Monday, January 31, 2011

Introduction to The Best Practices Committee (BPC) of SLOLA

(This document was mailed to the initial members of SLOLA's Best Practices Committee.  If you would like to be a part of this committee, please leave a comment at the end of this document - any and all who are earnest  about saving our heritage of open pollinated seeds are welcome to contribute!  david)

Welcome to the Best Practices committee of SLOLA. This is the committee charged with setting the standards that will be observed by the Library in all of its dealings. 

A lot of our work will probably be done on the computer – books are marvelous resources, but the most up to date material will be found online at colleges and professional agencies. On the other hand, many folks who are not completely familiar with computers and the internet have years of valuable experience and knowledge about growing plants and saving seeds that should not be discarded simply because they don't use the web as the primary focus of information. ANYONE willing to put in the time is welcome to assist this committee. If you aren't computer savvy, please find someone in the committee who is computer savvy to team with so your expertise is not lost and you can either learn or at least be exposed to the information available form the internet.

At some point in the future, I even see experts who may not be a part of SLOLA might well become honorary members of this committee for a few weeks or months to address certain procedures or answer questions from the committee as whole. We need people dedicated to the saving of these precious seeds willing to work to that end and the more people we have working to that end, the better we will be.


Some of the books we will all find helpful, include, but are not limited to (I would appreciate other suggestions to round this list out):

Breed Your Own Vegetable Varieties, Deppe, Carol © 2000, Chelsea Green Publishing
Heirloom Vegetable Gardening, Weaver, William Woys © 1997 Henry Holt & Co.
Seed to Seed, Ashworth, Suzanne © 2002, Seed Savers Exchange

The Deppe book is probably the most scientific of all and is probably the hardest to read, but will also probably serve as the best resource over all. The Weaver book is out of print, sadly, and used copies can cost as much as $95 or more. It is probably the most fun to read and is certainly the most inspiring. Mother Earth News, the magazine, has published the whole book on CD ROM which can be found advertised in the magazine or online ( about $30.00. If you find used copies of this masterpiece, snatch it up it is authoritative and delightful to read at the same time. You will not regret owning this book. The Ashworth book is excellent and was used extensively in preparing this document. If you have other books or sources that you think should be added to this list, please let us all know!

In addition to those you can buy, one published and free book I have found useful is called A Seed Saving Guide for Gardeners and Farmers and is available for free from Organic Seed Alliance. I have made copies of this publication which I have available at the Garden and will sell to members of this committee at my cost. It's an excellent resource. I hate the print size (small).

We should also make use of periodical material from seed companies (their catalogs can have useful information) and Seed Savers Exchange has a huge amount of material on seed saving and heirloom seed. If you can afford the expense, being a member of SSE is extraordinarily helpful.

If price is a concern, the Organic Seed Alliance booklet will do wonderfully. If you have some money to spend, but not much, get Ashworth's book followed by Deppe's. Get the rest of them if money is no object (and come see me about giving me a low-interest rate loan).

Seed companies that publish catalogs to refer to (or just look at the pictures) include, Fedco, Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, Landreth's Seeds, Abundant Life Seeds, Native Seed/SEARCH, Seed Savers Exchange, Bountiful Garden Seeds, and many others.
Most of these seed companies and non-profits maintain active web sites, I encourage everyone to investigate Organic Seed Alliance and Seed Savers Exchange's websites as well as those of other seed libraries. There are a number of seed saving blogs online as well, a list of those will be forth-coming, but every committee member needs to be familiar with 
The Record of The Seed Library of Los Angeles ( where this document 
and all other public documents of SLOLA are posted. This blog will be available on the SLOLA website ( once we have it up and running.

One of the projects of a BPC member might be to find and catalog all the web resources that are available to us in this endeavor pointing us all to the sites with the best and most relevant information. 


The work of the committee will necessarily involve research and documentation of research and conveying that documentation in a manner that is easily understood by a large number of people who may not have nearly the level of commitment as the members of this committee might possess. We will depend on our website of reference. If we can find information there about saving seeds of a given species, that will serve as our guide. If there is nothing in their listing about a given species, we will write it and post it there ourselves using the web or books or other sources of reliable information. This same information will be posted on the SLOLA website as well.

The work of this committee will become the guide for the workings of SLOLA. We will write standards to be observed on, but not limited to, the following and the process of communicating these as follows:
  • Methods of ensuring seed purity, including distances between flowering plants
  • Accepted practices of pollinating fruit to ensure seed purity
  • Accepted practices of preparing seed for storage, best manner of storage, optimal storage conditions and length of storage time for each species
  • Articles and films teaching best practices in all these areas to SLOLA membership and for web distribution
  • Seminars for SLOLA members on seed saving techniques of the different plants to be saved.
The Best Practices Committee will also meet to update our policies as new information becomes available and to improve the workings of SLOLA.

It is envisioned that members of this committee will become experts in one or more specialized seed or family of seeds. Each member of the committee will need to know the botany and the practicalities of seed saving in their area of expertise.

Skip the following few paragraphs if you have familiarity with the botanical manner of naming plants – or don't want to deal with my simplification of the system.

To begin, the families and species of major food plants have been divided up to allow each committee member to select an area of interest to develop into an area of expertise.

The following represents an introduction to each family and the members of each family we would like to consider. Do not be intimidated by the Latin, it follows certain set conventions that help understand the nature of each plant you are dealing with. For example: the modern names of all the families ends with 'ceae' – there are some antique names that end in 'ae' and sometimes you will find those names used instead of the 'ceae' name – below, you will find the older names are in parenthesis. Most plants in a given family will share a lot of characteristics, some will even cross-pollinate. 

We will, for accuracy, use these scientific conventions for our work.

Large groups of plants with similar characteristics are placed into a 'Family.' As noted above, the current family names all end in 'ceae.' They are capitalized and usually are written in italics. Each family may contain more than one genus of plants. A genus is a group of plants even more similar than the family. The genus is the first word of a binomial – the two words that 'name' a plant. It is capitalized and is usually written in italics too. The species (or specific) of a plant is not capitalized and is italicized too. If I were a plant, we would turn my name around backwards and make look as though it was Latin. This would render my name something like Kingii davidii and that's how it would be written. Mind you, I'm not Latin and so no Roman would have a clue how to pronounce such a name so don't be afraid of murdering a few names as we stumble through this.

To further this lesson using me as an example; my mother's family was the Anderson clan of north east Kansas. I could be considered a part of that clan, so my 'family' might Andersoneaceae. Hence
Kingii davidii
and that is how this would be written. And you could see that a cousin in this family, could have a different last name, but still be a part of the family. Let's say Uncle Charlie – he could be rendered as Andersonii charliei – different part of the same family, Andersoneacea, but still a part of the family.

And the final part, that doesn't neatly fit with my cute little example above, are 'cultivars,' a shortened name for 'cultivated species.' These are plant humans have bred for specific characteristics that further divide the species. An easy example comes from beans, Phaseolus vulgaris and you and I know there are a LOT of very different beans out there! So if we talk about P. vulgaris, 'Royal Purple Pod,' we know we are not talking about P. vulgaris 'Pencil Pod;' the cultivar is the non-italicized words at the end inside of single quotes. 
If you have further questions, there are web and other resources that explain this and we will list them in future offerings. I certainly hope my explanations haven't driven anyone away. If you have questions, please contact me directly and I'll do my best to explain it.

Families That Contain Species of Major Vegetables

Several species of amaranth. As this is used as a grain, for the initial months or years of the library it is not considered a family of immediate concern. It could be part of a larger portfolio, but it will not be a huge undertaking.

The onion family, many of which are not usually propagated by seed, but enough to make this an important family and could comprise one person's portfolio – it includes, leeks, common onions, chives and shallots.

Apiaceae (Umbelliferae)
A group of vegetables that have been historically important but have been mostly neglected in modern cuisine, including: dill, chervil, celery, celeriac, chervil, coriander (cilantro), carrots, fennel, parsnips, parsley and skirret. This could comprise a single person's portfolio.

Asparagaceae (Liliaceae)
One plant, asparagus, which is not often propagated by seed. Knowledge of propagating this plant from seed might one day be important. Could comprise a portion of one person's portfolio.

Asteraceae (Compositae)
The family of sunflowers, lettuce and artichokes also includes a number of minor players and could comprise one person's portfolio.

Brassicaceae (Cruciferae)
A most important food family that includes major players like kale, rutabagas, cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, collards, Brussels sprouts, mustard, turnips and others. This family should be shared among two people at least. I have no suggestions for how this family should be split.

The family of quinoa, which is a pseudo-grain that will probably become important in the near future. Also includes beets, orach and spinach – this family could be part of one person's portfolio.

A minor food family, but it does include sweet potatoes – would be a portion of a person's portfolio – is there enough to consider it at all a part of our efforts or should we leave this be for the time being?

Most certainly will need to be divided among several people, this family includes, watermelons, cucumbers, cantaloupes, honeydews, casabas, squashes of all spots and stripes, and gourds. They almost all have the same pollination procedure and will cross among themselves with ease. A suggested delineation could be:
Cucumis sp. For one person ('sp.' is short for 'species.')
Cucurbita sp. For another
All other species to a third person

Mind you, this is merely a suggestion. I have other ideas (Cucurbita moschata, C. pepo and C. maxima could each comprise a single person's entire portfolio); this family is not only important, it is not an easy one to breed true. (I think I want to be in on C. moschata.)

Fabaceae (Leguminosae)
Another large family that includes all the beans, including lentils, peanuts, soybeans, garbanzos, jicama, and peas, although they do not readily cross and are not all that difficult to separate. Because these are inbreeding plants and easy to keep pure, the entire family won't consume a lot of time and could be a part of one person's portfolio.

Lamiaceae (Labiatae)
Do you call basil a 'vegetable?' This is the family of the mints and only basil comes close to being a vegetable, and most of the others are usually vegetatively propagated, so this family could be a part of someone's larger portfolio.

Okra. One person could include this in their portfolio. Or we could just skip it...

Poaceae (Gramineae)
Grains and the only grain the library initially intends to curate would be corn. As such, it could be a part of a larger portfolio – it crosses promiscuously and careful attention must be paid to any seed saved from corn. In the future this might well be a complex portfolio including rice, wheat, barley and others – and at that point, it would need to be a portfolio divided among several members.

The family of rhubarb and sorrels. Mostly propagated vegetatively, there is little of interest to a seed-saver, but it might prove fortuitous to have someone skilled in this family in the future.

Tomatoes, peppers and eggplants are the major players in this family, but it also includes tomatillos and potatoes. Should probably be shared – tomatoes alone should be shared!

There are many other families, but these include almost all the important edibles in our culture that are propagated by seed.

Note that many of these families include species that are not currently a part of our diet, but in a post oil, high carbon world, may well become plants of economic importance and should be included our field of interest.

After reading all of this, please, by return email, list your first three choices for your personal portfolio and any of the smaller families that might interest you. I will try to assign folks the area they wish to be involved with – I will give precedence based on when I get your email. I imagine we'll have some trading and shifting of areas of interest in the future. None of this need be considered permanent – it is a 'portfolio' and the contents of yours can change.

So this is a starting place. At this point, SLOLA does not yet have a clear vision of the seeds we want to save – so far we only have two lists of 25 varieties offered of seeds we want to include in the seed library (most of the lists I received were of species and did not mention varieties – I had lists that were: “carrots, tomatoes, peas, beans... etc.” which were not helpful.). We are a ways from knowing even if we are going to save Apiaceae at any time in the near future. I encourage all of us to make up a list of at least 25 varieties that we each would like to see saved and share those lists with this committee. I would be very please to compile the lists. If you want to see mine, it is at the SLOLA blog ( the article is called “A Vision of What SLOLA Could Be” - my list is at the very end).

I would like to see us have a face to face meeting in a week or two.. It could be at The Learning Garden but need not. A location more central to everyone would be delightful but I don' know of any place that would fit the bill. I'll be in conversation with many of you in the coming few days.

Email me at once with your portfolio choices and any corrections/additions to this document.

Thank you for time and attention to this very long document. I hope you are fired up and want to go save some seeds!


Tuesday, January 25, 2011

A Tale Of Two Seed Farmers: Organic Vs. Engineered

From an NPR comes a story that shows some of the problems with allowing GMO crops to be planted alongside normal crops.  

"This valley is not big enough to have genetically engineered crops and normal crops growing together without cross contamination happening," says Frank Morton, an organic farmer who grows Swiss chard for seed.

And we'd say, "This earth isn't big enough, either, Frank!"


Another wonderful seed BANK (not library)

Read the complete "about" details at the link....

What Is The Populuxe Seed Bank…

The Populuxe Seed Bank is a privately run seed bank located in Victoria, BC.

In January 2009 I decided to start my own private seed bank. Over the course of 2009 and 2010 the original number of a handful of varieties of seeds I started with has grown to over 75 heirloom and open pollinated varieties, and is growing exponentially as each month passes, and other dedicated growers donate their seeds for preservation.

The Populuxe Seed Bank was born to acquire seeds, grow them out, and then redistribute them to anybody wishing to grow these varieties. The Populuxe Seed Bank also documents seed histories to preserve the stories associated with the variety. The Populuxe Seed Bank helps to educate other private growers on how they can start their own seed bank to help preserve biodiversity.

The Populuxe Seed Bank has a twitter feed here.

Monsanto: Even MORE Insidious

Now they're doing a "warm and fuzzy" marketing campaign for their destructive business. This is so insidious and appalling, I simply cannot believe it. Orwell had it right when he wrote about "doublespeak."

Monday, January 24, 2011

Mr Brown Thumb's Seed Saving Resources

This blogger and I came across one another on Twitter, and now he's my FB buddy. I mentioned SLOLA to him and he shared this seed saving resource page with me! Awesome.

Also I'd like to share that Jimmy Williams, the beloved nursery man from Hayground Organics who sells his wonderful plants at Farmers Markets throughout the area, has a terrific new book out called FROM SEED TO SKILLET and there is a central page with great seed resources in the book, too.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Why Save Seeds?

The author of the Kebun Malay-Kadazan girls blog has suggested a "seed week" from the 22nd~26th of January in which anyone interested participates by blogging about their experiences as they are related to seeds, bulbs, tubers, rhizomes or cuttings including the collecting, propagating, growing, and/or how to keep them in tip top shape. You can submit a link to her from an old post or a recent one and this is not limited to one post only. So please join in on her seed week so we can all learn from each others experiences.... (read the complete post at link above)

Friday, January 21, 2011

BASIL (Bay Area Interchange Seed Library) Article

We already know that saving seeds is critical to fighting climate change, yet seed libraries can prove tough to maintain. But what exactly is a seed library, and how can you use one? Here's a great primer on one such project in Berkeley. Could our public libraries get in on the act too?

Run by volunteers as a fiscally-sponsored project of the Berkeley Ecology Center, the Bay Area Seed Interchange Library (BASIL) seems to be about as close to a true library model as you can get. Seeds are made available free of charge to members, but those members are asked in return to "grow out" those seeds and return some of the same variety to the library at the end of the season. (read the complete article at the link above!)

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Renee's Garden Seeds

Just spotted on Facebook:

Renee's Garden Seeds It's a perfect time to start putting together your seed order with our 10% off Earlybird special at thru Jan. 31. Simply enter EARLYBIRD in the coupon box at the bottom of the checkout page.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The SEED issue of Kitchen Gardeners Int'l Newsletter

What a terrific resource this is! I recommend to all that you read this, and then sign up for the FREE KGI newsletter. Roger Doiron started this group on his own, and it was his idea to get the White House to put in a 21st century Victory Garden. Others picked up the ball and ran with it and you know where it landed--so Roger's got a good thing going here. I highly commend KGI to your attention.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

MINUTES of the 2nd SLOLA General Meeting (*) updated

SLOLA: Seed Library of Los Angeles
General Meeting
January 15, 2010
at Venice High School Learning Garden

Executives Present:
Chairman David King; Vice-Chair Norma Bonilla; Treasurer Ledette Gambini; Secretary Sarah Spitz

Committee Chairs Present:
Sarah LaVoie Web/Outreach; Lucinda Zimmerman, Organization; Linda Preuss , Database; Cheryl Noda, Membership

I. The meeting was attended by approximately 40 people. Chairman David King welcomed members and guests explaining that there are big issues in the world that we have little control over, and we may feel there's nothing we as individuals can do to change those things. But we can save seeds -- keeping open pollinated seeds in existence in our immediate area.

Although there are no minutes from the first meeting (as elections took place during that meeting), 25 people attended.

II. Secretary Sarah Spitz explained executives were elected and committees were created, chairs established, and first committee meeting dates were set.

III. Treasurer Ledette Gambini indicated that there is approximately $200 in the treasury from the first meeting.

IV: Committee chair reports:
NOTE: All committees will gladly welcome new members to their ranks. Please feel free to contact us.

Linda Preuss, database, spoke of the database as being about recording the seeds we have, keeping track of inventory, making seeds accessible online and also keeping membership accurate. The members researched other seed libraries to see what systems they use to keep track of their contents. A Filemaker Pro database has been started; it needs to be hosted; and ideas for how to create a seed packet directly from the order form has been discussed. This committee will coordinate with the web team.

Cherri Noda reported on membership committee, explaining that the Safe Seed Pledge needed to be signed by all who wish to be members, and that lifetime membership is $10 because we want the library to be widely accessible. Forms were distributed and collected.

Lucinda Zimmerman reported the organizational committee has been communicating about putting together bylaws for SLOLA, defining duties and responsibilities, seed check out procedures and other details concerning how SLOLA will function.

Sarah LaVoie, Web/Outreach chair, said that the domain name has been purchased, she has designed several possible logos, and hosting and templates for the website are being researched and will be decided on. (*Update: The committee was authorized to spend $60 to purchase domain name and has been given carte blanche to begin creating the website itself.)

V: New Member Accord for all Current Members

David King created a Safe Seed Pledge which was distributed and reviewed, signed by all in attendance. This raised a discussion about seed specifics:
  • how we will label seeds, what details to include about the seed, where it was grown, etc.
  • where will seeds be stored (at Venice High Learning Garden: David is in discussion with LAUSD for a locked storage cabinet; a refrigerator is still needed for delicate and temperature sensitive seeds)
  • the idea of avoiding unstable hybrids from being donated
  • will we consider home breeders and seed stability
Also, all documents created will be translated into Spanish. Clara Yoshihara has volunteered to do this.

VI. New Business

A. Vice Chair Norma Bonilla had to step down, due to time constraints and work overload. The Vice Chair's post aids Chairman David King, meets with committee chairs, and handles any details needed as this new group begins to set up its organizational structure. SLOLA will become the seed source for Los Angeles. During this crucial start up time, the Vice Chair will be expected to commit between 10 to 15 hours per week, the load is expected to lighten as the organization begins to get up and running.

Two people have stepped forward to assume the post, which may be split between them: Clara Yoshihara and Lucinda Zimmerman.

B. Approval of committee actions was accepted.

C. New meeting plan proposed: David moved to meet twice a year, but the general consensus is that while the group is still in formation stages, for at least 6 months, monthly meetings will be best. Once established we can consider holding two general meetings a year, March and September, with a festival atmosphere including entertainment, seed seminars, focus on seasonal seeds, a general meeting, a picnic/potluck. Families will be welcome.

D. New member accord, with Safe Seed Pledge, was unanimously accepted

E. New committee proposed: The "Best Practices" committee will be charged with establishing the best practices for seed saving. This will involve:

  • Researching and writing information on the best way to save each kind of seed. We can use for now; where there is no information, we can write and post it there and at
  • put together our organization's best practices/seed standards, dealing with issues of storage, viability and longevity of seeds
  • and, for example, if we have golden bantam corn seeds and no one borrows them for 3 years, do we keep them, or give them up
  • how are seeds to be cataloged: by year, type, localization (data on each seed and where it's grown in LA basin) etc.
  • NOTE: the Database cannot be fully implemented without knowing from this committee what specific details are needed for each seed.
  • Clara wants to be sure that the group is inclusive in its outreach to other communities throughout the LA basin so this is not just a Westside organization
One suggestion came out of this discussion for Web Team: Create a SLOLA JOURNAL for those who wish to share seeds and have them fill in all the details we decide that our best practices should incorporate.

(Side note; Vandana Shiva will be speaking in LA in November; should SLOLA be a sponsor)

Best Practices Committee will consist of:
Albert Chung; George George; Dana Morgan; Jessie Hill; Megan Bomba, Clara Yoshihara, Susan Grant, David King, Lucia Burke (*)

F: New members assigned to other committees:

Patty Kestin has been added to web/outreach.

Best Practices established as above.

G. Other notes:
  • Elizabeth Bowman will contribute a flip cam, to be used for videos to teach specific seed saving techniques that will reside online at SLOLA and possibly also YouTube.
  • Yvonne Savio, who heads the LA County Master Gardener program, introduced herself and the program, invited members to join her e-lists (community gardens and food security; and school gardens). She explained that the application period for 2011 program is now closed, the program is offered once a year, and 50 applicants are accepted out of 200-250 who wish to join. Announcements regarding the next application period are made in November, to those who sign up for E-Lists; and a reminder is sent in December. This is a good avenue to connect with others similarly engaged in gardening projects and activities. Contact Yvonne via email
The next event is JANUARY 29th: Essentials of Seed Saving seminar, which includes lunch, 10 am to 3 pm.

Meeting was adjourned, after which the Best Practices committee met, and an informal seed exchange took place amongst the members.

Respectfully submitted,

Sarah Spitz, SECRETARY

Friday, January 14, 2011

Charting a Course for Seed Self-Determination

Photo credit: Judy Owsowitz

In 2005, when Monsanto purchased Seminis, the world’s largest vegetable seed company, organic farmers found themselves facing an ethical quandary. Do they continue purchasing seed varieties they had relied on for years, now owned by a multinational biotech giant, or do they scramble to find alternatives that work as well on their farm?

Count Judy Owsowitz of Whitefish, Montana, among those organic farmers who chose to abandon Seminis varieties. Owsowitz was also not alone in asking seed companies she purchased from to stop doing business with Seminis, citing Monsanto’s commitment to genetic engineering and open hostility toward organic. Some seed companies did drop their Seminis line. Others could not afford to do so and, in some instances, alternatives weren’t readily available.

Five years later, Owsowitz is still working to replace an estimated 20 percent of varieties that she dropped following the acquisition.

“The biggest losses,” she says, “have been varieties that have a short growing season and traits for cold tolerance and cold soil emergence. Alternative varieties I’ve come across do nothing for Montana’s organic farmers.”

Owsowitz’s experience is not unique. Responses to a nationwide survey conducted by Organic Seed Alliance in 2010 indicate the organic sector is underserved in genetics specifically adapted to organic cropping systems, regions, and market niches. For varieties of organic seed that are available, many farmers are challenged by a lack of sufficient quantity.

While problems surrounding organic seed are complex, consolidation in the seed industry stands out as a major contributor to the basic lack of availability of organic seed. Companies have rapidly consolidated in the last 40 years, absorbed by transnational firms with chemical and biotechnology interests. The result has been less competition and choice in the marketplace and a lack of infrastructure to provide for the diverse needs of organic farmers.

“The organic industry wasn’t particularly well served to begin with,” says University of Wisconsin plant breeder Bill Tracy. “But consolidation has removed commercial cultivars that organic growers really liked and made them less accessible. There’s no question consolidation has increased the problem.”

Some of the worst concentration exists in major field crops. Three firms account for 75 percent of corn seed sales nationwide. Genetically engineeredtraits, namely RoundUp Ready® and Bt, have facilitated concentration of market power. For instance, nearly all conventional U.S. corn, soybean, and cotton acreage is planted to genetically engineered varieties controlled by Monsanto.

Dozens of mergers and acquisitions followed the expansion of agricultural biotechnology. Many smaller companies could not compete with large firms that owned much of the genetic resource base in seed. Licensing genetics from these firms was costly, creating a barrier to new private research firms. At least 200 independent seed companies have been acquired or gone out of business in the last thirteen years, including companies interested in providing for the organic and conventional seed market.

Concentration is a consequence of weak antitrust law enforcement that should have stopped anticompetitive mergers and acquisitions. It is also a consequence of Supreme Court decisions that allowed agricultural biotechnology and other plant products to be patented. Together, these factors led not only to concentrated market power but concentrated ownership of plant genetic resources — the lifeblood of plant breeding.
Tracy explains the current role of intellectual property rights. He says intellectual property rights developed by plant breeders — which include plant patents established in 1930 for asexually reproducing plants and hybrids and protection certificates established by the Plant Variety Protection Act (PVPA) of 1970 — all protect varieties but do not protect genes. That is, people can use protected varieties to develop new ones. Congress was clear in its intent to avoid hindering innovation by including two important exemptions in the PVPA: 1) researchers can use PVPA protected varieties to further innovation; and 2) farmers can save seed from protected varieties.

A 2001 Supreme Court decision, however, held that utility patents — patents for inventions — could not only be applied to your toaster at home, but to sexually reproducing plants. “Now utility patents can tie up everything,” Tracy explains. “And that is the intent. It’s certainly a chilling force. There’s germplasm I wouldn’t touch as a plant breeder because companies could assert their rights under the patent.”

Patents therefore have the potential to hinder innovation by removing valuable plant genetics from the pool of resources breeders rely on. Breeders are restricted or prohibited from using patented varieties, traits, or tools unless onerous licensing agreements are signed and expensive royalties paid. Or, as Tracy describes, some breeders are simply restricted by their own fear of being sued.

Farmers also live with this fear, as patents eliminate their right to save seed. Saving seed provides farmers both agronomic and economic benefits. They can select seed from plants that performed best in their local climate while saving money on new seed purchases for the next growing season.

Monsanto has pursued thousands of farmers in patent infringement investigations for allegedly saving seed, and over a hundred have been pushed into court and forced to pay thousands — or even hundreds of thousands — of dollars to the company. Patent holders like Monsanto enforce their patents through technology agreements. These agreements recently started showing up on Seminis vegetable seed packets, bringing Monsanto’s presence in the vegetable market — and the company’s aggressive enforcement of patents — into stark relief. Simply opening a packet of the popular Big Beef tomato seed variety now enters the grower into a licensing agreement with Monsanto.

In 2010, the U.S. Department of Justice focused on these and other licensing agreements as part of an investigation into competition in the seed industry. These are historic, ongoing investigations, and the focus should be broadened to examine the consequence of utility patents on plants that are slowing innovation. Congress could help by clarifying in law that the PVPA should be the sole intellectual property protection for sexually reproducing plant varieties, as was the original Congressional intent, ensuring that breeders have access to more varieties for research and that farmers can save seed. The PVPA provides patent-like protections for plant developers, including exclusive rights to propagate and market the variety for 20 years, yet also provides reasonable exemptions for researchers and farmers so that innovation can occur.

But, even if those two things happened, positive movement in these areas is not enough to ensure organic farmers have access to quality organic seed. Organic farmers still rely on a private seed industry highly concentrated by firms with non-organic interests. And the public sector, historically the most important source for regionally adapted seed, lacks the ability to provide for the organic market in the face of dwindling funds for traditional plant breeding and the related increase in private dollars funding research.

Bolstering public funding for plant breeding and keeping this research in the public domain would go a long way toward building organic seed availability. But there are opportunities the organic community can seize right now, without government action. We can work collaboratively to build the infrastructure for developing and distributing organic seed.
Owsowitz, who dumped Seminis after its acquisition, sees farmers like herself as part of this solution. She recognizes that consolidation is a deep-seated trend in the seed industry, having seen competition and variety options decline before Monsanto entered the vegetable scene. Seminis dropped more than 2,000 varieties (25 percent of its product inventory) in 2000 to cut costs, leaving farmers in a lurch even back then.

“That’s why I’m selecting seed for certain traits from my own fields,” Owsowitz says. Owsowitz is developing vegetable varieties on her farm that survive northwestern Montana’s short growing season and cool temperatures. Each year she selects seed — most notably from spinach, pumpkin, and pepper plants — that demonstrate desirable traits in her organic system. Each year she sees more advantages. Organic Seed Alliance is helping farmers like Owsowitz restore the skills needed for seed production.

With our partners, including four land grant universities, we are establishing decentralized, farmer-oriented seed production networks across the U.S. These collaborative networks, such as the Northern Organic Vegetable Improvement Collaboration, provide farmers access to shared knowledge and resources, including seed growing equipment. Program goals include developing varieties optimal for organic systems and safeguarding invaluable plant genetic resources.

As an organic community, we need to keep challenging threats to the integrity and expansion of organic agriculture, especially consolidation. But we also need to devote attention to positive solutions, including organic seed systems that restore farmers’ role and rights, ensure new varieties are available and shared for breeding purposes, and provide a diversity of healthy food now and into the future.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Suggested SLOLA MEETING AGENDA, 15 January, 2011

  1. Welcome to new and old members
  2. Secretary has minutes of last meeting
  3. Treasurer's report
  4. Committee Chair's reports
    A. Database
    B. Membership
    C. Organizational/Bylaws
    D. Web/Outreach
  5. Old Business
  6. New Business
    A. Vice-chair
    B. Approval of committee actions
    C. New meeting plan to dispense with monthly meetings to be replaced with two meetings annually that are larger and more festive
    D. New Member Accord, the Safe Seed Pledge*
    E. New committees
    F. New members assigned to committees

New Member Accord (including the 'Safe Seed Pledge") as Proposed:
SLOLA New Member Accord

Agriculture and seeds provide the basis upon which our lives depend. We must protect this foundation as a safe and genetically stable source for future generations. For the benefit of all farmers, gardeners and consumers who want an alternative,
I pledge that I do not knowingly buy, grow, share or trade
genetically engineered seeds or plants
The mechanical transfer of genetic material outside of natural reproductive methods and between genera, families or kingdoms, poses great biological risks as well as economic, political, and cultural threats. I feel that genetically engineered varieties have been insufficiently tested prior to public release. More research and testing is necessary to further assess the potential risks of genetically engineered seeds. Further, I wish to support agricultural progress that leads to healthier soils, genetically diverse agricultural ecosystems and ultimately people and communities.

______________________________________________ ________________________________
SLOLA Member Date

Furthermore, as a member of the Seed Library of Los Angeles, I pledge to grow plants according to best practices and save the seeds of those plants according to best practices to insure that I return viable seed that will produce seeds true to the variety I label them to be. If I do not know how to properly follow the Library's published 'best practices,' I will contact someone with the Library to help me. I understand I am dealing with a living thing and the responsibility that comes with this. I pledge to participate in this project and acknowledge the sacred bond between the seeds, the other members of the Library and myself and will be honest and forthright in all my dealings with the seeds, the other members of the Library and the Library itself.

______________________________________________ ________________________________
SLOLA Member Date

* The Safe Seed Pledge originated with The Council for Responsible Genetics founded in 1983, ...and comprised of scientists, lawyers, public health advocates and citizens concerned about the social, ethical and environmental impact of new genetic technologies. SLOLA did not create it, but adopted it as a standard for our organization.

  Additional agenda items should be noted in the comments below so they can be added....


Thursday, January 6, 2011

A Vision of What SLOLA Could Be

A friend of mine shows off a Christmas Lima Bean, named for the bright red and white seeds.  A productive Lima bean that persists right through our winters, 'Christmas' is on my list of seeds that I hope SLOLA will save - what is on YOUR list?  

Right now SLOLA (the Seed Library of Los Angeles) is in a formative stage and we have committees that deal with some things that aren't so interesting for most of us. We have to have rules/bylaws; we need to set standards and create protocols with structure – and we have to do it from whole cloth in order to make this vision of a seed library work and make it work for the generations to follow – if we set something in motion and fail to make it strong as an organization and institution, we could see all the work go for nothing if the seeds cannot be kept with pure genetic lines maintained and attention to all the little details wherein the Devil resides.

But... If you are at all like me, seeds are one of my playgrounds and I love to fiddle with them. When I'm not planting them, I'm dreaming about them and I'm making lists of what I'll plant later this year or what I hope I will be able to plant soon or maybe some rare heirloom that I can't find will obsess me for days until I either find it or give up trying.  I grew up in Kansas and during the winter, with snow over the garden, I would page through the seed catalogs, memorizing the ones with the descriptions that captured my imagination, making long lists of the ones I wanted Grandpa to buy.  He saved his seeds, so really never did take second note of my long lists, but I learned a lot from those seed catalogs and the fascination of a house-bound ten year old gardener for seeds is still with me today.

At the December meeting, everyone was asked to come back to the January meeting (the 15th) with a list of 25 vegetable seeds they would like to see be a part of the collection of seeds that SLOLA offers. I hope you've been playing with this list; I have! I have about already over-shot twenty five, so anyone needing additional suggestions, I'm ready to supply you with several to give you a full list!

But after I had made the list, I began to daydream about the future of SLOLA; a time when there is no real bylaws committee and the database committee is ad hoc, coming together only to solve a problem or to work out a better solution as warranted.

When that time comes, I see a Potato committee, a Lettuce Committee, a Pepper Committee and a Corn Committee and committees for every seed for which there is an interest in carrying on specific traits or creating newer cultivars. Each committee is looking at that plant and the different varieties available and perhaps even making new open-pollinated cultivars that improve the plants we can grow in the Los Angeles Basin. Perhaps in a few years, the L A area could be awash in the just-released “Bonilla Bell Pepper” or the “Spitz Red Leaf Lettuce!” Maybe there will be a super-productive red-skinned (and fleshed!) potato called “Rose Spuds” or a “Super Soup Bean!"

The possibilities could be even more productive than the hybrids we see today – the only reason hybrids have become so much more productive than open-pollinated seeds is the amount of research that has gone into them – and that productivity has been at the expense of other, arguably just as important qualities, like taste or ability to grow and produce well in the micro-climate of the LA Basin. What has been done with hybrids can be approximated with open-pollinated plants. Corporations won't do it because there is no profit in it for them that justifies the research and trials – but a seed library can and should put efforts into breeding more productive stock for our areas.

But we will also need people who have mechanical skills to create appropriately powered machines to help us keep our seeds and make them even more available to more people. I have pondered for years the idea of a bicycle powered grain thresher, a device that would pound the wheat kernel free from the husk that holds it and winnow out the debris of the husk leaving a person with the wheat berries to be ground. Already my mind is turning to a similar contraption that will remove all the corn seeds from a cob without burning blisters into a person's hands.

It's not just wheat seeds that need threshing – several other vegetables can be hard to break out of coverings – and who knows? - maybe one day SLOLA will offer some varieties of wheat that do well in Los Angeles – or perhaps rice or other grain – they do comprise a large part of our diets.

But first veggies. Then I'm very keen on raising some grain and herbs – culinary and medicinal and flowers – edible and medicinal - and even those flowers that are not edible and 'only' good for the spirit, like my favorite, sweet peas. They are 'food for the soul' as some wise person a few years ago said. 

The idea that one day we can have a small catalog of seeds available to members that will cover all the major vegetables and a few of the not so major ones as well, is tremendously empowering and exciting. I can't even think of this for a few minutes before I get all enthusiastic and I want to run out and plant another row of something that needs to be saved and dream of a future of a secure food supply, made secure by a few people who saw and acted on their uncommon common sense..

Times that are tenuous are often the times of greatest creativity. Certainly, in a turbulent economic time, faced with the greed of behemoth companies like Monsanto and others, a determined band of Los Angelenos came together to fight back the only way they could; by planting a seed of something that could grow.

I remember the old line: "Hope will never die as long as seed catalogs are printed.” Perhaps we can say, “Hope is ours to plant and harvest; we tend our own hope and hold our own destiny in our hands,” once again like our forebearers once did and we can claim their independence because of the seeds we have planted today.

Long live SLOLA!!

Here's MY current seed list of seeds I want to save first, subject to change as I think of more, in no particular order:
  1. Queensland Blue Squash
  2. Cannelini Bush Bean
  3. Flammé Tomato
  4. Tango Lettuce
  5. Drunken Woman Lettuce
  6. Merlot Lettuce
  7. Merville des Quatre Saison Lettuce
  8. Nutribud Broccoli
  9. Burpee's Golden Beet
  10. Five Color Silverbeet Chard (AKA Rainbow Chard)
  11. DiCicco Broccoli
  12. San Marzano Tomato
  13. Cherokee Tomato
  14. Pencil Pod Wax Bean
  15. Royal Burgundy Bean
  16. Parris Island Cos Lettuce
  17. Jalapeno Pepper
  18. Corno di Toro Pepper
  19. Scarlet Nantes Carrot
  20. Chioggia Beet
  21. Purple Top White Globe Turnip
  22. Copenhagen Market Cabbage
  23. Winningstadt Cabbage
  24. Country Gentleman Corn
  25. Golden Bantam Corn
  26. Garden Peach Tomato
  27. Fiber Flax
  28. White Cherry Tomato
  29. Gossypium arborense
  30. Gossypium hirsutum
  31. Gossypium barbadense
  32. Christmas Lima Bean
  33. Albino Beet
  34. Bulls Blood Beet
  35. Calabrese Broccoli
  36. Hutterite Soup Bean
  37. Mammoth Red Rock
  38. Early Snoball Cauliflower
  39. Bloody Butcher Corn
  40. Mexican Wedding Corn
  41. Stowell's Evergreen Corn
  42. Armenian Cucumber
  43. Long Red Florence Onion
Hope your list is just as long and varied and I hope we can have all of these in our inventory by this time next year...  It is a new year and time for hope and vision! 


Tuesday, January 4, 2011

SLOLA & The Learning Garden Present: Essentials of Vegetable Seed Saving

Genetic diversity is evident in these ears of corn, all from the same batch of seed...  this richness must be preserved!

Happy New Year everyone! 

The Learning Garden at Venice High School has combined with SLOLA to offer an exciting new seminar for January 29th, 10:00 to 3:00 (lunch included!): Essentials of Vegetable Seed Saving. 

Seed saving has become a 'must-know' skill as people have recognized how utterly essential seeds are to our ability to survive. 

Generations before us understood the importance of saving seeds. Saving seeds to plant in the coming year was essential and, long before science showed the why of it, humankind understood we could select the best plants and improve the varieties we depended upon. This vital connection was lost as we began to purchase our seeds from seed sellers making the need to save seed seem less relevant. In recent times, we are confronted with GMOs and monster corporations controlling the seeds they created and with that came the very real specter of seed corporations having control over the food supply.

Saving our vegetable biodiversity today provides us

  • those delicious open pollinated varieties that were bred to taste good.

  • a wider range of vegetable varieties that aren't often available through catalogs.

  • a closer participation in the cycle of life.

  • a hedge against our own personal misfortune of losing a job or other financial setback.

  • a safeguard against food shortages caused by natural or man-made disasters.

  • with our own means to mitigate against global climate change and it's impact on agriculture.

  • the means to fight our shrinking biodiversity.
Seed saving enhances the gardening experience even more because good gardeners become better gardeners and some will go on to create unique open-pollinated vegetable varieties – adapted to this place!

This is the seminar you need if you are concerned about -

  • the presence of GMO's in our food. 

  • the preservation of old 'heirloom' vegetable varieties. 

  • equal access to good clean healthy food for everyone regardless of economic status.

  • our ability in Los Angeles to produce vegetables acclimatized to our local (and very unique) climate.

  • the future of seeds and food!
You will learn
  • to plan for your seed saving – things to do to enable success.

  • how different plants are pollinated and what that means to saving seed . 

  • to identify different plant families and how that affects the seed saving process. 

  • the best time to pick for the best seed viability.

  • to ensure your seed is kept pure from other varieties and unwanted characteristics.

  • to clean and dry different seeds and other processes for optimum storage.

  • the equipment and essential supplies you will have to have if you want to save some seeds and what you won't need for MOST seeds.

Taught by The Learning Garden's Gardenmaster, David King, this seminar will emphasize how to do it and practical examples will show everyone how to best save the more common vegetable seeds with information on saving all kinds of seeds included.  

David King is an experienced lecturer, well known for practical seminars that are accessible and informative.  The lively lectures, full of quirky humor, move through the topic, getting to the heart of the matter without a lot of extra jargon, but with the data you need to get out and save some seeds!

Lunch will be served enable participants to join in community over the break (12 to 1:00 PM). Pamela Nears, an accomplished organic and 'fresh from the garden' chef, will treat all with a vegetarian stew and other menu items (price included in your registration) that will nourish and enhance the garden experience. Coffee, tea and water will abound.

Weather permitting, the seminar will be held outside.  The Learning Garden is usually cooler than any other place in Los Angeles, thanks to the three large trees shading the patio, please dress warmly in January - although if it is too cold, we will be indoors.

Early registration helps us plan and will save you money.  Registration at the door is on an 'as available' basis - seating is limited and we expect to fill!

Use the PayPal button below to enroll now.  If you have diet concerns (other than vegetarian) please make a note on your registration and we will work something out.

Members of Seed Library of Los Angeles (SLOLA) will receive a $10 discount - all other attendees will become members of the Seed Library of Los Angeles; $10 of your registration fee goes to SLOLA for your membership automatically.

Thank you, 

Today, the 25th, the seed saving seminar filled to maximum capacity. Leave a comment below and we'll make a point of taking a waiting list and notify you if a space becomes available or if we schedule a second seminar in the very near future...  Thank you and I hope we can winnow a few seedheads together soon.