Organic Seed Alliance

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2016 Seed Conference goers, looking at winter trial fields at Territorial Seeds in Cottage Grove, OR.

Every other year, since 2012, I’ve looked forward to the beginning of February and the relatively quick trip up north to attend the Organic Seed Alliance biannual conference. My first year in attendance was memorable; a car crash left me stranded in Portland, en-route to Port Townsend, WA. I was able to quickly reach out on a ride-share page that was organized by the conference and found myself catching a ride from two Ashland farmers, one of whom I had met in remote Northern India four years earlier, a testament to how small and beautiful the world is! I felt very green at that conference, a bud just starting to form, but not yet open to receive the world of pollination and inoculation. Although much of the information, names, places and concepts were overwhelming, I knew that this was the beginning of something deeply important to me.  In the four years that have followed, these sentiments have fully bloomed and have even set some fruit!

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Oca tubers from Peace Seedlings, Alan Kapular’s Farm in Corvallis, OR.

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Chris, showing the group a dormant Sea Kale stock, a perennial kale species.

It has now been a month since returning to the farm from this year’s OSA conference in Corvallis, OR. The energy that I was able to take away from the conference this year was so enlivening that I’ve been running on the fumes of it since, putting newly gained knowledge into action, maintaining contact with new friends and farmer mentors, pulling ideas from my notebook and sowing their seeds into future workshops, collaborations, and future farm endeavors. If in the first year I felt green, this year I was a rainbow prism: the fuchsia spectrum of ancient Oca tubers, brilliant orange of trailing eight different Delicata Squash varieties, the blue of ice surrounding the Svalbard Seed Vault in Norway (Cary Fowler gave us a vivid virtual tour during his key-note address), the all entrapping, bottomless absorption of black, the pure canvas of white, ideas reflecting, with insights openly shared, and of course, more new-growth green as knowledge buds.

When sowing plants in the legume family, it’s common to inoculate the seeds with a rhizobacheria, this symbiotic relationship allows peas, for example, to take gaseous nitrogen out of the air and fix it into the soil, where it can benefit soil organisms and plants alike. The image of being dipped into a rich inoculum couldn’t escape my mind, as throughout the many days of the conference I became activated, pulling theories, meanings, research platforms and objects out of the buzzing air and fixing them into my present framework of understanding. In crowded rooms of hundreds of people, seeds, both physical and metaphysical were endlessly being exchanged. Their germ plasm inside destined to one day tap their roots in deep and yield sweet fruit. Knowledge and connections made their way around the room as little grains of pollen, some dancing with the wind on loud vocals, other grains moving about, sticky and sweet, bonding to buzzing two-legged pollinators carrying ideas from one farmer to the next in excitement and astonishment. Here, in this hive I’ve found a kindred home, an alliance, one where the Queen heralds open-source, open-pollinated, organic production, resilience, community access, telling and honoring of stories, stewardship, education and diversity.

In my return home to Homeward Bounty Farm I carried with me new inspirational books, field notes that will grow with bounty, colorful seed packets sustaining stories and history, and many little grains of sticky pollen gathered at the hem of well-worn work pants.

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Crocuses in bloom at Homeward Bounty Farm. These wild pollinators are happy with this find!

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The season is off to an early start, with onions, leeks and brassicas growing happily in the greenhouse.

The Stars and Birds in the Sky

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Photo courtesy of JS

This time of year the farm is dark, like a new moon. Work is being done deep down in the soil, worms and micro organisms break down the season that was tilled in. The green cover crops cover lowly. Soon they will start to jump in response to the longer days, but Green hasn’t dominated yet. The farm is dark; it is brown soaked earth. Everything seem so be quiet, the straw colored field of last year’s growth, the reaching brown bare branches in the orchard, the seeds still call it night as they lie dormant. The new farm, like the new moon, always present but masked in darkness, is unassuming and lets others shine. At the time of the new moon you see the bold Milky Way flying directly over head, as each individual stars sing their song, Pleiades circles and shooting-starlings dive across the sky.

As the farm lies quietly working, up ahead a show takes place too. Raptors have taken over the skies as song birds fill the empty space with their melodies. This valley is home to so many birds and in these dormant months they fill it with life. Their wings span the horizon, taking up effortless flight, finding density in air that is so thin and unsuspending to us.

I’ve been filled with deep gratitude for this avian company. Their shadows traveling along the farm as they look for ground squirrels that may have been coaxed out by the spring like light and warm afternoons. There’s a Bald Eagle pair that can be found dancing about, and will even perch in the tree right outside the kitchen window. The flickers streak their under-red, Meadow Larks their yellow and little browns bounce all about, from orchard to lilac hedges, to junipers and dot the elms. I’m learning to look close, to know names and personalities. My friend Jim is teaching me how to identify wing patterns, flight, song and making the connection of habitat and season of the farm’s bird population.

Soon, we’ll honor the last of the dark new moons and the Celtic day of Imbolic, which recognizes the first signs of spring and falls between Winter Solstice and Spring Equinox. With it Green will start, the cover crop will begin to reach up, the greenhouse will glow and the dancing pair of eagles will build their nest and peacefully start their family, as Orion bends low in the horizon.