I (Shannon) just returned from the Organic Seed Growers Conference in Oregon.
I attended because I want to learn to improve our skill at growing seed crops (vegetable, herb, and flower) we grow on our farm
AND to meet (in-person) other seed growers from across Canada who had been part of a peer-to-peer seed exchange group during the 2016 season. (to learn who is in this group: http://www.seedsecurity.ca/en/15-program-overview/what-we-do/training-and-networking/200-the-cross-canada-peer-exchange-project)
I found it physically exhausting to travel across the continent and 4 time zones. But after some sleep, the incredible weather in Corvallis, Oregon was rejuvenating. I was amazed to see green grass, flowers, and some huge tree trunks.
Most vegetable farmers don’t grow any seed crops. It’s much more common for grain farmers though and I think many vegetable farmers would be more interested if it didn’t seem so intimidating. Also, there’s a BIG difference between saving ALL the seed you need for your farm and saving seed from a FEW of the crops you grow.
Saving ALL the seeds we grow on our farm would be a full-time job!
The workshops I ended up attending at the conference helped me to:
• Figure out how I could incorporate seed production into our farm without wasting a lot of time and money.
• Learn from people who have been growing and breeding seed crops for a long time: the Seed Elders!
• See how our agricultural policy could support seed security in Canada (seed security is a building block to food security).
• Breed our own vegetables! Especially how we can use input from our customers to do it!
Check out these beautiful paintings! The Hudson Valley Seed Library gets artists to paint incredible pictures for their seed packets. Many of the paintings were displayed on a wall and they were incredible!
We’ve been growing these Bumble Bee cherry tomatoes for a few years now.
In the picture below, you can see inside the seed packet from Hudson Valley Seed Library for a bit of the story behind the seeds.
I LOVED the variety tasting event!
We tried 3 or 4 varieties of a crop (Delicata squash, Kabocha squash, Green chicory, Red Chicory, Green cabbage, Red cabbage). We tried them both raw and prepared (cooked, fermented, or mixed with dressing) and judged how they tasted and how they looked.
I totally want to do something like this here. Who’s with me?
The seed swap was the most amazing, intense seed swap I’ve been ever to!
I wanted some of these hot pink Oca tubers, but I knew I wouldn’t be able to get them across the border.
I picked up some Cascadia pea seed at the seed swap.
Cascadia pea seeds are not rare or hard to find in seed catalogues. We’ve been buying this variety and even saving seed of it for a few years. We’d been finding more and more off-types (peas without the qualities we wanted) in the seed we’d been buying, which was our primary reason for saving the seed ourselves.
Well, excitingly enough, I picked up a spoonful of seeds straight from the original breeder, James Baggett, who had sadly passed away a week prior to the conference. But his seeds were there for sharing! I’m excited to build up my stock of these Cascadia pea seeds and then bring them to market for fresh-eating, and then eventually, to share the seed with others.
I picked up a bunch of other cool seeds too and it will be great to see how they do on our farm! Some of them could end up contributing to a breeding project (like the red pepper project we have planned!).
A breeding project?
I know most of you know about heirloom seeds but we’re super inspired by the “heirlooms of tomorrow.”
Heirlooms of tomorrow are the traditionally-bred, new varieties of open-pollinated and organic seed that plant breeders and farmers are working on at this time in history.
Heirlooms are, by definition, varieties that have been around at least 50 years. And a lot of them are incredible. But there are a lot of cool people working on cool varieties RIGHT NOW. And we want to support them in their awesome work!
We’re really excited about the idea of breeding new varieties on our small farm through selecting qualities suited specifically to OUR soils, OUR personal preferences, and the qualities that OUR customers seem to like best.
This will mean that some of our vegetables will be totally unique. And that our customers will have more input in our food system. What could be better than that?!
I have so much gratitude to the organization that made it possible for me to attend this incredible conference:
The Bauta Family Initiative on Seed Security (seedsecurity.ca) is a Canadian initiative working towards getting more organic, ecological seed grown in Canada and used by Canadians. You can read more of my blog posts about seed (some feature Bauta) here: