Archive for the 'Our Seeds' Category

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 Andrew Still 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 Andrew Still on Jun 24th 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.


2 Comments Andrew Still on Jan 24th 2013

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 Sarah Kleeger 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 if you would like to come.

No Comments Andrew Still 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.



No Comments Andrew Still 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

Hope to see you this Seedy Sunday


No Comments Sarah Kleeger 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 Andrew Still on Jan 23rd 2011

Here is the 4th edition of our Seed Ambassadors Project Seed Saving Guide.

“A Guide to Seed Saving, Seed Stewardship & Seed Sovereignty”

Seed Saving Zine 4 hand out (3.8 MB PDF) This hanout formated version is your best choice for printing and reading if you do not have one of those fancy zine staplers.

Seed Saving Zine 4 duplex (3.5 MB PDF) This zine formated version is for printing in a duplex printer and folding into a Zine. That is why the pages seem to be in a wierd order. If your printer does not have duplex ability you can print it one page at a time, flipping each page over to print the back side.

Seed Saving Guide 4th edition

If you would rather us send you a copy that we have printed, please send us $4 to cover printing costs and to help support the Seed Ambassadorts Project. You may also order a copy along with your seed order here at this site under the Books category. If you want to order a bunch of copies for a saving workshop you are teaching, contact us and we will send you what you need for what it costs us to print them.

Enjoy your seed saving adventures

4 Comments Andrew Still on Jan 12th 2010

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.


No Comments Sarah Kleeger on Mar 30th 2008

After four months of traveling though nine countries in Europe, Andrew and I are back in Oregon for a season of farming at Hayhurst Valley Organic Farm and Nursery, one hour south of Eugene in the Coast Range. Here we hope to do grow-outs of many of the 700-plus varieties of food plants we collected on our travels. Seven hundred varieties is a bit much for the two of us to handle, and we are seeking out people in the greater Eugene area to participate in the Seed Ambassadors Project by growing one or several of our accessions to seed. Please contact us if you are interested!

Hayhurst valley Organic Farm Marigold from Denmark Hayhurst Sunset
Greenhouses at Hayhurst Valley Organic Farm and Nursery, Danish Marigold, Sunset

Already we have sown several dozen varieites of tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, peas, and grains, and hope to get some lettuces, brassicas, and herbs in the ground shortly. We hope to post photos and reviews of our progress over the course of the season. (more…)

No Comments Sarah Kleeger on Apr 21st 2007