Monday, June 15, 2015

Shattering: Food Politics and The Loss of Genetic Diversity

I finished reading Shattering:  Food Politics and The Loss of Genetic Diversity early this morning.  It's not a long book, but it took longer to read than most 222 page books, NOT because it was difficult to read or not interesting.  On the contrary, it was extremely interesting...

It was a challenge to read and that wasn't the fault of the authors, but probably because the authors packed a lot of wallop into those 222 pages.  I found myself assured, frightened, enlightened, confused and despondent - and that was typically in the span of two or three pages at a time.  I was so relieved at the hopeful words at the end because I wasn't sure how we were going to end up. I found myself pausing to consider what I had read and the ramifications.  

The word 'shattering' in the title refers to what a head of grain - like wheat or barley, for example - does, scattering seeds to the ground - a useful process for a wild plant.  Human hunter/gatherers came along and harvested the seed heads that did NOT shatter as easily and when domestication of the plants began somewhat later, these were the seeds planted and thus the beginning of the agricultural revolution.

There is much to digest in this book on the seeds of our food plants, but the most clear message of all is we need local control over our seeds and we need back up our diversity to seed banks to help maintain that diversity of food crops and other species that benefit humans as well. There are agencies galore charged with different aspects of the problem but the bottom line becomes much more personal. I have seen Fowler speak twice and each time he urged folks to write their Congresspersons asking for more funding for the National Center for Genetic Resources Preservation, a US Government project nestled in the mountains near Fort Collins, CO. This book underscores why we need that center and why we need to appropriately fund it.

The diversity of our food plants has been plummeting.  From a plethora of varieties in the early 1900's, we are down to minuscule percentages that leave one aghast that we have squandered so much through simple neglect and corporate willfulness. The losses are a long way from a complete triage so far, especially from third world countries - who are of course, the most vulnerable.  

The story unfolds brilliantly, often with the tension of a novel.  Published in June 1990, I would like to see some updating and see how author Cary thinks we are progressing - some things for the good and for the bad have unfolded.  The most significant is, perhaps, that citizens in the Northern countries are seeing the reason for the alarm Fowler and Mooney raised over 25 years ago.  

In reading Shattering, a helpful ploy I wish I had would be a card handy with which to record which agency is referred to by which set of initials.  Maybe it's my own bad memory, but such a cheat sheet would have been useful especially when they come fast and furious in some sections of the book.  

This book is vital to understand where we are and how we got here and gives strategies for how to move forward - some of which enlightened individuals have begun. 

I am glad I read it and I believe you will be too.  


Saturday, May 30, 2015

This Week LA! Seeds of Time

There's a new documentary out of interest to all who like to eat and especially those of us who like to grow some our food... 

Ostensibly the film is about Cary Fowler and the Svalbard Seed Bank - but what it's really about is our food and the seeds that food comes from.  It doesn't sound all that dramatic, but it is! 

In the past, I have been vocal about the difference between seed libraries and seed banks and I was vocally critical of seed banks.  I felt the only "real" way to save seeds was to cultivate them - grow them, and use them.  Keeping seeds in frozen storage has its downsides and I was well focused on that as well as the fact that I only knew of seed banks were owned by governments and tended to have a top down focus.  Seed libraries, on the other hand, are bottom up and tend to be community efforts without a lot of money and dependent on volunteers.  I was definitely pro-library and anti-bank.   

My attitude has matured.  Only recently did I reconcile with the idea of seed banks when it became apparent that the Seed Library Of Los Angeles was going to eventually need a seed bank to back up our work.  That realization hit when it became clear to me that ANY physical location has the chance to be compromised.  Our Venice location, for example could be wiped out by a fire (the building is very old and a fire is not out of the question  - or a tidal wave or the vagaries of the Los Angeles Unified School District.  We need some place when all else fails, doesn't.

Little did I realize that Svalbard could well be it.  Svalbard, created from the original idea of Cary Fowler, is located above the Arctic Circle on the island called Svalbard and run under the auspices of the Norwegian government.  It is wholly funded by the Norwegian government, unlike the information one can find on the internet.  The seeds are held in storage as a backup for the people who sent them there, should there be a disaster that causes the loss of the seeds in their gardens and farms.  

Seeds are prepared by, say, SLOLA, placed in a container and sent, with an inventory to Svalbard.  There these seeds are checked in and place in the vaults.  The only folks who can ask for the seeds to be removed from Svalbard would be SLOLA in response to a disaster befalling the libraries inventory.  

This is not a dry movie.  It moves with elegance and purpose.  There is barely a dry eye in the house when the Filipino woman has to say what has happened to the seeds they had gathered to ship to Svalbard.  When you watch this film with the awareness of our seeds and the importance of them, you will be moved as well.  

And now we see clearly that we need both and this is one of the most ambitious seed banks in the world.  The possibility that we will desperately need the seeds that are stored in Svalbard grows more and more unavoidable as politicians play blithe games with the reality of global climate change.

The movie is showing tonight, tomorrow (I'll be there as the Q and A guy on Sunday) and and on into next week.  It is worth your while and you will learn a lot more about our food, our seeds, seed banks and Svalbard.  Most of all though, you'll meet Cary Fowler, author of  Shattering: Food, Politics, and the Loss of Genetic Diversity as well as other books. Compassionate, inspired, passionate and informed, Fowler is a thoroughly lovable and charming subject.  The movie making is top notch and I encourage everyone who likes food and enjoys eating! 


Thursday, April 2, 2015


After Pennsylvania’s Department of Agriculture adopted a policy restricting the Simpson Seed Library in Mechanicsburg, PA from sharing locally saved seed, several states have followed suit, threatening the continued existence of seed libraries. Seed laws exist to regulate entities that sell or commercially exchange seeds. A seed library is a noncommercial nonprofit, cooperative, or governmental organization that donates seed and receives donations of seed, especially by encouraging members to learn about seed saving and donate seeds to the library. Donation of seed is not required in a seed library, so the sharing of seeds does not even rise to the level of barter or exchange, let alone sell. Seed libraries are far different in nature and scale than commercial seed companies and need to be appropriately recognized under the law to protect their ability to continue freely sharing seeds in communities across the country.

This petition seeks to legalize seed sharing and prevent more seed libraries for being busted.  Join with other SLOLA members to keep the seed free!  


Friday, December 19, 2014

A Blow to Seed Security and Seed Libraries

Our friends from Seed Freedom LA gathering for our first
press conference/rally in 2013

Only a few days from our rebuff at the Los Angeles City Council, a few interesting facts come to the surface that make the story a whole lot more 'interesting,' as in "may you live in interesting times" supposedly an old Chinese curse.  As I begin to write this, I cannot even title it.  I have smoke coming out of my ears and as I realize that Seed Freedom LA was defeated as a part of a much more broad campaign to take seeds from the hands of individual citizens and concentrate our food growing in the clutches of agri-business. 

I wish to introduce you to an essay by Britt Bailey who introduces a new twist to thickening plot on the Environmental Commons page.  I'd like you to go that page and read the whole essay, it covers more than I want to get into right here, but it shows that California's AB 2470, passed in our last legislative session, is part of a national trend where many state legislatures have passed bills so similar that the wordings are almost identical. In all cases they ban municipalities in that state from enacting laws that govern seeds.  
These states include Pennsylvania, Iowa, Idaho, North Dakota, South Dakota, Georgia, Oklahoma, Florida, Indiana, Texas, North Carolina, Arizona, West Virginia, Ohio, Kansas, and California.

And just to fluff out our lesson on seed sovereignty being under attack, I include here a link to California's AB 2470.  Just read it and absorb the power grab this bill holds!  It literally sets in place for the Secretary of Agriculture to create lists of plants that shall be grown in California as well as other equally heinous provisions.  

The secretary, by regulation, may adopt all of the following:
(a) A list of the plants and crops that the secretary finds are or may be grown in this state.
Of course today, it looks rather innocuous and dull, but I find this concept a disturbing possibility, especially if it is only one of many laws throughout the nation.  This could effectively mean the loss of all our heirloom crops; the secretary might mandate only GMO crops be grown, it just doesn't pass the smell test.

If we are to have a sane seed (food) policy, this law must go and in it's place a law that makes seed libraries a part of a public policy against the loss of seed sovereignty and creates the legal framework for us to continue our work in making sure our world is seed and food secure.



Monday, December 15, 2014

Like a New Year's Resolution: A Target!

Burgandy Okra Seeds - "On the hoof" 

A year ago I drew up a list of seeds I thought would be the ones to save – I asked around for others to suggest varieties that I might have missed, but there haven't been a lot of responses.

I was explaining to someone the other day that SLOLA has something like 200 varieties of vegetables in our bank and how I would rather have fewer varieties with larger quantities of each. He suggested that I was postulating the same lack of diversity I decry in the world of seed today.

After thinking about it for a couple of days, I think I have an answer to that accusation: It is better to save a fewer varieties of seed and save them well than to have hundreds of different varieties and save them poorly. I would like SLOLA to save all the seeds that will grow here successfully, but that could easily be more seeds than SLOLA can handle at present.

It is more important that we start where we are (we can't really start somewhere else, can we?) and begin to learn how to save seeds of several major varieties and have them on hand. At present, there aren't that many members who are experienced at growing out to seed. Those who can reliably grow plants out to seed need to apply themselves to growing out the difficult seeds and grow enough out to insure a supply on hand for the rest of our members.

Last year, compiling my list of seeds to save, I was heading east on I-70 through Illinois into Indiana ending up at Ft. Wayne to celebrate Christmas. I was in the back of a car with my little Netbook and using a Blackberry to be online. This year, I'm at home and surrounded by seed catalogs, including the two most often cited as 'veggie porn' catalogs (Seed Savers' Exchange and Baker Creek Heirlooms) and was able to use their listings to create the following list of seeds to save.

In compiling this list, I have relied a lot on my own experience with these different varieties and have selected those first. In addition, I have sought diversity of plants (not all early, but some early, some mid-season and some late, where the varieties allowed that). I also looked for performance in many different criteria – including, hardiness, production, flavor, uniqueness as well as historical significance and, in a few cases, we have varieties to save because they are a family heirloom that might be lost if we don't save them.

Some types of plants have many varieties to save and some just a few. Limiting factors could be 1.) lack of varieties; 2.) lack of varieties that do well in Southern Califonia; 3.) I am not familiar with many varieties and so choose to not make a decision (eggplant is an example) and 4.) one or two varieties are considered sufficient to supply the need. For example, in the case of cilantro, there are several (not many) named varieties on the market, but having grown all the cilantros I've found, the differences are negligible and so I simply list cilantro without any varieties. Slo-Bolt bolted faster for me than the cilantro have self seeding in my garden.

Here's the number one reason to share this: we seed savers in SLOLA need to hear from everyone who has suggestions for varieties of veggies to save. The Seed Savers Of Los Angeles need to build a list of seeds to save – a 'target' for us to shoot for. Email us via the blog or bring your list to any SLOLA meeting – I’ll be willing to add your suggestions to my list. Let's see if we can double this in the coming year!

This is a work in progress! OUR work!

Varieties of Vegetable Seeds I Believe We* Should Save


Green Globe

Beans (nominally
Phaseolus vulgaris)

Aquadulce (Fava)
Broad Windsor (Fava)
Cannelini Bush Bean (Dry/Bush)
Christmas (Lima/Climbing)
Envy (Soybean)
Golden Wax Bean (Wax/Bush)
Henderson (Lima/Bush)
Hutterite Soup
Pencil Pod (Wax/Bush)
Pineschi Family Bean (Vigna unguiculata)
Royal Burgundy Bean (Purple/Early)
Scarlet Runner (Phaseolus coccineus)

Bull's Blood
Crosby's Egyptian
Burpee's Golden
Detroit Dark Red
Yellow Cylindrical

Brussels Sprouts

Long Island Improved

Copenhagen Market Cabbage
Early Jersey Wakefield
Glory of Einkhuizan
Mammoth Red Rock
Perfection Drumhead Savoy
Premium Late Flat Dutch

Scarlet Nantes Carrot
Chantenay Red Core
Danvers Half Long
White Belgian

Early Snowball

Five Color Silverbeet Chard (AKA Rainbow Chard)
Fordhook Giant
Celery and Celeriac

Giant Prague (Celeriac)
Utah Tall (Celery)

Black Azte,
Country Gentleman Corn
Golden Bantam Corn
Oaxacan Green Dent
Stowells Evergreen
Corn (Popcorn)



Grains (except corn and wheat)

Quinoa, Shelly 25 Black
Sesame, Light Seeded

Blue Curled Scotch
Blue Solaise
King Richard

lBack Seeded Simpson
Brune d'Hiver
Drunken Woman Frizzy Head
Merveille des Quatre Saison
Parris Island Cos
Red Romaine
Rouge d'Hiver
Rouge Grenobloise
Tom Thumb
Webbs Wonderful
Yugoslavian Red

Green Nutmeg
Hale's Best
Metki White Serpent (cucumber)

Clemson Spineless
Don't Knowcra
Star of David

Red of Florence

Harris Model
Little Marvel
Tall Telephone
Oregon Sugar Pod
Sugar Snap
Corno di Toro
Italian Pepperoncini
Jalapeno Early
Jimmy Nardello Italian
Red Marconi
Squash – Summer
Lebanese White Bush Marrow
Zucchini – Lungo Bianco
Squash - Winter

Black Futsu
Marina di Chioggia
Queensland Blue Squash
Sweet Meat

Amish Paste
Big Rainbow
Black Cherry
Black From Tula
Black Icicle
Cherokee Purple
Cream Sausage
Orange Banana
Orange Icicle
Roman Candle
San Marzano
San Remo
Striped Roman
Wapsipinicon Peach

Purple Top White Globe

Federation 126
Perennial Wheat
Sonoran White


*“We” being the Seed Library of Los Angeles   

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Tis the Season To Be Seedy

It's a good time of year to reflect.  And it's excellent for the Seed Library of Los Angeles' members to reflect at this time of year because today, the 4th of December is the library's 'birthday.'  On December 4th, 2010 the first group of people met on the patio of The Learning Garden and began to formulate what everyone sees today as this marvelous seed library serving the Los Angeles area - which continues to grow monthly!  

From twenty four members present at that first meeting, we have over 800 members today, and many of those original members not only serve on our board but are some of our most able seed savers.  We are stable organization with officer elections in January.  We have more varieties of seeds we can handle and we have some wonderful success stories of saving varieties of seeds from extinction.  SLOLA has taken on some of our own breeding and countless talks have been given all over Los Angeles to audiences of 3rd graders to groups of elderly folks.  This last month we spoke at Otis College of Art and Design on saving seeds, Santa Monica College debating the efficacy of GMOs and UC Santa Barbara about saving seeds.  The message of seed saving and diversity is getting out with even non-gardeners and farmers becoming aware that our food supply is at risk because our seed supply is at risk.

Seed libraries have blossomed all over the United States - they are something local citizens can do and a way to participate in our saving our seeds from patents and the industrial model of growing food from manipulated genetics and poisons.  Seed libraries are the result of the innate knowledge that all gardening is local and diversity is what will prevent starvation, not patented seeds. 

In fact we might be a little too popular and maybe doing enough good in the world that we've pissed some big boy agriculture companies off.  Earlier this year, the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture (DoA) forced a newly forming library to shut down because they were not conforming to the seed laws imposed on commercial ventures; Maryland's DoA concurred and threatened to apply the same approach to any seed libraries formed in that state; Nebraska's DoA served notice on the seed libraries in that state to cease and desist.  

And Big Ag pulled their overalls up high and struck in the middle of the night.  In Sacramento, California in the last session of the year, our legislatures passed AB 2470, one of the most onerous of bills we've seen come down in modern times.  AB 2470 does a number of things, all of them bad.  I have a lot more to say about AB 2470 that will wait until after the first of the year, but today, on the fourth anniversary of SLOLA, I only want to deal with one:  the provision that makes it illegal for municipalities to make seed laws without the approval of the state's secretary of agriculture.  This law takes effect this coming January 1st, 2015.  If we want to have Los Angeles be a sanctuary for non-GMO seeds, we HAVE to have our bill passed by city council before December 31 to be grand-fathered in.

We are calling on all gardeners in Los Angeles to please come to LA City Council meeting on Tuesday, December 09, to stand in solidarity with us and have Los Angeles declared a GMO Free Zone!  Meet us in council chambers, on the third floor, in City Hall between Spring and Main Streets and Temple and First Streets - entrance on Main. If you oppose GMOs and have done nothing this year to oppose them, now is your chance to redeem and deguilt yourself!  We want, we really want, that chamber filled with supporters!   

This law will only be applied to seeds and to plants.  It will protect the plants grown in Los Angeles from genetically engineered pollen, so your corn and your beets and chard cannot be contaminated and can remain untainted. This law will not change anything in your grocery store, because we cannot legislate that.  It only applies to seeds and to the plants grown in LA.  Because there are currently no - or very little - GMO crops grown in the city, the economic hit will be slight but the economic boon could prove to be very lucrative!

With all the motions and laws that LA City Council has already passed, this law will be a substantial underpinning of the nascent urban agriculture movement in Los Angeles.  With produce that is legally protected from genetic alteration, our produce will have more cache. And every dollar spent on buying LA grown produce will stay in the community - unlike fast food, that money will contribute to LA and not to some far off corporate headquarter entity.  We build a better Los Angeles - and the people growing the food, entrepreneurs employ other Angelenos to help them and that is more money circulating in LA's economy.  

If food and gardens are important to you, please come to City Council this coming Tuesday morning, December 09 and stand in solidarity with us as the motion is introduced - if you have a garden apron, or garden shoes, wear them!  Be a gardener among gardeners pointing the way towards the new future of food in Los Angeles and the World! 

And all the blessings of the season to you and yours - and may your gardens be bountiful and delicious and forever GMO Free!

More can be found with these two blogs:


Saturday, November 22, 2014

August 2014 Minutes

As we used to do, we are returning to our promise to make the Board of Directors' meetings available online to be fully transparent.

August meeting - MINUTES
16 August 2014
Meeting began at 1:20pm

Present:  David King, Chair, Lucinda Zimmermann, Treasurer, Patty Kestin, Pat Ruiz, Lori Bennett, Linda Pruess, Kieanna Jolaei, Secretary, Paula Kleihauer, Benita Robinson 

-Board Retreat unfinished business
-Treasurer report $50 towards booth payment
-“Seed of the Season” – What’s its going to be?
-Seed return info sheets
-Printer Fliers status – how many?
-Heritage Expo

-Interim Membership chair (Patty)
-New candidate for Seed Librarian (Pat)
-Notes on Seed Library legalities
-Relating the retreat to the membership

Treasurer's report: $8,161.97
We have been given $50 from people up north towards the Santa Rosa Heirloom Festival booth costs

Discussion: Seed of the Season for Cool season

MOTION: use a pea for the seed of the season, will purchase at the expo, distribute at September meeting. Variety TBD.
September meeting with be about growing & harvesting seeds.
>> tomato testing
>> pea speaker?

Labels with directions re instructions on how to grow and variety

-Seed info sheet / guidelines re returning seeds
>> David & Pat to finish
>> Expect to pass out at September meeting.

MOTION: for 2000 fliers – Linda to order

1:36pm – Albert arrives

-Patty to do PR in interim

-Committee meeting for heirloom festival
>> David, Linda, Lucinda, Albert
>> fix parking, pick displays, Linda to bring posters

MOTION: to make Pat seed librarian
MOTION: confirmed that Kieanna resigns as seed librarian to become Secretary.
MOTION: to reimburse any invited speakers for .50 cents per mile
>> pay for speakers
>> speaker fund $1000 per year to include mileage)

-Budget meeting

MOTION TO ADJOURN by Lori Bennett, seconded by Paula; passed unanimously at 2:05 PM

Respectfully submitted,  
Kieanna Jolaei

TODAYS MEETING: Announcements
-peppers, beans
-Linda speaks about retreat
-Kieanna re volunteers
-Pat new librarian