Archive for March, 2008

Yesterday was the Eugene Permaculture Guild’s annual Spring Seed Swap. Every year, hundreds of gardeners and seed savers convene for a few hours on a Saturday to share seeds, plants, and a potluck meal. The event is more than the free gifting of seeds, though, and has become a pivotal community event for the local gardening scene.

This year was the Seed Ambassadors Project’s first appearance at the spring seed swap, and we brought two grocery bags filled with seed that we have saved in the past few seasons. By the end of the day these bags were whittled down to one tenth of their original quantity. It is so great to think of so many local gardeners growing locally saved seeds! Of course, we did not come away empty handed, as we gathered samples of some locally saved tomatoes, orach, mustard, a gourd, a salsify, a parsley, a root parsley, and a blue flat leafed kale that we are really excited about.

Joy Larkcom’s Bull’s Blood Chard Ukrainian Beet Kamuoliai 2 Beet
Joy Larkcom’s Bull’s Blood Chard, Ukrainian Beet, Kamuoliai 2 Beet (from Lithuania)

We believe that it is essential that home gardeners and farmers save seed to preserve genetic diversity. It is apparent that even small seed companies are unable and/or unwilling to do so, as they must respond to the forces of the market and whims of the large seed companies. Locally stewarded seed is of course optimal, though national seed saving networks, such as the Seed Saver’s Exchange, are also very excellent in this regard. One of the goals of the Seed Ambassadors Project is to encourage local seed saving. Each time a variety of vegetable is saved in a particular bioregion (or microclimate or garden), it adapts to the specific conditions of that place. Ultimately, food sovereignty begins with seed sovereignty.

As we have mentioned in previous posts, our seed quest last winter resulted in the collection of more than seven hundred varieties of seed, many not available in the United States. Added to this amount are the fifty or so varieties we collected this year in Romania, and a few dozen other varieties collected by other friends Seed Ambassadorizing in Mexico and Italy. While we are doing everything we can to grow out as many of these varieties as possible in our own large seed garden, isolation distances required by many biennial outbreeders (beets and chard, brassicas, onions and leeks, parsnips and carrots) severely limit the amounts of these species we can grow out to seed in any given season.

Sarah Kleeger and John Herberg Gardening Russian Hunger Gap Kale Sarah Kleeger, Alison Kinney and Sutherlin Kale
Sarah and John Herberg with some onions, Russian Hunger Gap Kale, Alison Kinney with Sutherlin Kale

Last year we grew several of each of these species, not quite knowing how we would isolate them this year for flowering and seed production. Several people have contacted us through our website and offered to help (thank you!), and we are trying to plug these people in as much as possible.

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No Comments Sarah Kleeger on Mar 30th 2008

This year, the Seed Ambassadors Project was invited to the Transylvania (Northwest) region of Romania by the Ratiu Family Foundation as part of the Ratiu Center for Democracy’s Agricultural program, Turda Fest. Turda Fest’s mission is to honor “the history of the greater Turda region and promote options for a sustainable future…. [and to] provide educational opportunities in agriculture for ecologically sound and financially viable development.” Turda Fest’s main component has been an agricultural festival in the fall, but is expanding to include educational and organizational activities throughout the year.

Our Turda Fest program, from February 1-9 was organized by Turda Fest’s brilliant Program Coordinator Marta Pozsonyi and Peace Corps Volunteer extraordinaire Kate Lucas. The program included village workshops with farmers and meetings with other people involved in agriculture in the area, such as the local Agriculture Minister and ag-oriented NGOs. We also ate some incredible slow food meals, visited the local seed grow-out center, toured the local salt mines and went on a hike, and held a press event.

Winter Fields of TransylvaniaTransylvanian corn feild Horse and Cart
winter fields, corn stacks, horse and cart

At the village workshops, we spoke about organic farming in Oregon, diverse marketing tactics, and the importance of maintaining on-farm biodiversity through seed saving of traditional varieties. We shared what we knew about what people and organizations in other countries in Europe are doing to cope with the loss of heirloom and traditional varieties, with their various interpretations of seed saving organizations. We engaged the farmers in discussions about the problems they face and what they see as possible solutions.

Andrew Still giving presentation Mihai Viteasul turda market
Presentations at the Democracy Center, and Mihai Viteasul, the Turda market

First thing in Turda, we were interviewed for a local paper as well as a local TV station. The newspaper journalist spoke with us for two or three minutes and took a few photos. When we suggested the photos might turn out better if we were outside, we all moved outside and she took one photo. On our way outside she asked me if I actually thought we would accomplish anything while we were there. I told her it was possible. Andrew piped in and said, “Of course!” I then asked her if she thought we would accomplish anything. She told me, “Definitely not. It is not possible. What the people need here is money, not information.” Her newspaper article read like an editorial that expressed this point of view, and the photo she published with it was the one that was taken outside, in which my eyes were closed and Andrew wore a mid-sentence grimace. We had been prepared to face this attitude, but thankfully it wasn’t as prominent as it might have been.

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No Comments Sarah Kleeger on Mar 8th 2008