Those who control the seed system, control the food system. And yet, over the past 50 years, as we’ve lost the majority of our plant breeds and seed companies, we’ve also divorced plants from their place. Cultivars are no longer bred to thrive in a certain bioregion or soil type. Rarely are they developed for drought or flood tolerance. Nor are most seeds bred under organic systems, which means that most organic growers are planting seeds that thrive on soluble synthetic fertility. Most breeds are also far less nutrient-dense now as breeders have focused on yield and appearance while forgetting about nutrition.
There is now a growing movement to reclaim seeds and breeds, to re-localize them to particular bioregions, and to return to growers the power to participate in the process. Participatory Plant Breeding (PPB), as this movement is called, suggests that through partnerships between professional breeders and growers, we can develop better genetics and provide growers with new streams of income. This field day brings together growers, veteran breeders, and seed experts to discuss how we can reclaim our seed systems while also diversifying our enterprises.
Here’s a rundown of the day’s events:
Session 1: The state of organic seed and keeping seed in the public commons
Session 2: Incorporating seed work on your farm or garden
Potluck Lunch (use your odd varieties, forgotten breeds, and mutant vegetables!) + Bicycle-Powered Seed Processing Demo
Session 3: Participatory Plant Breeding- what it means, how to get involved, and where do we go from here?
Session 4: Plenary Q & A
Adrienne Shelton – Adrienne is the Northeast Organic Product Specialist for Vitalis Organic Seeds. She earned a Master’s degree in Plant Breeding and Plant Genetics and a doctorate in Environment and Resources at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Her research included plant breeding for organic farming systems and intellectual property rights for public cultivars. Adrienne is proud to have participated in the breeding and release of Who Gets Kissed?, an open-pollinated sweet corn bred for and with organic farmers. She helped to organize the first Student Organic Seed Symposium in Vermont in 2012, and has been actively involved with the group ever since. Adrienne has been engaged with the organic farming movement as a farmer, organizer, seed saver, and researcher for 15 years.
Heron Breen – Heron Breen has worked for Fedco Seeds for 18 years and is a lifelong resident of Maine. Born to back-to-the land homesteaders, he practices “balance” with a full time position at Fedco and farming. His professional life is focused on vegetable trialing, GMO testing, plant diseases, and in-house operations. His personal farm is the place where he grows produce and ideas as well as where more plant breeding and seed production fills the fields.
Hannah Traggis – Hannah Traggis is the Senior Horticulturist and an educator at Massachusetts Horticultural Society. Raised by a horticulturist, her lifelong love and pursuit of plant biology has led her to formal academic training in marine botany and plant breeding. She is currently a master’s candidate in Plant Physiology at the University of New Hampshire where she also taught Botany and an ethnobotany course. Hannah can be found at Mass Hort alongside the gardens curator, planning and cultivating the many Gardens at Elm Bank and shaping them to more fully serve Mass Hort’s historic educational mission. Pursuing her many horticultural passions, she shares her experience and knowledge on subjects ranging from organic agroecology and food production to engaging children and teens through garden based school programs through a series of workshops, lectures, and field days.
Micaela Colley – leads Organic Seed Alliance’s research and education programs focused on organic seed production and organic plant breeding. She is the author of several publications. Micaela frequently teaches and speaks on organic seed topics and collaborates on research projects nationally. Micaela is also pursuing a PhD focused on organic and participatory plant breeding under Dr. Edith Lammerts van Bueren at Wageningen University in the Netherlands.
Bill Braun – Bill and his partner Deanna Levanti grow vegetables, herbs, flowers and fruit on 5+ acres using sustainable practices and with great respect to biological diversity. Bill launched the Ivory Silo Seed Project, in Westport, MA, with a mission to foster a regionally adapted seed stock for growers along the South Coast of MA and RI. The farm is currently building infrastructure to serve as a hub for seed processing and education, and partnering with farmers and gardeners to expand seed saving efforts. This year, the project is transitioning into the Freed Seed Federation, a 501c3 nonprofit dedicated to place-based organic breeding and crop improvement for the public commons.
Round The Bend Farm
92 Allen Neck Rd.
Cost: NOFA Member – $60, General Public – $72
* Add $5 for day-of registration
Limited scholarships are available for beginning farmers (those growing 10 or less years) who are active NOFA/Mass members. To apply please click here.
There will be a potluck lunch. Please plan to bring a dish to share.