Summer 2012 Newsletter

Organic Seed Alliance believes that some of the best innovation happens in the field. Farmers and traditional plant breeders have historically played a crucial role in building our nation’s crop base for modern agriculture to thrive and expand. This is why we advocate so passionately for a participatory approach to developing diverse, resilient crops for the future. We work with farmers both in the field and at the federal policy level to ensure they have the seed they need to be successful.


As you’ll read, we published a Participatory Plant Breeding Toolkit earlier this month to facilitate these on-farm projects. Experience shows that participatory breeding is especially effective for developing regionally adapted seed. Many farmers rely on seed that is bred for other regions – seed that no longer meets ever-changing pest and disease pressures or performs well in their local environments.


When regional seed systems are strong, so too are the food systems that rely on them.


OSA’s regional work continues to expand across the country. Some highlights include:


  • Our California staff set off on a university speaking tour this spring, and launched organic, on-farm variety trials to build off our 2011 regional assessment.

  • A two-day course here in Washington that included in-depth instruction and a field tour of our ‘Abundant Bloomsdale’ spinach breeding project.

  • An upcoming organic seed assessment in the Midwest. (Don’t miss OSA’s Dr. John Navazio at the Seed Savers Exchange conference on July 20 – 22, 2012, in Decorah, Iowa. His keynote will kick-off this regional project! You can also catch him in Wisconsin in August 2012.)


OSA’s projects start in the field as a convener of local expertise and knowledge. We foster field-based innovation that delivers diverse seed options for a region’s organic community. This is an essential model for productive food systems and the greater global food supply, both now and into the future.


Please invest in regional seed innovation today with your tax-deductible donation to OSA, at any level you can afford.


See you in the field,

Micaela Colley
Executive Director



Building Organic Seed Systems in California

California has the largest agricultural economy in the U.S. This probably does not come as a surprise to anyone who can picture rolling hills of grape vineyards or vast fields of lettuce. Less well known is that over one-third of California’s agricultural economy is from seed production. With its dry summers and falls and its myriad of microclimates, California is a world-class producer of many vegetable, field crop, and flower seeds. However, at present, too little of the seed that California is producing is adapted to the needs of diverse sustainable agriculture systems. That is why OSA is so excited to be working to build sustainable seed systems in the golden state. This year, thanks to generous support from Columbia Foundation, Gaia Fund, USDA Rural Development and the USDA Organic Research and Education Initiative, OSA will be busy continuing our work building organic seed systems in California. Read more



Participatory Plant Breeding Toolkit Now Available

This June, OSA announced the release of the nation’s first Participatory Plant Breeding Toolkit. The new publication supports participatory plant breeding (PPB) projects that aim to increase the availability and quality of organic seed. PPB is a highly effective on-farm breeding method that involves a close collaboration between farmers and researchers.The approach provides farmers an opportunity to adapt crop varieties to their specific regions and organic farming practices.


The toolkit includes a background on the theory and practice of PPB, case studies of successful projects, and worksheets to facilitate project planning and execution. This publication was made possible through a grant from Organic Farming Research Foundation (OFRF), and is available for free download here.



Vegetable Seed Production Tutorials

OSA has created new multi-media seed production tutorials for beets and chard, brassicas, carrots, lettuce, onions, and wet seeded crops, along with tutorials on seed climatic considerations, seed disease and seed quality. These tutorials combine text, images, audio and video to teach you professional techniques for organic seed production. The tutorials are based on presentations given by organic seed experts at the 2011 Organicology conference and are funded through Western SARE. Access the tutorials here.



Heirlooms of Tomorrow: Abundant Bloomsdale Spinach

We work with farmers through our Heirlooms of Tomorrow program to breed new varieties and restore older varieties for the needs of organic farming and gardening. As part of our Heirlooms of Tomorrow program, OSA has been working for several years on a new spinach variety that we are calling ‘Abundant Bloomsdale.’ This new variety has a vigorous, upright growth habit with deeply savoyed (crinkled), dark green leaves. The dark green color means ‘Abundant Bloomsdale’ is high in carotenoids like lutein and beta-carotene, which are very effective phyto-nutrients that promote good health. Everyone who has tasted the new variety agrees it has a sweet flavor and tender texture. Read more



Fundamentals of On-Farm Plant Breeding Course

This June OSA, with support from Seed Matters, hosted our Fundamentals of On-Farm Plant Breeding Course to a group of 25 dedicated students. OSA Senior Scientist and Washington State University Seed Extension Specialist Dr. John Navazio taught the 2-day workshop which covered the biology of seed production, seed harvest and cleaning, conduction variety trials, basic on-farm breeding techniques, and a field visit to see our Abundant Bloomsdale Spinach trials in the ground. View a slideshow of the event here.



First Textbook on Breeding for Organic Agriculture Available

OSA is a proud co-author of Organic Crop Breeding, the first textbook on breeding for organic agriculture. This comprehensivetext provides readers a review of the latest efforts by crop breeders to develop improved varieties for organic production. The book opens with chapters looking at breeding efforts that focus on specific valuable traits such as quality, pest, and disease resistance, as well as the impacts improved breeding efforts can have on organic production. The second part of the book is a series of case studies from around the globe that look at breeding efforts underway in crops ranging from carrots to corn. Organic Crop Breeding includes chapters from leading researchers in the field and is edited by two pioneers in organic plant breeding with long ties to OSA’s research and education efforts: Dr. Edith T. Lammerts van Bueren and Dr. James Myers. Order your copy today.



The Farm Bill and Seed

By now you have probably received more Farm Bill emails than you can count. With the Senate passing its Farm Bill last week and the House taking it up next month, here's a quick update on how seed is fairing in these discussions. 

First, some good things: we’re pleased that certain programs aimed at supporting the success of organic farmers were maintained or improved in the Senate Farm Bill. For example, advocates (like you!) helped kill an amendment that would have eliminated the organic certification cost share program. Certification cost share helps thousands of small- to mid-scale farmers (especially those transitioning to organic) offset the cost of certification. And we're also pleased that an amendment passed that requires USDA to set appropriate crop insurance payment levels for organic farmers. Currently organic farmers receive a price that doesn't reflect organic prices (and they pay more for this insurance, too)…Read more



Seed Broadcast Highlights

NOSB to USDA: Actions on GE Crops Insufficient
OSA applauds the National Organic Standards Board’s (NOSB) recent decision to ask the U.S. Agriculture Secretary to better address the organic community’s long-standing concerns on issues of GE contamination. At the board’s…Read more


OSA’s California College Tour
Innovative programs at California colleges are training our next generation of farmers in organic, sustainable agricultural practices. These students will go on to be some of tomorrow’s farmer leaders. But while they may learn…Read more


Thoughts on Breeding for Organic Farms
The organic movement has grown because many recognize that the path of breeding and farming that humanity is presently engaged in needs to change if it is to lead to healthier humans and a healthier planet. In conception and practice…Read more


SE Farmers Need Organic Seed Research, Education
Organic Seed Alliance (OSA) has released findings from an organic seed survey conducted in the Southeast region of the U.S. Findings point to enormous interest among farmers and other agricultural professionals in strengthening...Read more


Seed Know-How: 2012 Organic Seed Manuals
A practical breeding manual for growers and gardeners was recently published by the Northeast Organic Farming Association of New York (NOFA-NY). Breeding Organic Vegetables: A Step by Step Guide for GrowersRead more


‘Breeding for Nutrition’ Recordings Available
An eOrganic webinar, “Breeding for Nutrition in Organic Seed Systems,” originally presented at OSA’s 2012 Organic Seed Growers Conference, is now available as a three-part series...Read more



Upcoming OSA Events

Seed Savers Exchange 32nd Annual Conference and Campout | July 20-22, 2012
Join OSA Senior Scientist and event keynote speaker, John Navazio, at this year's Seed Savers Exchange Conference and Campout. The event will take place at the Seed Savers Exchange's Heritage Farm in Decorah, Iowa and include seed specific workshops, demonstrations, and entertainment. For more information, please visit the conference website.


Student Organic Seed Symposium | August 5-8, 2012
The purpose of the Student Organic Seed Symposium is to develop and support new leaders in organic and sustainable plant breeding and seed systems. This project is a student-led initiative that provides a unique opportunity for graduate students interested in organic seed systems to share resources with one another and learn from leaders in the field. OSA's John Navazio and Jared Zystro will present workshops on Participatory Plant Breeding and organic breeding at this exciting new symposium that will be held in Greensboro, Vermont. For more information, please visit the Student Organic Seed Symposium website.


Seed Saving and Breeding for Organic Farms | August 13, 2012
Learn the fundamental skills to maintain, develop, and adapt seed varieties for your organic farm at this workshop hosted by University of Wisconsin-Madison and the Organic Seed Alliance. The workshop is presented as part of the Northern Organic Vegetable Improvement Collaborative (NOVIC), a farmer-researcher participatory network working to breed and test varieties in the northern tier for organic farms. Organic plant breeding specialist Dr. John Navazio and Professor Bill Tracy will discuss such topics as: the biology of seed, on-farm seed production basics, choosing appropriate seed crops for your system and climate, maintaining the genetic integrity of varieties with appropriate population sizes and isolation distances, conducting variety trials, and basic on-farm breeding techniques such as mass selection and progeny testing. NOVIC participants from UW will share regional NOVIC efforts and trial results. This workshop will be of interest to farmers who want to improve their success with saving seed for on-farm use as well as those seeking to breed their own varieties or grow seed on a larger scale. Visit the NOVIC webpage for more details.


Carolina Farm Stewardship Association Sustainable Agriculture Conference | October 26-28, 2012
Join OSA's Micaela Colley at the 27th Annual CFSA Sustainable Agriculture Conference in Greenville, South Carolina this October. The event includes workshops on regional seed security, farm business, policy, hands-on techniques, and farm walks. For more information,please visit the CFSA Sustainable Agriculture Conference website.


Tilth Producers of Washington Annual Conference | November 9-11, 2012
Join OSA's Kristina Hubbard and Jared Zystro at Tilth Producers of Washington's annual conference in Port Townsend, Washington. Twenty-five workshops will be offered throughout the weekend by organic and sustainable farmers, researchers and agency educators. Included will be an OSA workshop on seed concentration and protecting organic integrity. For more information, please visit the Tilth Producers of Washington conference website.


Seed Production 101 | November 10, 2012
Join OSA's Jared Zystro at Mano Farm in Ojai, California to learn the fundamental skills to produce seed and develop and adapt seed varieties for your organic farm conditions. Topics will include the biology of seed production, seed harvest and cleaning, choosing appropriate seed crops for your system and climate, maintaining the genetic integrity of varieties with appropriate population sizes and isolation distances, conducting variety trials, and basic on-farm breeding techniques such as mass selection and progeny testing. Follow our event page for more details to come.


Southern SAWG Practical Tools and Solutions for Sustaining Family Farms Conference | January 23-26, 2013
Join OSA for Southern SAWG's annual conference in Littlerock, Arkansas. The conference will include a seed track co-organized by OSA staff. For more information, please visit the Southern SAWG Practical Tools and Solutions for Sustaining Family Farms Conference website.


Organicology Conference | February 7-9, 2013
Organicology is an interactive conference designed to meet the diverse needs of our rapidly expanding trade. The conference offers educational and networking events that enhance the understanding and skills of our diverse organic community, from seed producers and farmers, to distributors, retailers, researchers, chefs, policy activists, and eaters. The 2013 conference will take place in Portland, Oregon and continue to focus on sustainability, farming and seed issues, and a wide range of timely topics that impact the organic trade. For more information, please visit the official Organicology website.

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“I believe in OSA and their mission -- they are accomplishing great things. Their work complements our efforts at Seed Savers Exchange, and we’re delighted to be partnering with OSA on a new seed saving book.”


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Rhinebeck, New York