Summer 2008 Newsletter

Welcome to the June 2008 Seed News, OSA’s electronic newsletter. It’s packed, so enjoy reading it. I also want to encourage you to email me with requests for subjects to be covered in future issues, including articles you would like to write. We can’t pay for your authorship, but we will send you an OSA poster and be very grateful. We also hope to print an annual newsletter - a State of the Seed Report - that would be comprised of more in-depth reporting as well as some of the “best of” articles that we glean from the electronic Seed News. In the meantime, between issues be sure to check out and subscribe to the blog SeedStory for fairly regular blog postings on a variety of seed issues from myself along with guest contributors like Frank Morton.

Three more things before you jump in.

First, I want to thank all of the outgoing OSA Board of Directors. It has been a great pleasure for all of us at OSA to work with you. We will continue to be inspired by your good work in seeds and plant breeding, and look forward to future collaborations with you. Our deep appreciation to:


  • Steve Jones, Washington State University – founding director of OSA board
  • Jim Myers, Oregon State University
  • Bill Tracy, University of Wisconsin
  • Steve Zwinger, North Dakota State University - founding director of OSA board


Secondly, I want to welcome our new board members. Glad you all have such big feet to fill the aforementioned shoes. We are really excited and grateful for your willingness to volunteer your time and energy to the work of OSA. We welcome:


  • Beth Benjamin, Hort Consort
  • Steve Harris, Alpern, Myers, Stuart, LLC
  • Fred Kirschenmann, Leopold Institute
  • Edith Lammerts van Bueren, Wageningen University and Louis Bolk Instituut


Finally, please consider supporting OSA with a donation! We appreciate your continued interest and support of seed.

Warm regards,
Matthew Dillon
Director of Advocacy




From the Director's Desk

FFSC logoThe amount of work that has been accomplished at OSA this winter and spring has been astonishing! We emerged from 2007 a little lean on program funding, but fortunately due to contributions from private donors we were able to put our heads down and focus on laying strong foundations for the future, which is precisely what our strategic plan called for. Two of the most notable accomplishments we are proud to share with you all are the formation of the Organic Seed Growers and Trade Association and the Family Farmers Seed Cooperative.



Purple-Olive Shaped Radish - A HoT Project

Recognizing that seed knowledge is being lost even more quickly than genetic diversity, OSA trains farmers in basic on-farm seed saving, crop improvement, and plant breeding practices via our Heirlooms of Tomorrow projects. Some projects are focused on breeding new varieties, such as ‘Abundant Bloomsdale’, and others are restoring and improving older varieties, such as John Navazio’s ‘Rhubarb Supreme Red Chard’. We recently received funding from two local sources, a grant from Natural Products Northwest and donations from the plant sale of the Port Townsend Garden Club, to work with local Port Townsend farmers on a new Heirlooms of Tomorrow project. So in 2008 we set out to restore an old and venerable radish; but along the way we found ourselves confronted by a mystery that was wrapped inside a double helix of genetics and partially concealed by an obscure 18th century text. The DaVinci Seed? Not quite, but a decent lesson in heirlooms, varietal maintenance, and storytelling.



Research Update

Participatory plant breeding (PPB) remains a core focus of the OSA Research Program. In participatory breeding projects there is a true partnership between a farmer, who has an intimate knowledge of the production and market demands of a particular crop, and a plant breeder who is well versed in these needs and in the appropriate field breeding techniques to develop varieties. As OSA plant breeder John Navazio says, “It is an equal partnership”.

To maximize the impact of our PPB work, this winter the OSA Plant Breeding Committee was formed to advise and participate in OSA plant breeding research and education, including PPB projects.

As the 2008 field season gears up three OSA-PPB projects are underway. The three projects include an open-pollinated SE sweet corn with cold soil tolerance, bred by farmer Frank Morton and plant breeder Bill Tracy, an open-pollinated broccoli, bred by farmer Julie Puhich and plant breeder Jim Myers, and an open-pollinated, sweet, curly red kale bred by farmer Nash Huber and plant breeder John Navazio. These are continuations of projects that were funded in 2007 by a grant from the Organic Farming Research Foundation.

To read more about these projects and other recent OSA Research Program updates visit our recently updated OSA Research webpage.



World Seed Fund

This past year, our World Seed Fund program has been gently bubbling with several extraordinary seed donation projects. Over twenty-five of our donation ensembles - which include packets of seeds, planting advice and seed saving materials - went to projects in Kenya, Colombia, Guatemala, Senegal, Malawi, Tanzania, Panama, relief efforts in New Orleans, prisoners, homeless gardens and low-income farm education projects in various locales within the US. Read on for a particularly enlightening recipient story about the Tanzanian Children's Fund.



Roundup Ready Sugar Beet Update
As many of you know by now, Organic Seed Alliance, Center for Food Safety, Sierra Club, and High Mowing Seeds initiated a lawsuit in January of 2008 challenging the deregulation of herbicide-tolerant “Roundup Ready” sugar beets by the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). (Read on for more on this lawsuit.)



A Frank Response to the Industry

Since filing the lawsuit there have been flurries of articles and editorials in publications throughout the country as well as calls for boycotts of companies who plan on using the sugar from these plants. We've included in this newsletter a response to the sugar beet industry by Frank Morton, farmer, breeder, and all-around seedhead.


Popping Bean Utility Patent Abandoned
As a public plant breeder, Dr. Jim Myers pays attention to plant patents that may impact the ability of public university breeders to conduct research. Beans are one of Jim’s primary interests, and over the last few years he has tracked patent on an indigenous “popping” bean. He gives us this update on the nuña bean.



Organic Seed Growers Conference
Our 2008 conference was a great success. Thanks to all who participated! This link will take you to a short article about the conference, including details of conference events.



Uncertain Peril: Book Review
My spring reading included Claire Hope Cummings’ new book Uncertain Peril - Genetic Engineering and the Future of Seeds, a book that had been recommended to me by several folks in the food and farming world, including Fred Kirschenmann, whose advice is gold standard enough that you don’t even need to read my review, just go get the book. Of course I’ll give you my two cents anyway to go along with Fred’s gold.



Recent Funding Excitement

OFRF Grant Gives Support for Organic Seed Publication
In 2008-2009 OSA will publish new organic seed production guides on Carrots, Onions, Lettuce, and Chard/Beets. These guides provide technical support and references for seed growers and other seed industry professionals. The guides will be modeled after existing OSA publications on beans, radish, and spinach production. We are grateful to the Organic Farming Research Foundation for their continued support of our work. For downloadable pdfs of these educational publications and additional educational materials visit our Publications page.


OSA Receives Grants for Seed Enterprise Development
Organic Seed Alliance received a Specialty Crop Block Grant from the USDA and Washington State Department of Agriculture to develop a national market for specialty grown organic vegetable seed and launch the Growers Organic Seed Cooperative.

OSA Receives Washington-USDA Rural Business Enterprise Grant

This grant is to further support the development of the seed producer cooperative, with focus on providing technical assistance to farmers and coop members on the Olympic Peninsula. Organic Seed Alliance will work with its partners at Jefferson LandWorks Collaborative, Shorebank Enterprise Cascadia and the Northwest Cooperative Development Center to deliver high quality training and technical services to producers interested in developing commercial seed production skills, capacity, and infrastructure. 

The new producer-owned cooperative will enhance the quality of seed, increase organic seed farm income and help organic producers across the country comply with National Organic Program requirements for use of certified organic seed.

CornerStone Campaign Supports Seed Advocacy and Policy Work
In May, OSA’s Advocacy Program received a grant from the CornerStone campaign to support their work in protecting and promoting organic seed systems. In particular the grant will focus on OSA’s work in contamination issues, and in our involvement with the (OSGATA) Organic Seed Growers and Trade Association’s Seed Integrity Committee. OSA is grateful to CornerStone for their support and encouragement. Protecting farmers’ rights to save seed, and to have access to uncontaminated seed is vital to our education and research goals and to the success of organic farming. We encourage you to learn more about OSA Advocacy and OSGATA and consider supporting this work by becoming a member of OSGATA.



Upcoming events - Mark your calendars!

Farm Walk:  “Integrating Seed into a Diversified Organic Farm”
September 8, 2008 - Nash's Organic Produce, Sequim, WA

Growing seed on-farm is a viable diversification strategy that can build farm financial and environmental sustainability. Micaela Colley from Organic Seed Alliance will join Nash and the farm crew to lead a Farm Walk demonstrating the benefits of on-farm seed production. Following the Farm Walk, a classroom and hands-on seed saving workshop will be taught by Nash Huber and Scott Chichester of Nash's Organic Produce, and Micaela Colley of Organic Seed Alliance. Read on for more details about the farm walk.


  • Farm Walk 9:30 to 12:00. Cost $10 Tilth members, $15 non-members.
  • Lunch 12:00 to 1:00.
  • Seed Saving Workshop from 1:00 to 4:00. Cost $10 Tilth members, $15 non-members (space limited)

Offered by Tilth Producers, WSU Small Farms Team, and Organic Seed Alliance

Organicology 2009! February 26 – 28, 2009
Organic Seed Alliance, Oregon Tilth, and Organically Grown Company are joining to co-host the first Organicology conference and trade show in Portland, Oregon. The three-day event will include day-long intensive classes, ongoing workshops, a trade show and great food, music, and organic spirit. The event vision is to bring together a broad diversity of members of the organic community including farmers, researchers, seed companies, retailers, processors, organic certification agencies, advocacy groups, chefs, consumers (or co-producers) and many more to share perspectives, challenges and successes in their fields. Watch the OSA webpage for ongoing updates from the planning committee.

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“The resources that OSA has made available to the larger seed community are amazing. Having an advocacy organization dedicated to seed education and organic seed production makes my job as a seed producer so much easier.”


Rowen White

Sierra Seeds

Nevada City, California