Friday, September 28, 2012

Fall 2012's Seed Saving 101 Announced

Essentials of Seed Saving

Generations before we arrived on scene, understood the importance of saving seeds. It was an essential part of the lives of all our ancestors. This vital connection was lost as we began to purchase our seeds from seed sellers. In recent times, the specter of GMOs and monster corporations controlling the seeds they created and the very real prospect of seed corporations having control over our food supply.

Saving our own vegetable biodiversity today provides us
  • those old open pollinated varieties that taste good.
  • a wider range of vegetable varieties and more control over what we can have.
  • a closer participation in the cycle of life. In our gardens. 
  • a hedge against personal financial misfortune.
  • a safeguard against food shortages. 
  • our own way to mitigate against climate change and it's impact on agriculture.
  • the means to fight our shrinking biodiversity.
The final class is a hands on lab, people who have had this series before are invited back for the last class because the lab is always different depending on what is going to seed in the garden.

Upon completing this short course, participants will know why we urgently need to learn how to save seeds, the basics of saving most vegetable seeds, optimum conditions for seed preservation, how to preserve the genetic lines of differe
nt types of seed and short-cuts and tips from someone steeped in the seed saving ethic. New in 2012:  the course will have an added workshop component!

David King began his time in the garden at his Grandfather's knee in northeast Kansas.  He has been an avid gardener for most of his life and has taught gardening and horticulture at UCLA Extension and UC Cooperative Extension.  He has been with The Learning Garden at Venice High School for over ten years and is the Chair of the Seed Library of Los Angeles. He has written the LA Garden Blog for over three years as well as several columns for periodical publications.  A course of information, delivered with passion and humor is guaranteed

We have limited seating, reserve your space now!

Dates for the
 Fall series are : October 25th, November 1st and 8th.  All three classes comprise one offering, each class builds on the previous lecture.  The classes are 6:3 to 8:00 PM.  We will meet at The Learning Garden and move to an indoor lighted space.  
Prices:  $35 from now until October 18th, $45 until the 25th and $55 at the door.  Deduct $10 if you are a SLOLA member.  If you are not a SLOLA member before, you are one once you register.

Date Enrolled



Friday, September 21, 2012

The Organic Seed Problem

Some seeds on display at the Seed Matters booth,
Heritage Seed Festival
I have been a proud supporter of the Organic Seed Alliance for several years. While there are many good reasons, including their blog, and their numerous publications, one of the most pressing concerns they have a clear focus on, his the lack of organic seed available to growers everywhere. It is an acknowledged problem to the extent that organic certification allows a farmer to remain certified even if she doesn't use organic seed, if she cannot find organic seed for her crop.
Few home gardeners face this problem because organic seed is usually available in the small quantities we use. Farmers though, think in terms of "pounds of seed" vs. "grams of seed" that most of us are familiar with.  This is where the hoeing gets tough because those large quantities of seed are available, if at all, at a premium price. But the problem is much more systemic than meets the eye.

Not only is there a dearth of organic seed, there is a dearth of new varietals being developed by and for organic growing. You can buy organic Big Boy Tomato Seed (don't, by the way, its patent is owned by Monsanto), but it was bred to be grown in a chemical environment. Big Boy will most likely only reach its full potential if coddled with chemical fertilizer and protection from insects because that is the environment where it was created and it was 'designed' to co-exist with all that petroleum-based help. Big Boy and most of the modern hybrids assume you will spray insecticides and add copious amounts of nitrogen to your garden. Like buying a car that only runs on premium fuel and filling it with regular, you are asking for trouble to ask a modern hybrid  to perform in an organic garden.

We need more organic seed producers. Many, many more. OSA has seminars (including one near Ojai in November) teaching organic farmers how to become seed producers. And they have seminars on breeding plants predisposed to growing in an organic environment. 

It is not necessary to sit on the side line and contemplate this problem. Remember, all the great varietals that fed mankind through the 1950's, including some of the most prized varieties of the modern age, were bred by people not unlike you and me. I could tick of a list of twenty or thirty varieties that were bred by folks who had no degree in agriculture – and a couple that didn't even finish high school.

 In this vein, already, the Seed Library of Los Angeles has begun to find ways to contribute some plant breeding as well as seed saving to the community. Several projects are currently growing  in members' gardens to improve a few breeds and, in one of special note, taking a hybrid and patiently growing it out over several seasons to find similar eating qualities in a non-nybrid form. So far from that, we have the original and two other very promising varieties coming from the same planting. It's very exciting.  More will be revealed in the coming years - it will take some patience!  

You know, oftentimes the focus of SLOLA members and this blog is very often only on the how and why of seed saving and saving these wonderful varieties for future generations. It dawns on me, that this is not our real purpose. Our real purpose is growing a new kind of gardener who will take responsibility to steward our precious seeds for the future. While we do this and we talk around it, I think we fail to acknowledge that this is what we are really growing. I would like to appoint someone “Goddess of Direction” (could be a God too, I'm not going to discriminate!) to tap board members on the shoulder from time to time and say: “Your real job is to educate and grow gardeners.”  

Like all our positions, it is unfunded. I'll be accepting applications until the next SLOLA meeting...


OSA just announced the launch of a new Organic Seed Database a free online tool for anyone hoping to find organic seeds.  Going online October 01, 2012 at  the seed finder will facilitate connecting growers with seed suppliers - as noted above, finding organic seed can be an obstacle for organic growers.  One more time Organic Seed Alliance has shown leadership in solving these problems.  I am proud to be one of OSA's supporters.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Organic Seed Saving: The Next Big Thing

SLOLA member Dana Morgan explains a concept to SLOLA Vice-chair Lucinda Zimmermann in the SLOLA booth- we shared the booth with two other libraries, Richmond Grows Seeds and Bay Area Seed Library.
Welcome to a whole new paradigm!  Seed saving has become the next big thing in the gardening world!  Who knew?  I remember my Grandfather's tomato seeds drying on newsprint in the kitchen.  We planted tomato seeds with newsprint still stuck to it so frequently I tended to think tomato seeds came with newsprint attached.  Mind you, all that was so normal it didn't dawn on me that there was something sacred going on. 

I came to seed saving faster than most, but slower than one might have thought, given my background.  Starting my plants from seed every year is one of the things that has set me apart from many, if not most, of my gardening friends.  But several things did not dawn on me until the last five years:

Saving seed affords one an independence that is obtainable no other way.  At least in a 'legal' way.  This, in and of itself, means very little to me until you see the ones that are willing to step up and fill that void - for a price.  It also affords an intimacy with the seeds - and we, as a culture, try to avoid too much intimacy with the world at large - primarily because it is, by and large, a corporate, profit-driven world devoid of soul and life-enhancing reality.

And that price!  If we just had a kind uncle who would save all the seeds for us and help ensure that we all had access to good food no matter how much money we had or didn't have, all would be well.  Not only did the generations preceding 'leave the farm' in a very real sense, they 'left the farm' metaphorically too.  They abdicated control over their food supply in a way that no other generation in history has done before.  Instead of trusting a neighbor, a family member or, even a small shop keeper down the road, they allowed multi-national corporations to have unfettered control over the seeds we depend on for food.  

So you end up with an apathetic populace that relinquishes control of the seeds that previous generations regarded as sacred.  Bad enough; but not the end of it.  The corporations that moved to fill the void came in with a rapacious appetite for profit above and beyond all else.   Not interested in just playing in the sandbox, these corporations intend to own the sandbox.  This is not acceptable for any commodity, but for our FOOD this is horribly unacceptable.

And these are some of the most obtuse and irresponsible companies the world has ever known.  In an irony that would double a person over with laughter if it weren't so horribly ugly, Monsanto, one of the sue-happiest corporations on the planet is funding the anti-proposition 37 campaign with the claim that proposition 37 will inspire lawsuits!  Like they care!  These are the same folks that threatened to sue the Vermont legislature when they had the temerity to consider passing a law requiring labeling.  'Suing' governments is nothing new for a corporation that has successfully sued non-GMO farmers out of business on a regular basis.  

This the monster we created (or, at the very least, allowed) which has now turned on us and threatens to control all our food for their profit alone.  What will our response be?  

Over the past years, it has become abundantly clear that the US government is enthralled by these corporations and their profits whether or not either are in the interests of the populace or the country as a whole.  We have voted to change administrations on both sides of our political divide.  Both sides have hired Monsanto executives and lawyers to positions where they should be exercising control over Monsanto and their ilk.  This has resulted in a carte blanche for these corporations.  Even if their technology was sound and their intentions benevolent, and both contentions are arguably false, this should not happen. All the more so because once their government job is done, these same people will go back into the industries they were 'controlling' and their future income depends on not fouling the water for their previous/prospective employers.  That really doesn't pass the 'smell' test.

The only real response is to take responsibility for the seeds again:  seed saving.  Anyone who has hung around the seed library for even a few meetings quickly realizes why seed saving was abandoned so easily:  It is work!  Seed saving, aside from the spiritual and pragmatic reasons to know, is mental work, requires knowledge (much of which is no longer common knowledge) and it takes effort.  But it is essential work that needs to be done on a plant root level.  We cannot abdicate our responsibility for the seeds any longer.

All this is an introduction to the Heritage Seed Festival in Santa Rosa last week.  Disneyland for seed heads! SLOLA stood out as having the most members of any of the seed libraries present.  While no official account exists, I know of at least half a dozen members and enough Board Members to have a board meeting with a quorum!   It was very gratifying.  And we got to meet so many other seed savers and seed libraries; a lot of 'cross-pollination' going on.  

Coming home, I read this article from the Organic Seed Alliance.  Now that we know what can happen when we abdicate our responsibility of saving seed, we are learning what is wrong with abdicating breeding our seeds for the way we want to garden!  There is no major corporation or institution breeding seeds for organic growers, which covers most of us homegrowers.  It was wonderful to stop by the OSA booth and get to gab about seeds with them:  they are a much better funded player in the seed sandbox than most and I urge everyone to visit their page and look at the resources they make available to us seed savers.

"This week Organic Seed Alliance is celebrating the next generation of organic plant breeders. These breeders are improving organic seed to meet the changing needs of farmers and the broader organic community."

Believe me, as time permits, I'll have a lot more to report on the Heritage Seed Festival - and I'll be exhorting all of us to go next year!  There is work to do, a lot of information to learn, but it's all fun and it's all empowering.  This is how we really fight back and regain control over our food.  This isn't a nice fight.  The corporations that have stepped in to fill the void are making bucks.  Everything we stand for at SLOLA probably will suck their profits away.  So they'll trot out this sign that accuses Prop 37 of fostering lawsuits and most folks will buy that because they do not know the beast behind the poster.  

We have a lot to do.