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.

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Dormant Seed

Rain, a loyal seed companion.

Rain, a loyal seed companion.

To lie dormant is to still be active. A seed in the ground is never lazy, is never undoing it’s place, but storing, planning, absorbing, is stable and purely patient. I would like to say that I have not posted on the blog due to dormancy, that I’ve been succeeding in the challenge of seedism, of being anchored and to be still with simply being, to be abiding by the energy within and the patience in holding, to know when to rise up. But, I’ve not been a dormant seed. I deeply know I have a lot of wisdom to glean from the germplasm that buzzes with perfection in place. I’ve been rising too much, a novice, a puppy, always going, doing, beyond-being antics and I have not made use of the beautiful resource of time. Time to sit, time to write and speak for the farm during these handful of months.

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Seeds at a market in Thailand

Seeds at a market in Thailand

Although I have not been a stoic seed, they’ve been squarely on my farming fore front. While on vacation to Thailand, in the fall, Jonathan and I came across many open air markets, the heirloom grocery store. The produce was stunning, truly a treat for plant lovers and flavor dreamers. The rices, greens, fruits I never knew could exist, fish, meats, and at one market we found a sweet woman selling seed. I also brought some packets of seeds from the farm and using only speaking the language of seeds we exchanged with each other, not only hundreds of plants to be, but a maternity for the land and a reverence for something that in the present reality is small, but in the dimension we both know well, was more expansive than description.

This is also the time of year to visit the farm’s seeds, packed away, undisturbed in cool corners. The evolution of the farming seasons, this will be my sixth, can be quantified and represented by the size of the vessels that hold these seeds. From shoe box, to tubs, to the present three large Rubbermade bins. It’s a fun ritual, spreading it all out, placing packets in the future fields. These seeds will tell the story of this season. They will feed the CSA, customers at the Farmers’ Market, patrons at local restaurants and grocery stores. These seeds will thrive under the elements and farmer and will also die off from these two roots. Saved seed lots from 2014 were tested for germination and packaged up to feed locals in a different way. These packets of seeds that will travel to homes to be planted out in backyards and containers. Sowing future family meals and opening the story book of connection with seed, food, and our culture of agriculture. Throughout the seasons chapters may even be added to this book, or rekindled, as this is the story of our ancestors. It is a story we all already carry. We are the story of seed! And seeds are a story of who we are.

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Winnowing Ruby Streaks Mustard seed for Siskiyou Seeds (www.siskiyouseeds.com)

 

Cleaning Black Turtle Bean seed.

Cleaning Black Turtle Bean seed.

Homeward Bounty Seeds! Seed colors and textures continue to amazing and inspire me!

Homeward Bounty Seeds! Seed colors and textures continue to amazing and inspire me!

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A burgeoning revolution is here. Not the hijacked tone of the Green Revolution, an honest uprising of a trinity of voices: our ancestors, the seeds and ourselves. The conversations about food are abundant. The education is saturating, the lexicon of knowledge and the desire for more knowledge is increasing. People are curious to know if the food is local, non-spray or organic and every once in a while I hear is what I feel is the gem, “Is this a Torpedo onion?” “Is this Red Russian kale?” “Is this Genovese basil?” And here, is why to my farming ears (to my ears that have a deep love for education and the passing on of stories ), this is a gem. People are getting to know their food! In German, there are two meanings for the word ‘know.’ One know is the verb wissen; wissen is if you know where the closest bookstore is. And then there’s kennen; the verb kennen is used when you know someone or something personally. You know their energy, their feel. Kennen is knowing beyond knowledge, the realm of the brain. Kennen is that you know something in your heart. When someone asks me the specific variety of a vegetable, they are knowing (kennen) their food by heart. My desire in this revolution is that we start to ask deeper. To ask where our food is grown and the practices by which it was grown, to call food by its name, to ask the story of the seed the story of the variety! To ask who grew the seed, how was the seed grown and what’s the story map of the seed?

It is the time of year to open the book, to read the seed story, our story and to learn. To sit with the seed. To be, be still. To be anchored. To know when to rise up and authentically stretch out in growth.

Onions growing in the greenhouse in January. The first stretches of green for the 2015 season.

Onions growing in the greenhouse in January. The first stretches of green for the 2015 season.

Sow Seeds and Grow

Rice fields at Navdanya Farm in Derha Duhn, India

Rice fields at Navdanya Farm in Derha Duhn, India

I fell in love with seeds in the patchwork fields of 480 varieties of rice. Seeds, in the caring work- leathered hands of humble  women, wise seeds cradled by wise women, their bond authentically and intrinsically connected, woven with sweat, soil, sun, while chanting prayers of generations,  generations. The textile weave of earth’s patterns in rice, in women, in seeds, pulled at a string deep inside of my heart, hands, womb. A tapestry inside me that was braided long ago. A tapestry that lives in all of us.

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Three of the many varieties of rice at Navdanya Farm.

Three of the many varieties of rice at Navdanya Farm.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Seeds have continued to make me think and feel deep beyond our connection in weave.  I’ve often found myself pondering their psychology. There’s a sense of personification when thinking of seed psyche; human emotions shed onto the  plant community. However, the more I dissect seed to seed fundamentals,  I find myself truly feeling each plant’s fierce desire to grow strong for the sake of their seeds. They gauge their resources in weather, soil, water, and conductive pollen  with a foundation of how to best live, in order to produce the most successful offspring- to keep their genetics alive, to procreate, to continue and be reborn into this world, generation after generation; every seed containing within its world the potential to replicate exponentially. Is this plan diabolical or the sincere desire to hold on to and nurture what we hold most dear?

Last year’s growing efforts were partly inspired by the cry of a overflowing bag of seeds, ‘plant us!’. Fourteen  months later, a legitimate chorus can be heard, echoing out of two bins of seeds. Next year, I may need earplugs. And so the story goes; if you have seeds and love growing plants out to seed, you gather a band of talented loved ones to help create a packet design and then make these special varieties available to growers everywhere. Yep, that’s the story, and I present you with Homeward Bounty Seeds! Available now on Etsy, search Homeward Bounty! A shout out to dear Ashley Mersereau of Roots and Wings Jewelry who has created the very beautiful graphics. As well as my Aunt Cathy O’Brien who laid out and organized the design.

Sow seeds and grow! Find that tapestry inside and let it pull you.

Cherokee Long Ear Popcorn -Homeward Bounty Seeds

Cherokee Long Ear Popcorn -Homeward Bounty Seeds

Pablo Lettuce - Homeward Bounty Seeds

Pablo Lettuce – Homeward Bounty Seed

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Ashley in her magical studio.

Ashley's art, find pen and watercolor pieces features in Homeward Bounty Seed packets.

Ashley’s art, find pen and watercolor pieces features in Homeward Bounty Seed packets.