What Farmers and Gardeners Need
There is a growing awareness among gardeners and organic vegetable farmers that we need a reliable supply of high-quality organic seed that is adapted to the challenges found on organic farmers. Astute growers, those with years of experience under their belts, are increasingly realizing that the number of vegetable varieties suited for their operations and gardens is diminishing.
Growers are seeing a real narrowing of the open pollenated vegetable varieties that have been commonly available due to the consolidation of the seed industry. Many varieties that have a specific climate, cultural adaption or market traits that are considered limited in their sales potential are cut from a corporate seed company's sales list and replaced with varieties that have more universal appeal.
Most varieties that remain are those well suited to high-input production systems and geographic areas with ideal climates. The varieties that are dropped are the ones less well suited to large-scale centralize agricultural areas. Large-scale conventional farmers and corporate seed companies have been driving this trend since the 1970s, and this trend has only accelerated in the past decade.
Amid this climate of consolidation and diminishing choices, varieties in many crops have been reduced to F1 hybrids. While it is true that most organic vegetable growers have been using a good number of F1 hybrids, the standard open-pollinated (OP) varieties that have been around for years have also played an important rule in many of the planting slots that make organic farming successful. The OP varieties, carefully maintained by seed companies from the 1940s through the 1970s, have been the reliable workhorses, notable for their ability to produce good crops in less-than-deal conditions. However today, many of the OP varieties have not been adequately maintained through selection and proper varietal upkeep.
Passing on the Seed is Sacred
With the loss of crop diversity choices and corporate patenting of seed varieties, the idea of organic farmers and gardeners producing vegetable seed began to gain traction in the 1990s. For some is was purely an act of necessity: seed of an OP variety important for their production was no longer available. For others, growing for the organic seed market seemed a potential moneymaker. Necessity has become the mother of invention and a number of pioneering farmers and gardeners started to find ways to grow, harvest, thresh and clean seed.
Because seed companies often only breed and produce seed for one or two of its most ideal climates, few new vegetable crop varieties are adapted to a wide array of conditions, something that was once an important part of the picture when there were many more regional seed companies.
Many of the practices of organic farming today are in sharp contrast to the industrial farming model that large seed companies sell hybrids for. Organic farmers and gardeners are producing vegetables across a much greater range of terrains, soil types and fertility regiments than what has become the norm in mono-crop high input conventional systems. We need to preserve and expand open pollinated varsities and have places safe to produce them without danger of crossing from hybrid or GMO crops.
Until recently, the growing of seed was an integral part of all agricultural practice. Keeping an eye on a crop's performance and selecting seed from the best plants was a vital part of the process. A farmer's ability to maintain a good seedstock was one of the key elements in determining has or her prosperity.
This has left fewer and fewer people in agriculture who possess the skills to produce high-quality vegetable seed. We have lost the diversity of people whow know how to perform all of the steps in this process, which is not about just growing the seed but also maintain the variety, keeping it free of seed borne diseases and harvest and milling it to the point where it's suitable for commercial use.
The model of vegetable seed companies being the exclusive purveyors of seed has really only existed for roughly the past 50 to 100 years. The seed is then disseminated through smaller distribution and retail companies that generally have little or no involvement with the actual seed growing. Here is a typical example of how seeds from Tozer, the largest European seed company, are being sold by well known American seed packet companies as their own.
Heirloom Seeds of the Future
An Heirloom is a plant of value, capable of reproducing itself from seed, open-pollinated, that can be handed down to the next generation. An Heirloom variety is generally considered to be a cultivar dating back to before 1945 World War II or 1951 the beginning of widespread introduction of the first hybrid varieties.
We sell the seeds that matter, open pollinated to save your seeds, heirlooms for heritage, herbs for health, perennials for no till and flowers for the beneficials.
Restoration Seeds is creating a vital network of seed growers to preserve and expand available genetic diversity and keep it in the public domain. We want you to join us in growing the heirlooms of today and tomorrow. Thank you for purchasing your seeds directly from family farmers.
© 2014–2017 Restoration Seeds, LLC
Part adapted from The Organic Seed Grower: A Farmer's Guide to Vegetable Seed Production, 2012, by John Navazio, VII, Introduction.
Photos: Top, The Village Farm field, farmer Michgael DiGiorgio. Bottom Left, Bridget finds a Musque de Provence. Bottom Right, Charlie celebrates just finishing weeding a seed crop bed.
Seed to Seed: Seed Saving and Growing Techniques for Vegetable Gardeners, 2002, Suzanne Ashworth.
Enduring Seeds: Native American Agriculture and Wild Plant Conservation, 1989, Gary Paul Nabhan.
Buffalo Bird Woman's Garden: The classic account of Hidatsa American Indian gardening techniques, 1987, Gilbert L. Wilson.