What is one of the most empowering community building activities? Seed Swaps of course!

Come join us for the 12th Annual Eugene Food Not Lawns Seed Swap in Eugene.

Saturday, December 14, 2013  – 10:00am until 1:00pm

The fall-winter Food Not Lawns seed swap in Eugene traditionally attracts high quality seed from experienced seed stewards, eating out of local soils. Please bring seed or other abundance to share freely. Feel free to come come completely empty-handed

2013 Food Not Lawns Seed Swap 12th Annual

2013 Food Not Lawns Seed Swap 12th Annual

1 Comment on Dec 6th 2013

Recently I have been asked by several farmers and seed savers to write up a little something about a technology few people know about that is becoming more and more prevalent in our food system. When I bring it up in passing everyone seems to want to know more and their first question is often, “Why have I never heard of this?”  After discussing it with many other organic farmers a question I always get is, “Is that illegal for organic farming?” I answer by saying “No, not yet at least.” And then predictably they say, “Well, it shouldn’t be allowed.”

This technology has been called “cell fusion CMS” and it is used to create male-sterile breeding lines, which are then used to create many common F1 hybrid seed varieties. These hybrid varieties are found in many seed catalogs and including many hybrid cabbage, broccoli and interestingly Belgian endive among other crops.  The technology has been around for the last few decades and is sometimes called hybrid seed from protoplast fusion cytoplasmic male sterility (CMS). I  have nicknamed it “transgeneric cybrid seed.”  It is a kind of a biotech revision of a naturally occurring breeding technique that now straddles the border of genetic engineering. I said revision because some cytoplasmic male sterility can occur naturally – but cell fusion CMS does not occur naturally.

Chicory Flower

In organic agriculture, GMOs are of course expressly forbidden. I was confused whether this cell fusion CMS technology was GMO or not so I looked up the definition in the IFOAM Standards. IFOAM is the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements and they say:

“Genetic engineering is a set of techniques from molecular biology (such as recombinant DNA) by which the genetic material of plants, animals, microorganisms, cells and other biological units are altered in ways or with results that could not be obtained by methods of natural mating and reproduction or natural recombination. Techniques of genetic engineering include, but are not limited to: recombinant DNA, cell fusion, micro and macro injection, encapsulation.”

So by international organic certification standards cell fusion is considered GM, but not necessarily in the United States or in many other countries that disregard the IFOAM standards.  Maybe we all should just start calling it a GMO and have some actual parity in organic standards.  I will now try and explain how it works with as little jargon as possible.

 Let’s create a cytoplasmic hybrid cell… aka a cybrid

My favorite example is based on the the 1996 patent for making chicory hybrids with sunflower mytochondria. Many of the new hybrid Belgian endive (aka witloof chicory) varieties are the result of this type of technique. A cell of a Belgian endive (Cichorium intybus) and a cell of a sunflower (Helianthus annuus) are taken and the cell walls are dissolved away with an enzyme. The chicory cell has its cytoplasm including its mitochondria irradiated and destroyed and the sunflower cell has its nucleus irradiated away. These two broken cells are then fused together into a single cell with electric shock stimulus or a special chemical. What is left is a new plant cell that is transgeneric if not transgenic. The cell is then grown in the laboratory into a plant and is then crossed to another plant to make it more likely to survive outdoors. The chicory nucleus and sunflower mitochondria don’t quite like to be in one cell and create a plant that does not produce pollen and can be used to make hybrid seed. This is evolutionarily dubious and in the wild this situation would be evolutionary suicide.

Without this type of male sterility these seed companies would need to use hand pollination or spray pollen-killing chemicals (male gametocides) or find naturally occurring male sterility or self incompatibility. Many companies prefer cell fusion CMS for various reasons. However, it is probably impossible for a sunflower to cross with a chicory naturally and who knows what the risks of swapping cytoplasm pose to our health, the environment or to the foundation of our food system. The thing that bothers me most about this technology is not whether it is pseudo or actual GMO, but that it further concentrates control over our seed supply in the hands of a few companies whose goal is not to feed us, but to profit off of us.

And yes, seed of varieties produced using this technology are currently allowed on organic farms in the United States and in Europe. Why? Because if we want to eat organic broccoli it must be allowed. (Hear my sarcastic tone?) Honestly, there probably is not enough non-cybrid seed available to sow because most of the big broccoli breeding companies are producing exclusively cell fusion CMS hybrids.

In 2009 there was a meeting organized by The European Consortium for Organic Plant Breeding (ECO-PB ) and they discussed what some people call cybrid seed. They produced a very interesting document that I have linked to below for further reading. It is some of the most thought provoking and well considered writing I have read in a long time. It shows that the Europeans have put much more thought into this than us Americans.

Strategies for a future without cell fusion techniques in varieties applied in Organic Farming (PDF)
Some conclusions they reached were:

  • The scientific definition of GMO in Europe and the United States is different than the political definition, meaning Cell Fusion is scientifically a GMO, but is not regulated as a GMO.
  • Lack of labeling of cell fusion CMS hybrids makes it nearly impossible to know which varieties are cell fusion CMS hybrids and which ones are not.
  • Certified organic seed is generally acknowledged to be cell fusion CMS free, but it is not required to be so and may become predominantly cell fusion CMS in the future if nothing is done to prevent this.
  • Cell fusion CMS is truly anti-evolutionary and is contributing dramatically to the the loss of agricultural biodiversity in the seed industry, as the genes cannot be recovered from cell fusion CMS hybrids. To quote plant breeder Jan Velema:

    “Breeding should contribute to a durable and sustainable use of cultivated plants instead of exhausting diversity without leaving anything for our future.”

What Do We Do About It?

If it was up to me no cell fusion CMS seed would be allowed in organic agriculture. However, the more realistic compromise proposal that pops in my head would be to require that only open-pollinated and naturally produced hybrid seed can be certified organic. It is as simple as that. We wouldn’t need to change anything else at least in the short term.

Currently organic farmers can use non-organic seed if an organic substitute is not available. So the big farms that “need” to plant their transgeneric cybrids could continue to do so. Cell fusion CMS hybrid seed should be phased out over time as enough organic seed becomes available. Ideally, organic farms should be strictly sowing organic seed but that is not currently possible, due to current seed supply.  Maybe someday.

If cell fusion is truly classified as a GMO then there will be some interesting fallout. What if the Safe Seed Pledge included cell fusion CMS as well as GMOs? If the Safe Seed Pledge is supposed to guarantee to people that seed companies are not selling GMO’s then should those seed companies continue to sell cell fusion CMS hybrids? Unfortunately if this were to happen immediately then more than half of safe seed pledge signers would probably not be truthful, because so many seed companies are reselling these suspect seeds.

As an organic farmer, I currently buy exclusively open pollinated, non-hybrid seed to avoid cell fusion CMS and I have to be very careful where I get that seed from. If a farmer like me wanted to avoid cell fusion CMS they should be able to buy certified organic seed and be confident that it is not cell fusion CMS. I buy certified Organic food because I can be sure it is not GMO. Seed should be no different.

To quote ECO-PB:
“Protoplast fusion is a breeding technique under the (EC and IFOAM) definition of genetic engineering. Therefore it must not be used in organic plant breeding and seed originated from it should not be allowed in organic farming.”

8 Comments on Jun 24th 2013

Plant breeder and author Carol Deppe’s 2013 seed list is now available at her website:  http://caroldeppe.com/FVS Seed List 2013.html

Her seed company, Fertile Valley Seeds, is your opportunity to get interesting new varieties straight from the source, including some of her work that is not available from any other seed company in the US.

Highlights of the 2013 seed list include winter squash, dry corn and beans, garbanzos, peas, kale, lettuce, amaranth, and more.

Carol ships seeds only until April 30, so get your order in soon, and directly support more public-domain, open pollinated seed breeding!

No Comments on Mar 7th 2013

This year’s Spring Propagation Fair is set for Saturday, March 23, from 11 am to 3 pm at Lane Community College in Eugene, Oregon. This community event is free and open to the public.

As always, seed, plants, and scion will be available free of charge. Root stock and grafting services will be available for a small fee. There will be speakers presenting throughout the day (including us!)

Find out all of the juicy details at the official website:


Volunteers are needed for this event.

No Comments on Feb 20th 2013

2013 Rye Ramble (reprinted from the Adaptive Seeds printed catalog.)


Bringing Biodiversity Back for Real, Explained…

We don’t write long variety descriptions because it is simply interesting and we don’t choose rare varieties because they are simply novel.

I feel that seeds, with the biodiversity and cultural knowledge they embody, are a doorway into the mystical realms of our reality. That sounds a little funny and I am not trying to lose you into a woo-woo made-up universe here. I am just trying to explain some reasons for why we do what we do. And predictably every year we discover more reasons for doing this seedy thing.

Frosty Fennel Seed

Frosty Fennel Seed

We write long descriptions and choose rare varieties for the sake of conservation, food security, the joy of the experience, and the encouragement from others to continue the hard work; these are all good reasons. But these reasons are like the layers of a leek stem. Every reason we give is a layer of the leek and we keep getting closer and closer to the core. One day we will get to the apical meristem and continue to peel and there will be an empty space where there was a growth point, mysteriously keeping its secrets from us. And yes, this is yet another reason we give ourselves to continue this journey, because we won’t know every reason.

So why do we write these long descriptions when other seed companies write one sentence and sometimes even get the color wrong? What it comes down to for me is that cultural knowledge about seed varieties has eroded even faster than the seed varieties themselves.

An agro-ecosystem, like any ecosystem, can lose genetic diversity. (You probably already know this next part and it’s probably why you came to our seed catalog.) Over the past few centuries the industrialization of agriculture has contributed to the near total loss of all agricultural biodiversity. You might say it is an exaggeration to say near total, but according to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, we have lost 75% since 1900 and continue to lose 2% every year. When considering losses before 1900, and that most of these estimates include the varieties kept in gene banks that are considered “saved from extinction,” then you must estimate that nearly all agricultural biodiversity has been lost.

Read the rest of this entry »

2 Comments on Jan 24th 2013

Some wonderful person has compiled lots of seed saving resources into one place, including a slideshow version of our ‘zine: A Guide to Seed Saving, Seed Stewardship and Seed Sovereignty.

Check them all out out at http://www.slideshare.net/PX8.

No Comments on May 10th 2012

The Spring Propagation Fair will be Saturday, March 24, from 11- 5, at Lane Community College in Eugene, OR.

The free event includes a seed swap, scion wood (root stock available for a small fee), and workshops throughout the event.

The folks putting on this year’s Spring Propagation Fair have a snazzy website. It’s chock full of information, including workshop schedule and info on some of the great scion wood that will be available.

Check out the website at http://springpropagationfair.com.

See you there!

No Comments on Mar 15th 2012

The Institute of Contemporary Ethnobotany and the Seed Ambassadors Project present:

Saturday, Nov. 19, 2011
1:00 – 3:00 pm
The Community Room at the East Blair Housing Coop,
940 W. 4th st. Eugene, OR.
(Btwn. Adams & Jackson also accessable from W. 4th alley)
Build community by sharing surplus harvest bounty with your friends and neighbors at this annual event.
Bring your seeds, plants, canned goods, brews, tinctures, food, instruments, friends, or just yourself!

This is going to be great fun as usual and we hope to see some new faces.

It is OK to come empty handed, however you may be empowered to come next time carrying a bounty to share.

No Comments on Nov 4th 2011

We’ll be leading a seed saving workshop in Eugene this Saturday October 1st, at a super cool community garden plot that was planted as a seed garden.

Nikki Maxwell’s RAFT Garden features endangered Northwest Heirloom crops, including Oregon Giant Pole Beans, Immigrant Bush Dry Beans, Lower Salmon River Squash, Hooker’s Sweet Corn, Marshal Strawberries, and Oregon Delicious Melons. RAFT stands for Renewing America’s Food Traditions, and is an alliance that seeks to preserve, protect, and promote the incredible, regional, food diversity of North America. The vegetables in the RAFT garden are all featured in the Slow Food Ark of Taste which means they are all delicious and are in danger of extinction.

We’ll do some hands on seed saving of each of these crops, and provide samples of some of them for folks to snack on. Did I mention there will be dozens of Oregon Delicious Melons there? In addition to going home with Melon Belly, participants will also have the opportunity to take home seeds of these varieties, Free!

The RAFT garden is located at the east end of the Whittaker Community Garden, near the river bike path at the end of N. Polk in Eugene. Bring your own chair if you want to sit. The event is free and open to the public, and will begin 2pm.

Please spread the word among your gardening friends!

No Comments on Sep 28th 2011

Come and tour Open Oak Farm the home of Adaptive Seeds and The Seed Ambassadors Project. August 4th 4-9PM. It is a potluck dinner event and Tour Organized by the Southern Willamette Valley Bean and Grain Project. Parking is limited so RSVP is required. Contact Dan Armstrong at danlarmstrong@comcast.net if you would like to come.

No Comments on Jul 18th 2011

Institute of Biowisdom in Corvallis


Seed Saving And Seed Stewardship Workshop:

The Path to Locally Adapted Seed and True Food Freedom


May 15, 2011

Instructors: Andrew Still & Sarah Kleeger of the Seed Ambassadors Project , Adaptive Seeds and Open Oak Farm in Brownsville area. Member of Willamette Seed and Grain.


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No Comments on May 7th 2011

Hi Everyone,

Spring has sprung, and now it’s time to propagate! (Plants, that is.)

This year’s Spring Propagation fair will be this Sunday, March 27, at Lane Community College in Eugene, from 11 – 5.

Come share and gather seeds, fruit tree scion wood, and other plant propagation materials with your friends and neighbors.

More information is below, including workshop schedule. For more information or to volunteer, please contact victorygardensforall@gmail.com

Hope to see you this Seedy Sunday

Read the rest of this entry »

No Comments on Mar 22nd 2011

I know it is mid winter and winter gardens get planted in August at the latest, but we have been looking at an acre of winter vegetables and have been inspired to complete a long needed update of this document. It is version 4.0 and full of new info and opinions. Let us know what you think and we will update it like open source software, slowly but surely.

Big Willamette Winter Garden Chart 4.pdf

Western Front Kale was one of the best winter vegetables in 2010

3 Comments on Jan 23rd 2011

The Institute of Contemporary Ethnobotany and the
Seed Ambassadors Project present:


Sunday, Dec. 5
1:00 – 3:00 pm
(come at noon to help set up!)

The Community Room at the East Blair Housing Coop,
940 W. 4th St, Eugene, Oregon
(Between Adams & Jackson also accessible from W. 4th alley)

Build community by sharing surplus harvest bounty with
your friends and neighbors at this annual event.

Bring your seeds, plants, canned goods, brews,
tinctures, food, instruments, friends, or just
yourself! (piano on site…)

See you there!
Your seedy friends




3 Comments on Nov 27th 2010

We are delighted to have been selected as delegates for this year’s Slow Food Terra Madre gathering in Turin, Italy.

Terra Madre is an international gathering of more than 5,000 people, including “food communities, cooks, academics, youth and musicians, who are united in a desire to promote sustainable local food production in harmony with the environment while respecting knowledge handed down over the generations.”

Now we just need to raise the funds to get us there. To this end, we will be having a benefit dinner this July 31 in Eugene, OR, from 6pm to 9 pm.

We will begin the eventing with a slide show presentation about the importance of local and international seed networks, and what we hope to bring back from Terra Madre.

A five course meal will follow at 7pm, prepared by local chef Tiffany Norton of Party Cart. The meal will feature many ingredients grown on our farm, Open Oak Farm.

There will also be live music and a silent auction, with good local seedy and foodie stuff.

Please join us! There will be lots of pretty pictures, delicious food, and good company.

The cost is $50 per plate ($25 is tax-deductible).

RSVP by July 25 to seedambassadors(at)gmail.com

If you can’t make it but would like to help support our efforts, you can make a donation through PayPal on the Participate page of our website, or by sending check payable to Slow Food Eugene to: The Seed Ambassadors Project, 25079 Brush Creek Road, Sweet Home, OR 97386. Donations made through Slow Food Eugene are tax-deductible; donations made directly to The Seed Ambassadors Project are not.

Thank you for your support!

Back Yard Seed Garden, June 2010

Back Yard Seed Garden, June 2010

No Comments on Jul 15th 2010

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