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Archive for the ‘seed libraries’ Category

drawer-open-jsrcc-blogGood news for seed libraries! In July 2016 the American Association of Seed Control Officials (AASCO) added an amendment to the Recommended Uniform State Seed Law (RUSSL) to exempt seed libraries and other non-commercial seed sharing initiatives. The RUSSL is the guide that state legislatures look to when setting their own seed laws. The AASCO is made up of seed control professionals from each state department of agriculture. Making this amendment a reality is the result of work done by a committee composed of representatives from AASCO, the American Seed Trade Association, seed librarians, and others active in the seed world. Granted, this doesn’t mean it is a part of all state seed laws now; however this recommendation will influence those seed laws.

Minnesota, Nebraska, Illinois, and California have already passed laws exempting seed libraries from their state seed laws. Sometimes it is just a matter of interpretation when applying the existing laws. The Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture has now decided that seed libraries and other non-commercial seed exchanges are exempt from regulation without requiring an act of congress. What it did require is action by a statewide group led by the Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture (PASA), Grow Pittsburgh, the Public Interest Law Center and members of the Pittsburgh Food Policy Council. Individuals and other organizations were also involved in this effort to work with the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture to change their interpretation of their seed laws, which is all very interesting because it is their original interpretation that brought up the issue of seed libraries being in violation of state seed laws in the first place.

SeedLibraries~MENI am the author of Seed Libraries and Other Means of Keeping Seeds in the Hands of the People, published by New Society Publishers in early 2015. During the year I spent writing that book, I tracked down every seed library I could find evidence of for information. Although much of this work was done by computer, I was able to physically visit some of them. My years of experience as a seed saver contributed to the book, also. Seed libraries were popping up all over the country and changing constantly. I contacted all the seed libraries I wrote about to confirm my information. As much as I found out about seed libraries, nowhere was there any mention about their legality until just before I sent my finished manuscript to the publisher. In late June 2014 I started receiving emails about the Simpson Public Library in Pennsylvania being approached by the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture and told that it couldn’t distribute seeds as planned, which is the same plan that I had written about. You can find more about that in my post Seed Libraries: Challenges and Opportunities. The world of seed libraries was in an uproar. I included an afterword in the book to address the situation, being pretty sure that things would settle out, and they seem to be doing that, but not without the efforts of seed library activists. You can find more information about the Simpson Seed Library and their legal issues on their updated webpage.

seed-library-poster_2-13-15-e1423881096561-blogWhat does this all mean for seed libraries in states that haven’t exempted them from the state seed laws yet? To answer that question I consulted Neil Thapar, food and farm attorney with the Sustainable Economies Law Center. I met Neil at the International Seed Library Forum in Tucson, AZ in May 2015 and he has been at the forefront of the effort to work through the legal issues of seed libraries. Neil and I both agree that you should proceed with your seed library plans, but to be 100% sure that your seed library will not be challenged by the laws in your state you would need to contact the Department of Agriculture in your state. It may be that there is no issue with seed libraries because of how the existing seed laws are worded.  If it is questionable and you are told there is nothing to worry about, get that in writing. There are actions currently being taken in some states to have the AASCO amendment on seed libraries adopted.

The AASCO recommendation is a template for language that the states can use for tseed-envelope-and-rubber-stamp-blogheir own laws. You can view the seed library amendment here. To receive updates about what is going on in the seed library world go to seedlibraries.net. The amendment is for “non-commercial seed sharing”, which means that no money should change hands for seeds. It also means that the seeds are freely shared and that there is no expectation of seeds being brought back. Some seed libraries may have had their patrons sign a paper pledging to bring seeds back. That should be changed. In reality, though, even if they signed the paper, that doesn’t mean that they actually brought seeds back. Lots can happen between planting seeds and having a harvest of viable seed, no matter how good your intentions are when you start. Other specifics concern label requirements, which are easy enough to comply with. In fact, having good information on the packages of seed offered has been encouraged with seed libraries early on and you will find examples of labels in my book. Since these seed sharing initiatives are non-commercial, “no distributed container shall hold more than eight (8) ounces of agricultural seed or four (4) ounces of vegetable or flower seed.”

If you use the AASCO amendment as a guideline for your seed library I would think you should have no problems. Do check with your state if you have concerns. Seed libraries should communicate with each other, particularly ones in the same region. Join The Seed Library Social Network. The seed library movement is so much more than just the sharing of seeds. It is the celebration of seeds. I see education about seed saving and sharing to be the most important aspect. No matter how many seeds you distribute, if those who receive them don’t grow them and save the seed properly, you are not moving forward. With enough education and celebration about seeds, growing and saving them will follow naturally. For more ideas on forming a seed library and keeping it going, consult Seed Libraries and Other Means of Keeping Seeds in the Hands of the People, which is sale-priced at Homeplace Earth through January 1, 2017. Happy seed sharing!homeplace earth

 

 

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SeedLibraries covergrow a sustainable diet coverAfter being away from this blog since I broke my wrist in March, I’m back! To celebrate my return, I am offering a 25% discount through January 1, 2017 on my cover crop and garden plan DVDs and on my books Grow a Sustainable Diet and Seed Libraries. As always, shipping is free in the US. My DVDs and Grow a Sustainable Diet are educational tools and used in the sustainable agriculture program at Reynolds Community College in Goochland, VA where I used to teach. When I produced them, I had in mind those who couldn’t take my classes in person. So, if you have been wanting to learn more about cover crops, garden planning, garden plan dvd coverplannicover-crop-dvd-blogng your diet around your garden, and planning your permaculture homestead, take advantage of this opportunity to purchase an educational  program that will walk you through the process and help you apply your new found information to your own situation. Or, you may have someone on your holiday gift list that would benefit from these materials. You’ll find these sale prices on my website at www.HomeplaceEarth.com, along with deals for a few great books that I didn’t write.

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flax flowers in the garden

I did enjoy my time off from writing. No matter what you are involved in, it is always good to step back now and then. My wrist has healed nicely, although I am still a bit careful with it. My husband and I took a long-awaited trip to Ireland in May and it was nice not working blog posts around that. In spite of working slower due to my injury, I grew several new crops this year. Flax for linen has been harvested and retted and is

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wool yarn nestled among the Japanese indigo plants it was dyed with

waiting for me to build some fiber tools to process it (next on my to-do list). I trialed two kinds of rice this year. I also grew Japanese indigo and used it for some dye work, part of my new focus on fiber and textiles. Once I was sufficiently recovered, I was back to spinning my homegrown naturally-colored cotton for a shirt that I intended to make, weaving the fabric on my small table loom. It’s finished and I wore it for the first time on Thanksgiving.

Working with homegrown fiber is important to me in so many ways. Of course, there was the challenge to see if I could grow, spin, weave, design, and sew garments for myself to wear, and now I have a vest and

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAa shirt. Hurray! I’ve used my time away from this blog to read and learn more about the history of textiles. What was once local production fueled the industrial revolution and the exploiting of people and resources has continued ever since to bring us cheap clothes—way too many cheap clothes. When you shop for clothes I would like you to consider how the people who produced them and the earth that provided the raw materials were compensated to bring you such bargains. There is much to talk about on this subject, so stay tuned. I will be telling you all about my new homegrown, handspun, handwoven, naturally-colored cotton shirt in a future post. I will also be sharing my adventures with the flax, rice, Japanese indigo and other natural dyeing, while I continue addressing the many topics you have enjoyed in this blog.

Learning about my new shirt, however, will have to wait until I fill you in about what has been happening in the seed library world. Seed libraries have been deemed exempt from state seed laws, by the way. You can learn more about that in my next post, which should appear next week. After that I will go back to my old schedule of posting every two weeks.

The video Seed: The Untold Story has been making the rounds and will be shown in Charlottesville, VA on December 8. You need to reserve your ticket ahead of time and you can do that here. After the film there will be a question and answer period with a panel staffed by folks from Southern Exposure Seed Exchange and ME. If you go, be sure and catch me afterwards. I’m always happy to meet the people who read my words.homeplace earth

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seed-library-poster-BLOGOn May 3-6 I attended the first International Seed Library Forum in Tucson, Arizona. This event brought together many of the movers and shakers in the seed library world that I wrote about in Seed Libraries and we all got to meet face-to-face! It sure beats communicating by email, which is what I did to have each one confirm what I had written about them or their project in my book.

As soon as I arrived at the hotel I met Rebecca Newburn, the person who propelled the seed library movement into what it is today by putting all the information on the Internet in a way that it could be easily replicated. She is also the one who keeps the Sister Seed Library list up to date. That List was a tremendous help to me when I was writing Seed Libraries. My friends Ira and Irena from Southern Exposure Seed Exchange were already at the hotel, as well as Cary Fowler, special adviser to the Global Crop Diversity Trust. Gary Nabhan arrived in short order with a van and took us to visit the San Agustin Mission Garden. Although Gary gave credit to others for organizing this conference, I believe it was his idea and it couldn’t have happened without his guidance and connections.

Arbor at the San Agustin Mission

Arbor at the San Agustin Mission

The San Agustin Mission Garden is a living agricultural museum of Sonoran Desert adapted heritage fruit trees, traditional local heirloom crops and edible native plants. One of the many important crops grown here is White Sonora wheat, perfectly suited for tortillas, among other uses. It was an export crop for Arizona in the l9th century, providing wheat for flour that fed armies from both the North and South during the Civil War. As food systems changed to an industrial model White Sonora wheat was only grown by a few farmers. Through the efforts of Native Seeds/SEARCH, White Sonora wheat is being brought back into commercial production. Living in Virginia with an annual rainfall of about 44 inches a year, it was really interesting visiting Tucson where the average rainfall is about 12 inches annually.

With those thoughts of wheat attuned to the Arizona climate, you can begin to understand just how important it is to have seed libraries to preserve the varieties that do the best in individual regions. We need to discover what grows best in our own areas and keep those crops and varieties available and in production locally. A few state departments of agriculture have decided that seed libraries need to be governed by the state seed laws and that is what brought us all together that week. Two lawyers, Neil Thapar from the Sustainable Economies Law Center and Neil Hamilton from Drake University Agricultural Law Center provided guidance on legal matters throughout the Forum and particularly in drawing up the Joint Resolution in Support of Seed Libraries. That document will help those who are working on legislation to make seed libraries exempt from seed laws. I met Betsy Goodman of the Common Soil Seed Library who has been active on that issue in Nebraska.

I was able to attend the session concerning establishing an International Seed Library organization. Thanks to Rebecca Newburn and her Cool Beans newsletter (May issue), you can view the minutes of the meeting here. You will find me second from the left in the panoramic photo. Information about Cool Beans is available at seedlibraries.net where you can sign up to receive it and stay in the loop about seed library issues.

The two panels I participated on were Lessons Learned from Seed Lenders: Evaluating Seed Library Outreach and Educational Needs and What’s Next for Seed Libraries. Other sessions delved into additional means of securing community access to seeds, such as SNAP and gleaning; providing seed access to beginning farmers; working with non-profits; and working with school and youth garden programs. Seed Savers Exchange was represented at the Forum by John Torgrimson and Toby Cain. It was good to see Bill McDorman of Rocky Mountain Seed Alliance again. Bill and his wife Belle wrote the Foreword for Seed Libraries and operate Seed School which I attended last November.

Seed Broadcast van with Chrissie Orr.

Seed Story Broadcast van with Chrissie Orr.

And then there was the collection of stories. There is a photo in Seed Libraries of the Seed Story Broadcast van and, don’t you know, it was there! I was happy to see it that first evening when we arrived at the Loft Cinema for a seed swap in the parking lot and later inside to view Seeds of Time, starring Cary Fowler. There were so many people to meet during the seed swap—people I had corresponded with while writing the book, people I had corresponded with since writing the book, and people seeking me out who had read the book. Several people told me they had been reading Seed Libraries on the plane and I had the cartoon image in my head of airplanes converging on Tucson with the passengers all reading Seed Libraries! It was so much fun talking with everyone. Jeannette Hart-Mann and Chrissie Orr collect seed stories and broadcast them from their Seed Story Broadcast van, which is an opportunity to collect art as well as stories. It was wonderful to actually meet them. They later parked the van outside the Pima County Library and whenever I went outside during the breaks I would hear them call my name to come and leave a story, so I did.

Matthew and Keri checking the selections at the Pima County Seed Library.

Matthew and Keri checking the selections at the Pima County Seed Library.

The Pima County Public Library hosted the Forum at the Joel D. Valdez Main Library. When I was researching for the book, people told me they were helped by information provided by the Pima County Seed Library resources. Justine Hernandez was instrumental in making that happen. Gary Nabhan announced that this conference was indeed international with five countries represented—then participants spoke up, adding two more to the list. I met more Canadians than I expected, including Matthew from Victoria Seed Library in Victoria, British Columbia, Keri, an urban farmer from Saskatchewan, Jacob from the Toronto Seed Library, and Rupert who grows seeds for Salt Spring Seeds and operates Kairos Botanicals. There are too many new friends to mention, but I value my visit with each of them. Wanda, local to Tucson, was very helpful to those of us new to the city, popping up with good advice when we needed it, such as places to eat. As things wound down at Native Seeds/SEARCH on the last day she gave me a pink rock in the shape of a heart that was gathered from around Tucson. What a nice treasure to have to remember everything that happened over the past few days.

There was no admission fee to this conference thanks to support from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, the Amy P. Goldman Foundation, and the Arizona Library Association. This event was presented by a collaborative effort of: Community Food Bank of Southern Arizona, Edible Baja Arizona magazine, The Friends of Tucson’s Birthplace’s Mission Gardens, The Loft Cinema, Mercado de San Agustín, Native Seeds/SEARCH, Pima County Public Library, and University of Arizona. Additional co-sponsors included Greenhorns, the National Young Farmers Association, the Seed Library Social Network, Seed Savers Exchange, and the Rocky Mountain Seed Alliance. The artwork was created by Paul Mirocha Design.

To Gary Nabhan who first called me to see if I would participate, to all the folks who made it happen, and to my many new friends, THANK YOU for a wonderful few days in Tucson! Seed libraries are thriving and the groundwork has been laid to make sure they stay that way.Homeplace Earth

UPDATE 5/30/15

Hear my seed story at Seed Broadcast at https://soundcloud.com/seedbroadcast/cindy-conner-talks-about-cherishing-the-gift-of-seeds.

Learn more about the International Seed Library Forum at Mother Earth News.

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SeedLibraries~MENSeed Libraries: And Other Means of Keeping Seeds in the Hands of the People has arrived! Homeplace Earth is well stocked and ready to fill orders with signed copies. Writing this book has brought me in touch with wonderful people all over North America who are making a difference in their communities by setting up programs for saving and sharing seeds. You will meet them in the pages and learn what they did and how they did it, giving you ideas to follow their lead with your own program.

Don’t really understand what the big deal about seed is? Seed Libraries will take you through how our society went from one of independent seed savers to a society dependent on corporations for its seed needs and the danger that looms if we don’t take action to change now. The reasons you should save seeds are discussed, such as preserving genetic diversity, flavor and nutrition, unique varieties, and cultural heritage. Other reasons include growing to seed to attract beneficial insects, saving money growing your own seeds, and learning new skills. It is always good to learn something new and seed saving will make you a better gardener.

Seed libraries are often located in public libraries. You will learn just how much these institutions have to offer. Having a seed library located in a public library is good for community access and good for a public library that wants to expand its programs and stay relevant to the community it serves. Whether a seed library is located in a public library or elsewhere, often it is in partnership with other groups. You will find examples of some of these groups and their projects in this book.

Mississippi Silver cowpeas with 80% germination. Two days later they achieved 100% germination.

Mississippi Silver cowpeas with 80% germination. Two days later they achieved 100% germination.

You need seeds to start a seed share program and you need to take care of them. Where to find seeds to start, how to take care of them, and how to do a germination test to make sure the seeds are still viable is all covered. You also need people supporting your project. You will discover who would be beneficial to have on your committee and how to form a mission statement. A mission statement is one of the most important things you can have to define your project to others.

How to package the seeds, sign up seed-sharing members, and how to educate your members so they will bring back healthy seeds that haven’t cross pollinated with other varieties is all in the book. The plight of seeds is so important that everyone should be aware of seeds, not only the seed savers. This book is loaded with ideas to celebrate seeds throughout the year, keeping the excitement and momentum going for all involved.

Not all seed share programs take the form of organized seed libraries. Sometimes it starts with friends saving and sharing seeds among themselves and grows to public seed swaps. In fact, seed swaps are good ways to become acquainted with sharing seeds and are a good prelude to a seed library. You can use the ideas in this book to organize your own seed swap.

If you are already involved in a seed library, the ideas in Seed Libraries will help to energize your project. There is so much to know and think about and this book puts it all together in one place, making it easier for you to have the information at hand, and easier to explain it to others that you want to involve in your project. Just give them a copy and you can discuss the issues together. Links to Internet resources are listed, giving you access to the helpful materials there and keeping you up-to-date on the changes that seed libraries are experiencing as these new seed sharing programs continue to evolve.

We are living in exciting times and I invite you to be part of the positive changes that are coming in our society. I hope you like the book!Homeplace Earth

 

UPDATE: In Seed Libraries I wrote about Sascha DuBrul being the one to come up with the idea for the first seed library. In his blog post http://www.mapstotheotherside.net/history-of-seed-libraries/ he tells the back story of that time. Keep reading to the end and he posts what I wrote about him in the book, which will help you to understand his story. You never know what will happen to your ideas when you follow your heart–and being a little crazy is not necessarily a bad thing.

 

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Seed Swap table at the VA Biological Farming Conference.

Seed Swap table at VA Biological Farming Conference.

The terms Seedy Saturday and Seedy Sunday were not in my vocabulary until I was doing research for Seed Libraries and Other Means of Keeping Seeds in the Hands of the People. Seedy Saturday usually referred to an event in Canada and Seedy Sunday usually referred to an event in the United Kingdom, but not always. Seedy Saturdays, Sundays, or any day actually, are events that celebrate seeds. Seed sharing occurs there through vendors selling their seeds or individuals offering them for trade or give-away. You might also find presentations about seeds and gardening from people in the know, and maybe food for sale and music to enjoy.

The first Seedy Saturday occurred in Canada in 1990. It was a day of speakers and vendors. Sharon Rempel came up with the idea and was helped by her friends Roy Forster, Cathrine Gabriel, and Dan Jason. The goal of that day was to get the heritage varieties of seeds grown by home gardeners trialed and evaluated regionally, and a core collection of regionally adapted vegetables, fruits, and grains conserved and exchanged annually. Agronomists from the University of British Columbia were among those at the event. Seeds of Diversity Canada maintains a list of current seed sharing events here. You can find information about such events in the UK at www.seedysunday.org.

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Guidelines for how many seeds to take.

With additional events scheduled besides seed sharing, Seedy Saturdays and Seedy Sundays in Canada and the UK are more than just seed swaps. It is likely that you may find very small seed companies there, as well as large well-known ones. Each seed event is operated a little differently. What I am most familiar with are seed swaps that are part of a larger event where seeds are not the main topic. I have participated in seed swaps when I have attended the Heritage Harvest Festival at Monticello, the Virginia Biological Farming Conference, and the Mother Earth News Fairs around the country. These swaps are sponsored by Southern Exposure Seed Exchange (SESE). At the Mother Earth News Fairs, additional sponsors may be High Mowing Seeds, Organic Seed Alliance, and Seed Savers Exchange. A table is set up, covered with a nice cloth, and seeds and supplies are set out. It begins with seeds that SESE has to share, but is open to seeds anyone else wants to offer for free. Conference and Fair goers can help themselves, within limits, of course, without contributing seeds of their own. There is a list of guidelines to help you decide how many to take. Here in the U.S. the last Saturday in January is designated as National Seed Swap Day. You can find a list of seed swaps around the country here. If your seed swap is not on the list, consider having it added so others in your area can find you.

Seeds are foremost in the minds of gardeners in January. The seed catalogs have been arriving for weeks and you have begun to make up your list of things you want to order. However, you need to know what you already have before you order more seeds, or acquire them in a seed swap, so take an inventory. In my book Grow a Sustainable Diet there is a link to worksheets, one of them for a seed inventory. That form is also on the companion CD that comes with my Develop a Sustainable Vegetable Garden Plan DVD. I designed it with columns for information I like to refer to, but actually, you can make an inventory by writing down on notebook paper what seeds you have on hand and how much of each variety. I did it that way for many years.

Joseph Lofthouse sharing his seeds at Seed School.

Joseph Lofthouse sharing his seeds at Seed School.

When you inventory your seeds you may find that you have too much of something or that you have seeds for things you will never get around to planting. If you have some of these extra seeds, check their germination rate, particularly if they are a few years old. If they are still viable, you have something to share and you could pass them on to someone else at a seed swap. Here in the U.S. we have opportunities to share seeds all year long through seed libraries, without waiting to attend a seed swap. Seed swaps, by the way, don’t have to be once a year events. They can be scheduled as often as you can find people who are interested in coming.

Whether you are planning on participating in a seed swap or a seed library, you will find great information to help with those activities in my upcoming book Seed Libraries and Other Means of Keeping Seeds in the Hands of the People.  If there are no seed swaps or seed libraries in your neighborhood, consider starting one. You could get together with friends to share seeds and grow your event from there. The more we share our seeds with others, the more we are ensuring that they will stay a part of our community food systems. Like love, the more you give it away, the more it comes back to you.Homeplace Earth

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SeedLibraries~MENMy newest book, Seed Libraries and Other Means of Keeping Seeds in the Hands of the People, will be available soon. My publisher, New Society, tells me that it is now at the printers. Beginning in January 2015, you can order Seed Libraries through Homeplace Earth and it will ship as soon as we have copies, which may not be until the first week in February. In celebration of this newest book we are offering Free Shipping within the continental US on all book and DVD orders for the month of January. All books ordered through Homeplace Earth are signed copies.

Seed Libraries has come on the heels of Grow a Sustainable Diet and it has been quite a journey. Just so you know, there are no new books planned on the horizon. Writing these books has been a grand adventure, but I do have a lot of other projects to catch up on and a garden to tend. Grow a Sustainable Diet grew out of the work I had been doing for many years. Writing Seed Libraries was a different experience. I had to reach out of my comfort zone and explore the work others have been doing. Besides reporting what I found, I identified common areas that need to be addressed if a group was to start a seed library and be successful. (I believe it needs to be more than one person from the get-go.) Being a seed saver myself, I am aware of the pitfalls that may arise when organizing and maintaining a project such as a seed library. My suggestions will help my readers foresee challenges and move forward smoothly.

Besides the mechanics of starting a seed library, this book promotes celebrating seeds any way you can. My post Start a Seed Library will give you suggestions for getting started. However, there is so much more to it than setting up the program. You want to engage your seed savers through the whole year. In addition you should want to engage the public. Even if someone isn’t a seed saver, they can learn about what you are doing and become a supporter of the movement to keep the seeds in the hands of the people. Otherwise, corporations will have control of all the seeds and whoever controls the seeds controls the food supply.

Celebrate seeds anyway you can. Saving and exchanging them, of course, is what a seed library is about, but you can also celebrate seeds with art and music. Promote books that refer to anything about seeds and gardening, eating locally, preserving genetic diversity, etc. Post photos and artwork that show plants going to seed. Sing about seeds and the wonders of nature. Take a holistic approach to seed saving and make it as much a part of your life as you can. You will find yourself thinking about where the seeds came from to produce whatever you are eating.

Plant gardens in your community for the purpose of saving and sharing seeds and plan educational programs around it. If not a whole garden, this year learn to save seeds from a few of the crops in your garden. If you are new at this, begin with one crop. Make it your focus and study everything there is to know about that crop to go from seed to seed. Once you have learned about that, share your knowledge and seeds with others. Seeds are very flexible and will adapt to the ecosystem where they are grown. When you save them yourself you are naturally producing seeds that are acclimated to your community.

Seed libraries can be set up as seed sharing programs in public libraries and, since public libraries are already community centers, it makes sense to do that. However, seed sharing programs can take many forms and can happen in many different places. In Seed Libraries I’ve given you examples of that. If you are already a seed saver, or if 2015 is your year to delve into seeds, use this book to help you make a difference with others. If you haven’t finished your Christmas shopping yet, and you have a seed saver on your list, print this post and give it with a promise of ordering the book in January. Seed libraries are exciting ways for people to come together to preserve and develop varieties unique to their region, thus ensuring a resilient food system.

We are past the winter solstice and each new day will bring a little more light. In this busy holiday time, take a moment to notice and enjoy the new light.Homeplace Earth

 

 

 

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Bill McDorman teaching at Seed School. Belle Starr is on the left.

Bill McDorman teaching at Seed School. Belle Starr is on the left.

I recently attended Rocky Mountain Seed Alliance’s six day Seed School in Buhl, Idaho. Bill McDorman and Belle Starr founded Rocky Mountain Seed Alliance (RMSA) this year, along with their friend John Caccia. John manages the Wood River Seed Library that was formed in early 2014. According to their website, the mission of RMSA is to “connect communities with the seeds that sustain them. Through education and other supportive services, this organization would help people reclaim the ancient tradition of seed saving and stewardship to grow a more resilient future in their towns, neighborhoods, and backyards. Their vision: a region filled with local farmers and gardeners producing a diverse abundance of crops—food, wildflowers, and grasses—from locally adapted seeds.

Bill and Belle founded RMSA after three years with Native Seeds/SEARCH. Native Seeds/SEARCH (NS/S) is the go-to place to find seeds native to the Southwest. There are educational programs at NS/S, but the emphasis is on the seeds—preserving them, growing them, and sharing them. The emphasis at RMSA is on education. Through education there will be more people and organizations available to do the preserving, growing, and sharing work.

Germination test with 100 seeds.

Germination test with 100 seeds.

Information covered at Seed School included, but was not limited to, seed breeding, germination testing, harvesting and processing, seed libraries, and seed enterprises. Although seeds can stay viable for many years, it is good to know the germination rate to know how much to plant, particularly if you are sharing them with others. The germination tests I do at home are done with only 10 seeds at a time and are sufficient for my own use. This summer a new seed library in Pennsylvania was challenged by the PA Department of Agriculture and asked to conform to the same laws that govern seed companies. One of the requirements was to have germination tests done–the kind that require 100 seeds to be tested at a time. I don’t believe that is necessary for a seed library, but the test is actually something you can do at home. Put 100 seeds on a damp paper towel, roll it up and keep it moist for a few days, then check it again. We did that at Seed School using wheat seed. Whether you are using 10 seeds or 100 for your germination tests, it is a good activity to do with volunteers if you are involved with a seed library. You receive valuable information to pass on with the seeds and your volunteers receive valuable experience, not to mention the camaraderie that develops with people working together.

We visited a USDA lab and a native plant nursery. Everyone we met was passionate about their work. The nursery produced most of the native plants that were installed in the region regardless of which company or government agency was the local supplier. So much for diversity of sources. Likewise, there are fewer sources of organic seed than you might think. Seed companies don’t necessarily grow all the seeds they sell and some don’t grow any. High Mowing has always only sold organic seed. According to their website, although they grow more than 60 varieties themselves, other varieties are supplied by growers in the Northeast, the Northwest, and from large wholesale organic seed companies such as Vitalis Seeds, Bego Seeds, and Genesis Seeds. You could be buying organic seeds that weren’t even grown in this country, let alone in your region! It does make you think. Companies that do not limit themselves to organic seeds could also be sourcing seeds from Seminis, now a subsidiary of Monsanto. When Monsanto bought out Seminis, Fedco Seeds decided to cut ties with Seminis—a big step for any seed company at the time. You can read here about the current state of our seed supply in the words of CR Lawn of Fedco in a talk he gave in February 2013.

Don Tipping explaining threshing.

Don Tipping explaining threshing.

Don Tipping of Siskiyou Seeds in Williams, Oregon was one of the presenters at Seed School. The home farm of Siskiyou Seeds is Seven Seeds Farm where about 60% of the seed for the company is grown. To offer more diversity in the catalog, Siskiyou looks to other growers, many in southwest Oregon. A description of each of those growers is in the catalog and each variety of seed offered shows the source of the seed in the description. Siskiyou turns to High Mowing for some of their varieties, but you know which ones were bought from that wholesaler from the catalog descriptions.

Seven Seeds Farm is part of the Family Farmers Seed Cooperative, a “new approach in seed security through supporting the development of bioregional seed producing hubs linked with a national marketing, breeding, and quality assurance program.” Closer to my home is a similar cooperative– Common Wealth Seed Growers—made up of my friends at Twin Oaks Seed Farm, Living Energy Farm, and All Farm Organics. At Seed School I met Luke Callahan of SeedWise, which is an online marketplace that provides a way for home gardeners to connect with very small seed companies. Common Wealth Seed Growers is listed with SeedWise.

In 2003 and 2004 I attended a series of workshops organized to educate seed growers in the Southeast region of the US. It was part of the Saving Our Seed initiative. One of the results of that project was the seed production manuals for the Mid-Atlantic and South and for the Pacific Northwest that you can freely access online now. Southern Exposure Seed Exchange is the main market for seed growers in my region, but the growers here sell to other companies, also. At the time I wondered what would result from those workshops. I knew many people present and didn’t imagine them rushing out to grow seeds for Southern Exposure anytime soon. Well, a decade has passed and a network of growers has developed. My daughter even grew seeds for Southern Exposure this year!

If you are concerned about the source of your seeds (as you very well should be), learn to grow your own or buy from small growers in your region. We can’t change the world overnight, which would result in chaos anyway. But, with each action we take we send out ripples that can result in a lasting, positive change. Seed School at Rocky Mountain Seed Alliance produced some ripples that I know are going to make a difference in keeping the seeds in the hands of Homeplace Earththe people for years to come.

 

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