Spring 2015 Newsletter
The Carrot Improvement for Organic Agriculture (CIOA) project launched an online tool this month to help farmers find new and existing varieties -- and varieties in the works -- of carrots, especially carrots of novel colors. The new gallery is the first of its kind and includes over 30 carrot varieties and advanced selections included in CIOA. Gallery users can search material by color, disease resistance, shape, flavor, length, origin, top size, and commercial availability. Also included are images of each carrot -- both the full root and a cross-section showing the core. The gallery will be updated to include links to project trial results.
This season we are partnering with farmers throughout California to conduct trials of onions, silage corn, sweet corn, kale, beets, carrots, quinoa, cabbage, broccoli, and other crops. In addition to trials, we are working on several exciting breeding projects including one with the largest quinoa grower in the state to breed better varieties for organic agriculture. California will also be the primary site for the largest organic sweet corn breeding program in the country, with over three acres and thousands of plots dedicated to the project.
This winter OSA co-hosted the first-ever California Organic Seed Summit in Sacramento. The summit brought together organic seed growers and organic seed companies to create long-term strategies and actions for building organic seed systems in the state. The event proved to be the perfect forum for fostering relationships and creating a plan to actualize a shared vision to improve the availability, diversity, quality, and integrity of organic seed grown in California. The summit proceedings will be released this spring, outlining the challenges, opportunities, and actions identified by participants. As a result of the summit, over 70 commercial seed producers are participating in OSA's online network to put into action the needs identified by the group. Read more about the event.
Our work with partners in the Southeast continues to expand as we enter the third year of the Eastern Sustainable Organic Cucurbit Project (ESO-Cuc). Cornell University leads this participatory plant breeding project in partnership with OSA, North Carolina State University, and Auburn University. The four-year project includes three years of variety trials that include melons, squash, and cucumbers in New York, North Carolina, and Alabama. Researchers are looking for breeding material with resistance to Downy Mildew, Striped Cucumber Beetles, and viruses. Trial results inform future breeding projects for developing new organic varieties with strong resistance to these common regional issues. We're also thrilled to report that project leader Michael Mazourek of Cornell University and Common Wealth Seed Growers have released a new Downy Mildew resistant cucumber variety, DMR 264. It is rare for a research project to yield such immediate returns for producers, but this new release is indicative of the strong cooperative relationships being established under this grant and the bright future for a robust organic seed system in the Southeast.
This winter OSA broke ground at our brand new research farm in Chimacum, Washington. This fertile, farmland will serve as our main research hub for the next five to ten years, allowing us to conduct breeding work, variety trials, and seed production at one central location. Our trials this year include tomatoes, chicory, carrots, Swiss Chard, sweet corn, storage cabbages, storage onions, red bell peppers, purple sprouting broccoli, delicata and acorn squashes, and butterhead and romaine lettuce. We are also producing seed for varieties of spinach, cabbage, carrot, cilantro, and purple sprouting broccoli. One greenhouse is currently full of seedlings for our 2015 trials, and we'll be adding a high tunnel greenhouse this spring for carrot seed production and tomato and pepper trials. This work is made possible thanks to grants from the USDA's Organic Research and Extension Initiative (OREI).
If you're on the Olympic Peninsula this season, please join us for volunteer work parties at our new research farm. The first event will be Friday, April 3rd, at 10:00 a.m. Learn more about the event.
OSA is working in partnership with Nash's Organic Produce in Sequim, Washington, to breed a new variety of purple cabbage for the Pacific Northwest. The project is in its first year and is part of the Northern Organic Vegetable Improvement Collaborative (NOVIC). Our goal is to create a new variety that has great flavor, brilliant red/purple color, and storage and production traits, including tight heads, disease resistance, and good size and shape. This winter storage cabbage will provide local food throughout the winter.
We are currently producing seed from a cross between two parent varieties. The parent plants are just about to flower in the greenhouse where the warm conditions accelerate bolting and seed production, allowing us to produce and harvest seed by early summer and plant it in time to get heads forming by late autumn. Cabbage is a biennial plant that normally takes two years to produce seed, but we are using a greenhouse to complete the seed production cycle in a single year. This means we can accomplish twice as much breeding work in one season.
Variety trials are an important, although often overlooked, strategy for managing risk. Choosing the right crops and varieties for your local climate, field conditions, and market can significantly minimize loss and increase agricultural success while avoiding the expense of investing in poorly adapted or poorly performing varieties. OSA's On-farm Variety Trials: A Guide for Organic Vegetable, Herb, and Flower Producers provides training in basic, on-farm experimental design, as well as tools to efficiently and effectively manage on-farm trials and use trial results.
OSA is also 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 country. We accept scientific trial reports year-round. The trials should be conducted in organic systems, and replicated and evaluated using documented methods. If you have trial results to share through this database, we want to hear from you! Please contact OSA's Jared Zystro.
Save the date for the 8th Organic Seed Growers Conference from February 4 - 6, 2015, in Corvallis, Oregon. Join OSA and co-hosts Oregon State University, Washington State University, and eOrganic for the largest organic seed event in the U.S. Expand your seed knowledge and skills, hear the latest in scientific research, and discover new resources and tools that help you grow and sell more seed. Together we are changing our food system one seed at a time. Hear from past participants about this inspiring, cutting-edge gathering.
Is your business or organization interested sponsoring this one-of-a-kind event? Early bird sponsorship packages are available until April 1, 2015. Learn more here.
We're thrilled to announce that a new text for seed savers will be available this spring thanks to our collaboration with Seed Savers Exchange. Together we've written and edited The Seed Garden: The Art and Practice of Seed Saving, which is filled with advice for both gardeners and the more seasoned horticulturist on saving seed from open-pollinated plants. The book is beautiful, combining stunning photographs with clear instructions on how to save seed from more than a dozen crop types. The book makes seed saving accessible to everyone, while helping readers develop a deeper understanding of the importance of practicing this important act as a way to conserve and improve the genetic diversity of our seed heritage. Here's an interview about the book with the executive director of Seed Savers Exchange. You can order The Seed Garden here (ships spring of 2015).
We are busy analyzing data from our 2014 State of Organic Seed survey sent to organic farmers across the U.S. We’ll be publishing the full findings in February 2016, but here’s a sneak peek: Organic farmers who responded to our survey are planting more acreage to organic seed compared to 2009, and they are generally more satisfied with the performance of that seed. There is also strong interest in purchasing organic seed to encourage investments in organic plant breeding. OSA staff and partners shared these and other preliminary findings this past winter at eight organic farming conferences. Thanks to those of you who participated in one of these listening sessions! These and other stakeholder discussions will inform our recommendations for improving the availability, quality, and integrity of organic seed. We’ll keep you posted on the five-year update to our report, which serves as the only national assessment of organic seed systems.
Contamination by genetically engineered (GE) crops is a problem for farmers and buyers who strive to provide seed, crops, and food free of these novel traits. The USDA continues to promote the concept of “coexistence,” which we commented on here, and is inviting comments in response to an invitation-only meeting it hosted in Raleigh, North Carolina, earlier this month. You can watch recorded webcasts from the two-day meeting, and access relevant documents, such as “New Proposed USDA Activities,” at this link. Despite a deadline extension, the timeline for delivering comments is very short: April 10, 2015. You can submit comments here. Questions? Contact OSA’s Kristina Hubbard.
The next National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) meeting will be in La Jolla, California, from April 27 - 30, 2015. On the agenda are two documents pertaining to organic seed that are open for public comment: (1) a discussion document on the definition of “excluded methods,” and (2) draft guidance on prevention strategies for excluded methods, including GMOs. You can find all the meeting materials, including these documents, on the NOSB website. And save the date for the National Organic Coalition’s (NOC) pre-NOSB meeting on April 26. Learn more about NOC’s meeting here.
U.S. Senators Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), and Representative Peter DeFazio (D-OR), have re-introduced the Genetically Engineered Food Right-to-Know Act, legislation that would require the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to clearly label GE ingredients. Polls show that more than 90% of Americans support labeling. Furthermore, 64 countries already require it. Meanwhile, competing legislation dubbed the “DARK” act -- Denying Americans the Right-to-Know” -- was also re-introduced by Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-KS) to block any federal or state action requiring labeling of GE food, which, among other bad precedents, would reverse state labeling successes. In 2011, the Center for Food Safety submitted a federal petition to the FDA to label GE food. The FDA has yet to respond to the petition, despite receiving more than 1.4 million comments supporting the petition. Do you support labeling? Tell your members of Congress today.
Hundreds of seed libraries have popped up across the U.S. in less than a decade. The goals of these seed-saving initiatives are quite simple: to save and share more seed for the public good. These libraries also help to save and share more seed knowledge through education. Beginning last year, state governments started to crack down on some of these libraries, applying laws designed to regulate commercial seed sales to these non-commercial operations. More than 300 non-profit seed libraries are now potentially at risk of being regulated out of existence, and a campaign, “Save Seed Sharing,” is collecting signatures on a petition addressed to all 50 state departments of agriculture to make sure that doesn’t happen. We believe seed laws and regulations play an important role in quality assurance in the marketplace, but we believe the laws shouldn’t be applied to community seed swaps and other forms of donations that occur outside the commercial marketplace.
OSA recently co-hosted the Organicology conference in Portland, Oregon, where more than 1,000 people representing all sectors of the organic food chain gathered to discuss -- and further create together -- a vision for growing the organic sector from the seed up. Few food and farming conferences aim to inspire interaction between diverse players, where farmers get to know CEOs, organic certifiers visit with food retailers, and policy wonks meet public plant breeders. The event is deliberate cross-pollination at its finest.
Read more here about the workshops we hosted at the event and the Heirlooms of Tomorrow dinner that highlighted many of our breeding projects, like 'Who Gets Kissed?' sweet corn ice cream. We also worked with eOrganic to live broadcast selected workshops form the conference.
OSA joined other researchers from all over the world for the first Organic Agriculture Research Symposium in La Crosse, Wisconsin, this past February. The event highlighted some of the newest research on organic plant breeding and other seed research, soil health, organic markets, and more. You can watch some of the presentations through eOrganic.
We are thrilled to grow our team with the addition of Steve Peters assisting in California outreach and research in the Bay Area/Central Coast. Steve is based in San Mateo and brings years of experience and passion in organic research and the organic seed industry. He received his master's degree in agronomy from Cornell University, and has served as a research agronomist for Rodale Institute and the seed production manager for Seeds of Change.
Katy Davis also recently joined the OSA team as an intern/field technician after completing Washington State University's Farm Innovation, Education, and Leadership Development program in Jefferson County, Washington. She received a master's degree in marine microbial ecology from Duke University, where her research focused on the genetics of plant-microbe interactions. In addition to farming and gardening, Katy also likes to surf, hike, and explore the Pacific Northwest.
MOSES Organic Broadcaster Farmers, breeders collaborate on new organic sweet corn "'Our approach to plant breeding is what sets ‘Who Gets Kissed?’ apart from other sweet corn varieties in the marketplace,” said Micaela Colley, executive director of Organic Seed Alliance. “‘Who Gets..." read full article.
Seed World Organic Seed Gains Ground "Why is organic seed important to the integrity of agriculture? Seed is the important first link in any production system and provides farmers the genetic tools to confront the day-to-day challenges in the field," says Kristina Hubbard, Organic Seed..." read full article.
Civil Eats Seeds: The Heart of Organic Innovation "In response, Seed Matters is training organic farmers to re-engage with this aspect of their work, with the hope that they will also find ways to improve the foods we eat. They partner with OSA to do on-farm breeding and encourage farmers..." read full article.
Greenhorns Radio Episode 219: Jared Zystro "The word heirloom often makes you think it's something that gets passed down from generation to generation. The reality is that seed and heirloom varieties do change - they are part of our global ecosystem...." listen to full episode.
CSA News Magazine Back to basics: Breeding plants for organic agriculture Kristina Hubbard, communications director for the non-profit Organic Seed Alliance (OSA), says, “We recently heard from one organic seed company that there are so few organic seed suppliers that a single...” read full article.
USDA Ditches GMO Regs: What It Means The U.S. Department of Agriculture recently announced that it’s ditching a 2008 proposal that would have updated GMO regulations. When these engineered crops landed in our fields and grocery aisles, U.S. decision makers chose to rely on a patchwork...read more.
OSA's 'Abundant Bloomsdale' Spinach Hits Marketplace OSA is proud to announce the release of a new spinach variety called ‘Abundant Bloomsdale’. The name is a tribute to OSA’s predecessor, Abundant Life Seed Foundation. “Our newest commercial release exemplifies Organic Seed...read more.
Volunteer Work Party Kick-Off | April 3, 2015 | Chimacum, Washington Join OSA for our first volunteer work party of the 2015 growing season at our new research site at Brown Dairy farm on Friday, April 3rd, at 10:00 a.m. This is a great opportunity to become more engaged in OSA's work and learn about organic farming, plant breeding, harvesting methods, and seed saving. Brown Farm is located at 9165 Rhody Drive in Chimacum, WA. Contact Katy Davis for more information.
Thor Hansen Reading and Lecture | April 10, 2015 | Seattle, Washington Join OSA's Micaela Colley for this reading and lecture with author Thor Hansen. Hansen will read from and discuss his new book, The Dominating (and Essential) Power of Seeds, at Town Hall Seattle on April 10, 2015, at 7:30 p.m. Purchase tickets
Mother Earth News Fair | June 6 - 7, 2015 | Albany, Oregon Join OSA's Laurie McKenzie for this year's Mother Earth News Fair at the Linn County Expo Center in Albany, Oregon. Visit us as at our booth and seed workshops. Fair hours are Saturday from 9:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. and Sunday from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Learn more
8th Organic Seed Growers Conference | February 4 - 6, 2016 | Corvallis, Oregon Our next Organic Seed Growers Conference will be held February 4 - 6, 2016, in Corvallis, Oregon. Here's what past participants say about this one-of-a-kind event. Learn more
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