Archive for the 'Our Travels' Category

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 Sarah Kleeger on Jul 15th 2010

Filed under Thailand

Thailand 2009

This month we took a short trip to Thailand, where we combined family time with my dad (who lives there), with some Seed Ambassadorizing in a small village called Nong Ta Klong in Buriram Province, in the northeast.

View Sideshow in Full Screen
- We recommend changing it to 5 seconds per photo.

On a previous trip to Thailand we had made friends with Loong Yoot, a brilliant and inspirational man whose motto is to “teach by not teach.” Loong Yoot received a scholarship to study Permaculture in Australia many years ago, and has spent the past eight years riding his bicycle around his home country teaching people by example about sustainable living. In a country where most structures are made of resource consumptive wood or cement, he teaches people to build adobe structures for community learning centers and other uses. In a culture where consumerism and materialism are rapidly stripping both rich and poor of their sense of self, he shows that another, simpler way of life is possible and in many ways preferable. Loong Yoot’s workshops bridge the class divide by bringing the rural poor together with elite city folk searching for a new way of life, and enable travelers to develop meaningful connections with people and places in that elusive “off the beaten path.”

The last time we were in Thailand (early 2004), we spent five weeks working and learning with Yoot in a village close to the Cambodian border. This time, due to a limited time frame, we spent only three days.

Po Tongbai, the former village head man of Ban Nong Ta Klong, had already started a bit of a “Center for Sustainable” in this increasingly dry region when he dug three large ponds on his land a few years ago. Some questioned his sanity, but his family and friends now enjoy fresh fish year-round, and his family has a lush, irrigated garden in the dry season. But the invitation to build an adobe structure, to invite people from near and very far away to learn about living a less resource-consumptive life, was initiated by his daughter Noi. Over the course of three weeks, dozens of people will come to Po Tongbai’s land to have fun, make connections, and learn by doing.

In the short time we were there we made many bricks and built two walls of the structure; learned how to make rice noodles in the traditional way; did a teensy bit of gardening; ate lots of delicious food; and gave a seed saving workshop. We brought some international seeds with us to share with the villagers, and in return some of the women in the village walked us around and gave us seed for many beautiful food and flower plants, some of which might even mature seed for us here in Oregon. We are thrilled to grow their authentic Thai holy basil, an edible species of cleome (spider flower), and Loong Yoot’s edible ball-shaped loofa from the northern mountain regions, among others.

No Comments Sarah Kleeger on Feb 21st 2009

I wanted to thank Howard Sooley for the nice words he wrote on the Organic Allotment blog recently. Another thank you to Alan Jenkins and the other OG Allotment folks for keeping up the good work and making us want to be in Europe every time we read your posts.

We miss their enthusiasm and kindness. Their very active blog is one of my favorites for regular reading online.

Please read their recent Seed Saving post, it makes me warm inside. Which is convenient as it is snowing now in Oregon and it isn’t going to get above freezing for 3 days.

Here are some fall and winter photos. (I recommend opening the slide show full screen and setting the speed to 5 seconds.)

Stay warm and happy winter time from the Seed Ambassadors Project.

No Comments Andrew Still on Dec 13th 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.

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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

Filed under Romania

Romania intel

As Andrew and Sarah prepare for their Romania trip, Kate Lucas, our point-person on the ground there supplies us with some further intel on what they’re getting into. In agro-political terms, the current situation looks absolutely fascinating:

I’ll try to give you a general picture of what’s going on in Romanian agriculture, but don’t take my words as gospel, it’s notoriously hard to get clear information here even when you’re asking the “experts”. Hopefully by the end of Sarah and Andrew’s trip we’ll all have a clearer picture of the emerging patterns.

Currently the agriculture situation is one of tremendous potential; to become organic, local, and cutting edge or to succumb to the pressures of factory farming and genetic engineering. It seems as though Romania is currently on the edge of a precipice but once things get a little shove, it’ll be fast and furious movement in one direction or the other. Romania is a country in transition and the focus of a lot of investment speculation. We already have a pig CFO set up by Smithfield in Timisoara (which has been closed once already due to a swine flu out break) and other large corporations like Star potatoes are starting to get a foothold. (more…)

1 Comment Nick Routledge on Jan 12th 2008

We’re honored to have been invited to visit Romania in January of 2008. Kate Lucas, a remarkably savvy Peace Corps volunteer with the Ratiu Center for Democracy in Turda is largely responsible for handholding the visit. We are still working out the details and schedule for this fast-approaching series of workshops – a key focus of which will involve village outreach and hands-on seed stewardship education. Here’s some context from Kate about what Sarah and Andrew are headed towards.

The Ratiu Center for Democracy in Turda (where I am) started with Democracy studies, but beyond academics its programs encourage “participatory democracy”. Basically getting community members to participate in making their own communities a better place in whatever areas of need they see as important. (more…)

No Comments Nick Routledge on Dec 30th 2007

“One of the central hubs of German biodynamic plant breeding community”. We were told this by many people through our travels and we decided that we had to visit Dottenfelder-hof (translated version). After a nice hike in the morning from the train station we arrived invigorated to meet with our host Martin Kern, a very personable character with many years of plant breeding experience. Martin showed us all around the Hof, with brief stops at many of the farm’s constituent areas. . In German biodynamic tradition the site is the collection of many integrated and collaborative facets. Some examples of these endeavors are the plant breeding programs, dairy cow and chicken production, cheese and bread making, anthroposophical educational programs, and a biodynamic storefront. Many of the people who worked there lived there too and with all that was going on, it was a bustling scene (about 100 people living and working there).  I could compare it to intentional communities in the US but that would be misleading. The place seemed more like a well organized, fairly self-sustaining village. Lots of people making a living centered around an agricultural and educational foundation.

Carrot breeding carrot selection carrot storage
Rodelika carrot tasting, selection and overwinter storage

Some of their achievements in the area of plant breeding:

Carrots – Dietrich Bauer has spent over 20 years breeding vegetables. What he is most famous for is his carrot variety ‘Rodelika’, available in the US through Turtle Tree Seeds. This carrot is famous for its flavor, especially when juiced.  “Rodelika” juice is available in the juice section of many stores that carry biodynamic products, right next to the standard “carrot” juice.  More marketing with variety names is something that could help expose people to the diversity of crops and help preserve those crops actively within society, like an old story or play. While at Dottenfelder-hof we helped select Rodelika lines for flavor and yield. Getting both flavor and yield simultaneously is one of the more difficult aspects of plant breeding. By the way, the carrot juice is excellent.

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3 Comments Andrew Still on Jan 27th 2007

From Switzerland we traveled back north up to Germany for a visit with Ulla Grall of Bio-Saatgut. The name of her company says it all: “Organic Seeds”. Ulla offers through her catalog seeds that she produces herself and those grown by several small contract growers, as well as seeds from Sativa Rheinau and a French seed company called Ferme de Sainte Marthe. Ulla told us she wants to grow more of her own seed herself, but also takes pride in the fact that she offers seeds from two other countries. Because of the EU seed laws it is difficult for many people to order seeds from other countries, or they simply don’t think of it as an option. Through her seed company, Ulla offers many varieties that would otherwise be unavailable to German gardeners.

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R to L: On the streets of Armsheim, Ulla grall in her garden, more of her gardens.

Ulla became involved in seeds initially as a translator and marketer for Ferme de Sainte Marthe in Germany more than a decade ago when the company was trying to expand into the German market. After Ferme abandoned this project, Ulla took on selling some of their varieties personally. What began as a small mail order resale company has since blossomed into one of the only independent organically certified seed companies in Germany.

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No Comments Sarah Kleeger on Jan 26th 2007

Pro Specie Rara (PSR) is Switzerland’s seed savers exchange. Unlike the American Seed Savers Exchange, PSR focuses solely on Swiss heirloom varieties: in order for a seed to be accepted into the PSR collection, it should have been grown in Switzerland for at least thirty years. For this reason, there are PSR listed Swiss heirloom Chioggia beets and many types of “French beans.” Traditional Swiss agriculture (and gardening) was heavily influenced by its neighboring countries (Germany, Austria, Italy, and France), as was the language, so the Pro Specie Rara inventory is quite varied. In addition to the vegetable varieties, PSR also promotes the stewardship of traditional animals and fruits. To date, 25 breeds of rare animals and dozens of fruits are promoted through the organization.

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Right to left: PSR; Marianna Serena Seeds project leader; The Seed Vault

Pro Specie Rara is 25 years old in 2007, and at the peak of their acquisitions they obtained hundreds of heirloom varieties each year — seven or eight years ago they acquired 100 – 200 new sorts per year. The past few years, though, fewer and fewer varieties have been submitted, and in 2006 they only received 20 new accessions. Marianna Serena, who manages the seed collection, said she feels good about the quantity of seeds they have, adding that the organization is about at the limit of what they can care for. Pro Specie Rara doesn’t have its own gardens like some other Seed Savers organizations — they are more of a networking and marketing hub for old varieties.

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No Comments Sarah Kleeger on Jan 25th 2007

The folks at Sativa do a lot of work with maintaining and reinvigorating old varieties for PSR. (Pro Specie Rara, the Swiss seed saver’s organization, see next posting). Most of this work focuses on brassicas, which often suffer from inbreeding depressions, leading to sickly plants and poor yields. By the time inbreeding depression is recognized it is often too late: one cannot simply grow out a large population of the line and save seeds, as the genetics have been bottlenecked by previous small populations (e.g. a home gardener saving seed from too few plants). The only glimmer of hope is to locate other lines of the same variety and cross the lines together — and this is exactly what Friedemann, the vegetable breeder at Sativa, is doing.

Sativa Greenhouse Dehybridizing Brussel’s Sprouts Seed Harvester
Greehouse production, Brussels sprout de-hybridization, seed crop harvester.

The prime example of this tragic condition is found in the red Brussels sprout variety known as Rubine, still carried by many seed companies throughout Europe and the United States. Rubine has declined over the past several decades and now often fails to produce anything resembling Brussels sprouts. Friedemann recently acquired Rubine from six different sources throughout Europe, with plans to let them all flower together in the hopes that the different lines will bring enough genetics together to reinvigorate the variety — hopefully to the point of producing healthy plants that will produce large sprouts. If this cannot be achieved, he said he will begin work to develop a new red Brussels sprout variety.

Sativa is also involved in Biodynamic breeding projects of a completely different sort than Ute Kirchgasse and Christina Henatsch (see previous posts). Friedemann came to biodynamic vegetable breeding from quite the opposite direction of Christina and Ute. His training and experience is not Anthroposophical, but rather he worked as a vegetable breeder at Hild, a conventional seed company.

Celariac breeding Celariac phenotype sativa switzerland snow
breeder Friedemann, celeriac inspection, snow at Sativa.

It follows, then, that Friedermann has a different approach. In contrast to most of the Biodynamic community, he doesn’t see any problem with the wise use of F1 hybrids for breeding (unless these hybrids are geneticly engineered CMS hybrids). Friedemann doesn’t create hybrid varieties for sale or distribution, but acquires them from other seed companies and then uses these varieties as breeding material. He believes the organic/biodynamic community should utilize the genetic resources and hard work of the conventional community, just as the large seed compaines use the resources of the open-pollinated community in the creation of their hybrids.

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1 Comment Sarah Kleeger on Jan 24th 2007

From Gerhard and Susanne’s we traveled by train south to Sativa Rheinau, a biodynamic seed company in Switzerland near the border town of Schaffhausen, home to the largest waterfall in Europe. Set in a seventeenth century monastery on an island in the Rheine, Sativa is blessed with being one of the most beautiful places we have happened across in our travels. The seed company at Sativa is part of a larger Biodynamic farm project that integrates 25 handicapped people into the work with animals (dairy and meat), fruits, vineyard, grains, and seed growing and processing tasks.

Falls on the Rhine Sativa HQ Sativa Seeds
falls on the Rhine, Sativa HQ, seed room

Sativa’s main vegetable seed customers are home gardeners, and they work closely with Pro Specie Rara (PSR) to distribute heirloom Swiss varieties. (More about PSR, the Swiss seed savers group, in a later posting). Sativa’s main work with farmers is in their work with seed potatoes and grains, and they sell large quantities of rye, spelt, and wheat to farmers there. Because Switzerland is not part of the EU, they do not have the restrictions of most other countries in regards to the Common Catalog. But this does not mean that they do not have to deal with limitations; as is the case in the US, high quality open-pollinated varieties for market gardeners are either nonexistent or are hard to come by.

Monastery at Sativa monastery and garden wall
Rhine, monastery, garden, gate
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No Comments Sarah Kleeger on Jan 23rd 2007

After another pre-dawn start, we left the company of the kind folks at Bingenheimer and headed south towards Nuremberg and beyond. Our next stop: Gerhard Bohl’s home and gardens in the hamlet of Rednitzenbach. Gerhard and his wife Susanne are the brains, braun, and brilliance behind Das Sortenbuch (= the variety handbook), a mail-order catalog collection of more than 2,000 tomatoes, 380 peppers, 700 beans, and hundreds of other rare and unusual vegetables (written in German).

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The crew: Susanne, Peter and Gerhard; Filderkraut – the ultimate Sauerkraut cabbage; Jelly melon slightly useful cucurbit.

Gerhard trades straight across with gardeners and fellow “collectioners” to the tune of some 20,000 seed packs per year. He distributes another 30,000 seed packs per year through other venues, mostly through his mail-order catalog with gardeners in other parts of Germany. Gardeners must write him by post and send five Euro for a copy of the Sortenbuch. If they decide that they want something from the buch, (how can they not?), they write again and send one Euro for every seed pack that they order, or if they are seed savers they can send in seeds from something they have grown in lieu of the cash. To encourage his customers to participate in the exchange and the stewardship of varieties, the Sortenbuch has several pages in the beginning that instruct people how to save seeds. This information is an important part of Gerhard’s work, as German-language editions of seed saving books are not common.

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No Comments Sarah Kleeger on Jan 19th 2007

Bingenheimer’s resident plant breeder, Ute Kirchgaesser, is on to something. Really, she’s probably on to many things, but to describe them all would take a book and I only have one blog posting.

Ute has what equates to a master’s degree in horticulture, but her German title sounds much better; Meistergartnerin. She got her start in plant breeding with a family run seed company where she learned the basics of traditional plant breeding, and has combined that knowledge with a more esoteric knowledge of an anthroposophical kind. All of these experiences combine to make her something more like and Ubermeistergarternerin if you ask me. But if you ask her, she is just a vegetable breeder.

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Ute is working on developing a summer fennel. She is in the process of improving some leek varieties, and also is working to re-invigorate some old kales. She is in charge of the on-site seed production for Bingenheimer’s catalog. And she is also working on a project that even she can’t explain.

In 2002, she began to study what effect musical intervals have on plants. Previous studies have been done that show that plants respond well to classical music, and not so well to death metal. Ute wanted to know if a particular sequence of notes effects plants more than another, and she wanted to know if this effect can be seen in subsequent generations. She set up a research project working with some lettuces, which she surmised would show results quickly due to their rapid growth.

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1 Comment Sarah Kleeger on Jan 17th 2007

We left Greifswald for Bingenheimer Saatgut AG, the largest biodynamic seed company in Germany, Leaving super extra early on Tuesday morning, we traveled via “Mitfahrgelegenheit” through Berlin and on down to a small town northeast of Frankfurt. “Mitfahrgelegenheit” is the musical word for ‘organized rideshare’, and there are several websites that one can use to post rides wanted or rides offered. People in the US use Craigslist for this purpose, but in Germany the practice is more widespread and therefore more effective. Mitfahrgelegenheit costs about half as much as a train and can get you there twice as fast, and it is a good way to meet people. Since we traveled so far, we pieced together two rides and had a few hours to hang out in Berlin. We were delivered to the door of Bingenheimer, 13 hours after the start of our journey – not really twice as fast as the train but still half the cost!

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We stayed, worked and learned with the kind folks at Bingenheimer for three work days, from Wednesday through Friday. This was our first visit with a seed company, and we learned a lot and had a really good time. Andrew was in heaven being surrounded by so many seeds, and the sense of community there really impressed me. But these are just two of the indicators that Bingenheimer Saatgut AG is not your average seed company. It is primarily Biodynamic. It is the hub for a network of 30 Biodynamic vegetable breeders in Germany. It was once part of and is still affiliated with the Lebensgemeinschaft Bingenheimer, a Camphill-esque community that fully integrates people with developmental disabilities into the tasks of daily life. As such, the Saatgut Werkstatt (seed workshop) is one of five workshops that employ disabled people in the community; they also rotate through candle making, woodworking, ceramics, and weaving workshops. Additionally, some of them work on the biodynamic dairy farm and others in the gardens, helping to grow food for the community and seed for the seed company.

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No Comments Sarah Kleeger on Jan 16th 2007

We left St. Petersburg by bus on Friday, January 12, and 36 hours later found ourselves in Berlin. Two hours after that we were in the town of Greifswald, on the Baltic Sea but identified as Eastern Germany more than Northern. Nevertheless, as we proceeded north on the train we noticed more and more “grunkohl” (= a curly leafed, bright green kale common in Denmark) in people’s dachas (the Russian word for little gardens away from one’s home).

We were met at the train station by Mareen Protze, one of the members of the board of directors for Naturschutzjugend Deutschland (NAJU). NAJU is Germany’s largest youth environmental action organization, with over 80,000 members throughout the country. NAJU has many local and national environmental initiatives, including an internet game program where members score points based on different conservation/preservation activities, such as cleaning streams or building birdhouses.

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Photos L to R: Mareen & Sarah, place of study, northern germany at sunset.

But there is also an international scope: One of the things that NAJU does is coordinate International Exchanges over the summer, where participants can see what young people are doing on behalf of the environment in other parts of Europe. NAJU provides the organizational tools for any member of the organization to plan an exchange trip with a country and focus of their choice, and then makes the trip available to other people within the organization. Mareen has planned trips to Belarus and Poland in this way. These trips, and many others, focus on social exchange as well as environmental topics. For example, there is one trip this summer between Germany and Serbia that focuses on hip-hop culture in the two countries. As with many social and environmental initiatives, Germany seems to be leading the way with this one.

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No Comments Sarah Kleeger on Jan 12th 2007

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