to OSA and other organizations.
Pura Vida is creating and selling a custom bracelet to support OSA. A portion of the bracelet sales will be donated to OSA. They'll be available online soon at Pura Vida.
For the Love of All Things (FLOAT) is also creating wearable art to support OSA's work. This autumn for one week, special organic seed inspired t-shirts will be available at Float.org and a portion of sales will go directly to OSA.
Does your organization or business have a unique way in which it would like to support our work? If so, contact Micaela Colley directly.
We are thrilled to announce the newest addition to our team. This spring, we welcomed Mary Black as OSA's operations manager. Mary holds a bachelor's degree from the University of Washington. She spent over ten years working as a litigation paralegal in Seattle before attending law school at Seattle University. Most recently, Mary worked as a compliance manager at a tech startup and helped the company expand into new markets. When not running the OSA office in Port Townsend, she spends as much time as possible playing outside at her home in the Olympic Peninsula, where she most enjoys sharing her love of nature with her young children. She runs a small organic heirloom seed company with her husband and loves working with wool in just about any capacity: knitting, spinning, dyeing, and felting.
OSA's board of directors spans the U.S. and includes a diverse group of dedicated professionals from multiple roles in the organic seed community. We're pleased to welcome our newest board member who joins us from the Northeast. Ken Greene is co-founder of the Hudson Valley Seed Library, a project he germinated in a small town library that has now blossomed into a seed company and organic seed farm devoted to producing seed for home gardeners and farmers, fostering a regional seed-saving community, and celebrating the diversity of seeds through art.
In Good Tilth Free the Seeds "When the National Organic Program (NOP) was launched in 2002, only a handful of companies sold certified-organic seed. The NOP's organic seed requirement was coupled with a necessary exemption allowing the use of untreated, conventional seed when 'an equivalent organically produced variety is not commercially available,' recognizing that organic seed is..." read full article.
California Certified Organic Farmers Organic Seed Resources Available for Farmers and Certifiers "In the past, it was a challenge for many organic farmers to source organic seed. Fortunately, there are now a number of resources available to make it easier for farmers to find organic seed or to produce it themselves. These resources include the new Organic Seed Finder website, Organic Seed Alliance's..." read full article.
Organic Broadcaster Books Prepare Farmers to Grow, Save Diverse Seeds "'Seeds are a sacred thing. Everything we have now is built on farmers selecting seeds for millennia. All of that genetic diversity is a great gift. Seeds should not be owned, patented, or controlled,' explained David Podoll, organic seed breeder, as he and his family were recognized as the MOSES 2014 Organic Farmers of the..." read full article.
Open Source Seed Initiative Launches 'Free Seed' Pledge The Open Source Seed Initiative (OSSI) hosted a rally on the campus of the University of Wisconsin - Madison to kick off the release of 29 plant varieties under a new open-source pledge. The initiative is inspired by open source software, and has the intention of protecting seed from becoming proprietary products. The event is being...read more.
Save Our Bees, Save Our Seed Pollinators are an essential partner in our work to build healthy, organic seed systems that support biodiversity and provide high-quality seed. The focus on pollinators earlier this month is a helpful reminder that the dramatic and ongoing decline in pollinators -- both commercially managed as well as native species -- threatens not just the viability of organic seed producers but food...read more.
Who'll Own Our Seed? Author Lisa Hamilton has written a must-read article (“Linux for Lettuce“) on how utility patents -- patents for inventions -- impact the future of our seed and food. In this comprehensive piece, she describes the recently launched Open Source Seed Initiative (OSSI), which is one example of how some plant breeders and independent seed companies are responding to the dangerous trend...read more.
Organic Seed Field Day and Training | August 12, 2014 | Waynesville, North Carolina Join Organic Seed Alliance, Cornell University, and North Carolina State University for an organic seed field day and training at the Mountain Research Station in Waynesville, NC, on August 12, 2014. The field day will include results from cucurbit variety trials that are helping researchers identify Downy Mildew resistance. Learn more
Student Organic Seed Symposium | August 17 - 21, 2014 | Ithica, New York Organic Seed Alliance is a proud sponsor of the 2014 Student Organic Seed Symposium. This year's symposium focuses on regional adaptation for sustainable food and seed systems and includes field trips, workshops, and keynote addresses given by distinguished speakers. Learn more
National Heirloom Exposition | September 9 - 11, 2014 | Santa Rosa, California Join Organic Seed Alliance's Jared Zystro at the 3rd Annual National Heirloom Exposition. The event includes many keynote speakers, educational workshops, exhibits, and activities. Learn more
Jefferson County Farm Tour | September 14, 2014 | Jefferson County, Washington Save the date to join OSA and other Olympic Peninsula agriculture organizations at the 12th annual Jefferson County Farm Tour. Details TBD. Learn more
Hoes Down Harvest Festival | October 4 - 5, 2014 | Yolo County, California Join Organic Seed Alliance's Jared Zystro at this year's Hoes Down Harvest Festival to be held at Full Belly Farm in California. Weekend events include hands-on workshops, live music, food, crafts, silent auction, and a wellness tent. Learn more
Organicology | February 5 - 7, 2015 | Portland, Oregon Organic Seed Alliance is a proud co-sponsor of Organicology. While most sustainable ag events design content with specific audiences in mind and with an intent to provide those audiences with opportunities to broaden and deepen skills bases, Organicology seeks to bring all of the stakeholder groups to the table to not only develop skills in their own areas of activity but to gain exposure to the challenges and accomplishments of those in other areas of the trade and movement. Learn more
Organic Agriculture Research Symposium | February 25 - 26, 2015 | LaCrosse, Wisconsin Join Organic Seed Alliance's research team at the innagural Organic Agriculture Research Symposium in LaCrosse, Wisconsin. The syposium aims to provide current information to farmers, ranchers, extension, and other agricultural professionals, educators, and others interested in organic agriculture. Learn more
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“OSA is a convener, partner, and leader in creating the alternative -- a regionally based seed system by us and for us. Collaboration in their spinach breeding work has given me hands-on experience through which I've gained both skills and confidence as a seed grower.”
Common Ground Farm