Organic Seed Alliance recently hosted a week-long Virtual Field Tour on Instagram Live (IGTV) in lieu of our in-person Community Field Day. In a typical year, our Annual Community Field Day is a gathering filled with bustling activity and celebration of the year’s work at our research farm in Chimacum, Washington. As we approached the tentatively scheduled time for this year’s field day it was difficult not to feel sad and discouraged by all of the monumental challenges that so many have experienced in 2020. What initially felt like a defeat for not holding the 6th Annual Community Field Day quickly morphed into excitement for the possibilities that lay ahead. Embracing a different spin on this annual gathering provided opportunities to engage with our community in a way that we hadn’t before.
Over 1,000 virtual participants tuned-in for our broadcasts from the field last week. In contrast, our community field day last year was attended by just over 100 people. Since our broadcast, we’ve received messages from people across the U.S. and internationally letting us know that they had not been able to afford the time or travel expense to attend our field days in the past and were deeply grateful for the opportunity to engage this year virtually.
We want to thank all of you who were able to join the live broadcasts and the many more who have viewed the IGTV recordings of each day’s tour. We are so thankful for this community and our ability to connect with you both near and far.
For those not on Instagram, recordings will be made available on our YouTube channel in the coming weeks. Each video is between 30-50 minutes. An overview of the material covered on each day can be found below.
Monday | Sweet Corn and Flour Corn
Welcoming everyone to the farm for the week-long installment, OSA’s Micaela Colley, Laurie McKenzie, and Katie Miller kick off the tour with a focus on corn. Both the sweet corn and flour corn crops are part of our Northern Organic Vegetable Improvement Collaborative (NOVIC) project. Our work with sweet corn is focused on breeding for a mild maritime climate. OSA’s Laurie McKenzie discusses our evaluation criteria as well as some of the challenges of growing sweet corn in the Pacific Northwest. The breeding material for this project began with about 90 different lines and crosses which came from Bill Tracy at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Through this partnership, we are also able to advance the timeline of our breeding work by utilizing the universities’ winter nursery in South America. The 216 plots that were grown this year at our research farm in Washington state are evaluated and scored based on performance in an organic system in a maritime climate. The research team looks at every plot and evaluates individual ears for good husk coverage, tip fill, straight row kernel formation, and most importantly, taste.
Another part of our NOVIC project is focused on dry corn specifically for tortilla making quality. This year we evaluated 12 different varieties from various seed companies, eight from Walter Goldstein at The Mandaamin Institute, and 12 from the National Germplasm Repository. Each year, OSA conducts variety of trials of the dry corn breeding crops in the NOVIC project. In addition, we work with local farms and ask what they would like to see more of in these trials. Through our partnership with Viva Farms, a farm incubator program in Skagit Valley, Washington, we’re working with a number of Oaxacan immigrant farmers there who want to find a good dry corn variety that will produce reliability in the region’s cooler climate. The dry corn they were growing from Oaxaca was adapted to a lower latitude and shorter day length and wouldn’t start to flower until the fall in the Pacific Northwest.
Tuesday | Quinoa, Buckwheat, and Storage Onions
Both quinoa and buckwheat are important small grains and essential for regional food resilience. Many local farmers use these grains for rotation crops grown in dry-farm systems.
Quinoa is part of a local farmer-breeder project led by the Washington State University’s Sustainable Seed Systems Lab. Quinoa is a highly diverse crop and variety trials are a great way to compare traits and potential performance for a given farm system. We discuss traits of interest to local growers such as earliness and open floret structure with a nice dense seed set. Selecting for these qualities will contribute to a more regionally adapted quinoa for growers in the Pacific Northwest. The results from the quinoa variety trials were featured in this year’s virtual International Quinoa Symposium in August.
A new crop of focus for this year is buckwheat. The research team is evaluating several varieties from European sources, including the Czech seed bank, in partnership with WSU Sustainable Seed Systems Lab. We had an opportunity to partner with Bonnie Morales from KACHKA a Russian restaurant in Portland, Oregon, at the last Culinary Breeding Network Variety Showcase in February, 2020. Morales had expressed that she’d had a difficult time sourcing quality culinary buckwheat in the U.S. This project is part of an international trial network called EcoBreed evaluating buckwheat for culinary quality, nutrition, and phosphorus uptake. One of the goals is to develop a dual use buckwheat variety that can be used both as a cover crop and as a culinary grain crop.
As a bonus, the research team takes a quick detour to check on our recently harvested storage onion variety trial. Laurie discusses some desirable traits that we were looking for in the trial and answered some questions about temperature and day length sensitivity in onion seed production.
Wednesday | Tomatoes
Wednesday highlights two different tomato projects – TOMI and NOVIC. The Tomato Organic Management Improvement (TOMI) project, is a national breeding partnership looking at a number of crosses made by the breeding team to assess for quality and disease resistance. This project is being led by Dr. Lori Hoagland at Purdue University. Over the last five years OSA has worked with a number of different partners on this project to develop and test new breeding populations in a wide range of different environments across the U.S. This current phase of the project will take place over the next five years and will include testing different bio-pesticides and disease management methods for organic production, creating and testing new breeding populations under a range of different growing systems and environments, and incorporating a farmer participatory breeding element to develop varieties that suit regional needs. The third phase of the TOMI project analyzes the element of induced systemic resistance in tomato production. Induced Systemic Resistance (ISR) is a plant-soil microbe interaction. We are evaluating healthy plant responses to ISR and assessing how much is environmental and how much is genetic. Dr. Hoagland’s work will determine if it is possible to breed plants for improved plant-to-microbial interaction.
Another focus of our NOVIC project is a tomato variety trial evaluation with Pacific Northwest farmers. NOVIC includes both breeding and variety trial networks. These trials are specifically looking at evaluating for early fruiting, disease resistance, and performance as a high tunnel crop. The varieties chosen for this trial were a result of conversations between local farmers and our research field assistant, Katie Miller.
Thursday | Cabbage, Collards, and Purple Sprouting Broccoli
In partnership with the French National Institute for Agriculture (INRA), OSA is evaluating cabbage diversity from the French seed bank. This French farmer-participatory project is re-introducing heritage cabbages into production with seven different farmers in Brittany, France. The climate of Brittany is very similar to that of the Pacific Northwest and made for a good opportunity to conduct trials of these heritage varieties in an environment that they would already be suited for.
The Heirloom Collard Project was launched in 2016 by Seed Savers Exchange and Ira Wallace of Southern Exposure Seed Exchange. Variety trial data on 18 different heirloom varieties grown at eight screening sites, on 250 farms across the country using the SeedLinked platform. The project aims to highlight five different areas: variety preservation, historical documentation, education and engagement, seed-catalog promotion, and cultural foodway preservation. The Culinary Breeding Network will host Collards Week as part of their Eat Winter Vegetables Project from December 14th – 17th 2020.
Purple Sprouted Broccoli (PSB) is growing in popularity in the Pacific Northwest as a winter specialty crop during a time of year when the diversity of local foods is limited. Since 2009, OSA has partnered with at least eight farms to breed an open-pollinated variety of PSB selected for cold tolerance, yield, and quality sprouts. The project is a partnership with Washington State Department of Agriculture Specialty Crop Block Grant program that includes developing the market and evaluating the economics of PSB in addition to researching the optimum field production practices.
Friday | Carrots
The Carrot Improvement for Organic Agriculture (CIOA) project evaluates extensive crop diversity to identify interesting qualities and regional adaptation in carrots. The research team does a deep dive into all things carrots and discusses everything from how we select best roots for breeding work, which traits we are prioritizing such as top height and root quality, to beneficial nutrient contents such as lutein, lycopene, and anthocyanins and how they present in the color diversity of these different breeding populations. Carrots are very environmentally sensitive and can be a challenging crop to grow if the variety isn’t suited to an organic system. A tour of our pollination isolation tents shows how we manage 14 different populations of carrots in any given year. Utilizing pollination tents allows us to keep these different carrot populations from crossing with each other and keep the breeding work moving forward.
Many of the variety trial results mentioned in the week’s broadcasts will be posted to our Resource Library later this autumn.
We’d like to thank our many partners involved in our wide range of projects. Engaging in collaborative work is a deeply ingrained part of our mission and values.
Carrot Improvement for Organic Agriculture (CIOA)
Heirloom Collard Project
Northern Organic Variety Improvement Collaborative (NOVIC)
Northwest Quinoa Trials
Sustainable Seed Systems
Tomato Organic Management and Improvement (TOMI)
Blue Moon Produce
Broken Ground Farm
Colorado State University
Coriander Creek Farm
Culinary Breeding Network
Deep Harvest Farm
Dharma Ridge Farm
Eldur Heron Farm
French National Institute for Agriculture (INRA)
International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM)
Nash’s Organic Produce
North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University
North Carolina State University
Organic Farm School
Oregon State University
Red Dog Farm
Seed Savers Exchange
Southern Exposure Seed Exchange
Sunfield School Farm
The Mandaamin Institute
The Utopian Seed Project
United States Department of Agriculture
University of California Riverside
University of California Bakersfield
University of Wisconsin-Madison
Washington State University Food Systems Team
Washington State University Sustainable Seed Systems Lab
Wild Dreams Farm