Monday, July 11, 2011

Minutes of 7th General Meeting; 7/10/11

JULY 10, 2010

The 7th meeting was our largest to date!
 Executive Committee members present: David King, Chair; Lucinda Zimmerman, Vice-Chair; Sarah Spitz, Secretary; Julie Mann, Acting Treasurer; Linda Preuss, Database; Timothy Smith, Membership; Albert Chang, co-chair Best Practices, Elizabeth Bowman, Publicity/Web/Outreach.

Secretary’s note: It was not business as usual at this 7th General Meeting of SLOLA. Today marked what felt like a whole new beginning for SLOLA, with many more people in attendance than at any previous meeting. And 40 new members joined, that’s as many people as attended our first meeting, just six months ago! We want to thank the many community organizations, ECM/TTLA, LA County Master Gardeners, Coopportunity and the LA Times in particular for spreading the word about the meeting. It was truly a vast turnout! Thank you!

Meeting notes:

Chair David King recounted his weeklong immersion in seed school and explained how and why SLOLA came to be – what it can become and why it matters.

He explained that GMO is used for commercial and large scale agriculture, where labor is used to bring in vast, consistent harvests to market. In our own home gardens, these same techniques need not apply.
Heritage or heirloom seeds are generally defined as being any open pollinated seed that was in existence prior to 1940 and has been handed down, generation after generation. These can be guaranteed as heirlooms. But these are the varieties being lost to commercial scale agriculture.

In 1970, Seed Savers Exchange was formed to PRESERVE heirloom seeds and SLOLA is a lot like Seed Savers, except that we want to share seed so it can be grown out by our members, and returned (if possible) after allowing plants to go to seed. Think of SLOLA as a book lending library, with a longer check out time.

David was at Native Seed/SEARCH (Southwestern Endangered Aridland Resource Clearing House) for his Seed School immersion. Founded in Tucson by Gary Paul Nabhan, who has written about why we need to save seeds. The seeds of American indigenous peoples were farmed in the deserts of New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, and these were successful agricultural civilizations. They grew successful in arid climates.

What we need to consider is, for example, the story of the corn breeder known as Radiator Charlie and his “mortgage lifter” tomato. During the Depression, this car radiator repair man Charlie Byles decided to develop a large and meaty tomato that could feed families. By selling the seeds of this tomato, he was able to pay off his mortgage.

We can breed seeds and create our own varieties. Early on, as colleges became involved in researching and growing new varieties they were working with open pollinated seed. But that’s not where the money was. Genetic modification took over and open pollinated seed was set aside in favor of breeding for commercial traits like shelf life and color, not flavor and nutrition.

SLOLA’s initial rationale was that it would be a depository for seed that would be “loaned” to a member who joins at the lifetime membership level of $10, and that the person who grows the plants would leave a plant to grow out, in order to return a like quantity to the library to maintain the seed lines with plants acclimated to LA basin soil and climate conditions.

But as the group evolves, the mission is beginning to morph a bit. There are people who will not know how to save (we’ll try to educate you at each meeting but it is inevitable that some plants won’t make it to seed stage). Therefore we need to create a structure by which a small fee for non-return will need to be assessed, so SLOL can continue to replenish seed supplies that are lost. This is still just an idea that is “germinating” and needs to be worked out in executive session and discussed with the membership.
David went on to explain that there are “flour” and “flint” corns. Flour has fat, translucent kernels that grind easily, are soft and can be used as flour. But its disadvantage is its susceptibility to pests that can easily get into these soft kernels.

Flint kernels are hard, less “toothsome,” but store longer and are harder for bugs to get into.

A naturally occurring cross pollination gives you “Dent” corn. It has the outward characteristics of flint corn, hard on the outside and and the interior quality of flour corn, softer inside; but as it dries, it loses its moisture, one side sinks, so it has a “dent” in the kernel.

The way Native Americans used to grow corn is that they’d throw all the kernels of every kind into the fields together, so there were a lot different varieties, shapes, sizes and colors of corn and within the single plant itself.

When non-native people got hold of this dent corn, they tried to breed it for the dent corn’s durable qualities, to make it more productive and stable. And in the 1820s through the 1850s, one Indiana man began a project to breed a stable yellow dent corn; by 1920 this variety, Reed’s Yellow Dent, became the most popular variety in the U.S.

But color corn such as purple has much more nutrition than this yellow dent corn. David said that after being told at seed school there was no purple dent corn seeds/kernels available, the next day a basket of corn was passed around to his class–and there was a purple dent. But it was un-tagged, meaning its parents were unknown, thus its characteristics could not be guaranteed.

David finally cajoled the teacher into letting him have some seed kernels of this purple dent and is growing it out to see if he can get it to breed true. He put 24 seeds in the ground and has had 70 percent germination rate. He’ll replant these to see if he can generate a true seed from this corn that we can begin to grow. Out of this experience, David has learned how to hand-pollinate corn, which he demonstrated on the dry-erase board (sorry, can’t replicate that here!).

Corn has both male and female parts in one plant. The tassles are male, the silks are females and when there are flowers and pollen, they need to be kept covered with bags and hand pollinated. When you see a corn cob with missing kernels, those are silks that did not get pollinated. By hand pollinating it means each ear will be maximized for number of kernels. You cut the silks off like a flat top and take a brush and run it over the pollen, then brush the pollen on the silks, and cover the silks up again. One plant pollinates another, so plant A pollinates plant B, etc.

Saving seed of other plants is not necessarily this easy (cucumbers, squashes for example) and cross-pollination can easily occur with other similar varieties that will prevent that plant from breeding “true.” We will continue to offer “best practices” for each family of plants to demonstrate how to get the most successful pollination that leads to true seed, seed that is the same genetically as its parent.

Carol Deppe is a noted author of The Resilient Gardener and Breed Your Own Vegetables. Worth reading. We can breed our own varieties. Humans have been doing this for many generations.

David believes that SLOLA’s mission is in transition: the first mission is to get seed to people to plant and grow out and return. The second mission will be to maintain these seed lines. Perhaps the more experienced growers will be responsible for this as we train more people how to save seed, so we are able to maintain more of these lines of seed.

We will need to create fundraisers to keep us in seeds, because membership at $10/lifetime probably won’t last too long if seeds aren’t grown out and returned. We do want to continue to increase the number of members but we may need to figure out a way to cover the cost of seeds not returned to the library with a modest “fine.” This is merely a suggestion and a lot has to be worked out before it is made into policy and put into effect.

In the meantime, EVERYONE should take an active role in trying to save seed. The USDA is in collusion with Monsanto, its leaders worked at Monsanto… there’s now even a GMO rye grass for lawns being developed. We must fight back in the only way we can, SAVE OUR OWN SEED.

Sarah Spitz stood up to make a pitch for new members, and new volunteers for committees.
Seed distribution and new member sign up took place following the presentations today.


Meeting adjourned.

Submitted by Sarah Spitz, Secretary

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