Organic Seed Alliance

IMG_0058

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!

IMG_0116 (1)

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

IMG_0093

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.

IMG_0169 (2)

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

IMG_0019

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

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.

IMG_1781

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.

IMG_1054

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!

IMG_2271 IMG_2277

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.

IMG_7600

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

ashleystudio

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.

Yogic Onions Starts

IMG_0400IMG_0388

The season is starting to grow! It seems yet too cold to utilize the lovely greenhouse that my Dad built last year. The saving grace glass house, built from 10 sliding glass doors, has been highly utilized and appreciated. Unfortunately, it is not perfectly air tight and with consistent frosty mornings and days, where pine needles and human bones struggle to thaw, I opted for an indoor kick-start. Here, on an old metal shelf, I’ve towered trays of onions seeds. I have heard no cries of unsatisfaction, as the sun shines in. Mt. Shasta smiles through the frame of the window and the ambient house warmth keeps soil hospitable and encouraging.

After a very positive response towards last year’s fresh and cured onions, I decided to increase the crop this year. Scattered in these trays are future French Onions soups, sweet crunchy rings of the Siskiyou Sweet, elegant purple torpedo shaped Tropea and the patiently cured paper skins of red and yellow varieties, for 2014 storage.  Yes, the yummy year begins.

Green energy starts to fill the house as the first seeds germinate. They’re yogic presence is rejuvenating, energizing, calming, these happy little lights already representing such gratitude. From delicate charcoal-like seeds, the onions seedlings start to emerge. They slowly rise up and stay suspended, stretching themselves out in a new life welcoming: downward dog. As many of us could, they stay there, looped with the soil, relaxed, breathing. Slowly they rise, bring their heads and arms up, welcoming the sunny day. They take a look at the mountain and offer up a gift, their hollow seed pod.

IMG_0387

IMG_0398

Onions stretched out in a relaxing downward dog.IMG_0396

Namaste New Friends

 

October has been a beautiful month. It is the most revealing and acute of convergences, the cusp. It’s the Fall of Summer and autumnal transition to Winter. For farm and farmer this shift is grater than that of seasons, colors, smells and sounds. It’s a true closing. The hard morning freezes instantly melts cellulose, fades chlorophyll and buckles plants towards the soil. The time for crops to decompose and become rich strata to sustain future seasons’. In delicate tow of that first hard frost is the perfectly tied bow on the package, the stamp on the letter – the period at the end of the exquisite sentence that details out a growing season overflowing with blessings and abundance. Not The End, but rather the last sentence of the long chapter titled somewhere along the lines of, ‘Season #1: The Bounty of Homeward Bounty’. There is something very delicate about this forced resignation, mother nature’s pink slip. It’s the fine print, “You too have your season, Farmer, relax already. Read a good book or two, seek out the best dehydrated food recipes, put on some weight and get excited for the wealth of new season possibilities!

Yes, those hard frosts have come and sadly the farm has seen lovelier days. I feel very thankful however, that Homeward Bounty hosted a very special visitor before those killing frosts. On that Autumn morning we were able to pick the last few handfuls of peppers, analyze numerous seed crops and shared inspiring conversations that left me warm and giddy inside!

Me with Sunita Rao of Vanasatree

It was months ago when Flick, a CSA member mentioned that his friend, Sunita Rao, would be visiting from India and he wanted to bring her to the farm. Before I knew it, that week had come. I met Flick, Jennifer and Sunita Rao on the farm for a nice morning tour. Over fresh pumpkin bread, homemade jam and amazing baked pears, we shared our thoughts on plant diversity, open pollinated seed varieties and about the great abundance that is yielded from 1/2 acre of land. Our inspiring conversations left me feeling all warm and giddy inside. Sunita Rao is quite the inspiring individual and I feel so honored to be in contact with her and to call her a friend! She’s the founder of Vanasatree – The Malnad Forest Garden and Seed Keepers’ Collective in Karnataka, India. Vanasatree promotes food security and autonomy through biodiversity and the use and preservation of traditional seeds. Visit http://www.vanastree.org to learn more about this inspiring collective.

Jennifer, Sunita and I infront of this year’s colorful squash harvest.

Looking at mangel beets. An experimental winter crop for the Copeland’s goats, horses and cows.

Trying the fresh seeds of ‘Black Cumin’ -Nigella Sativa

 

Going to Seed

Spinach going to seed. Female plant on left, male plant on right.

Seeds! As stated, this is ‘a homeward journey to grow food and SEEDs to share with the community I love’!      It didn’t take long, in my first introductions working with agriculture, to become very curious about seeds. There was an intriguing first impression -a strong hand shake. The weight of wisdom in the palm of my hand as I would cup them and individually sow each seed into trays in a greenhouse or directly into their beds in the field. They were authentic in the truest sense. They held everything, the will, comprehension and enlightenment all within, as well as the patience to retain it for the perfect moment. I knew I wanted to journey with them-to play and to learn. There will be a lot of that this year, how exciting.

I’m growing out a nice array of crops for seed this year. Most notably, two crops through a seed contract with Southern Exposure Seed Exchange, a small seed company located in Virginia. Grady, at Green Fire Farm has maintained seed contracts with them for many years and encouraged me to make a big move this year and connect with them. It has been really special the way the way things have worked out and here I am, a farmer with two seed contracts: Dean’s Purple pole bean and Reverend Marrow’s Long Keeper a variety of storage tomato. With one of the longest growing seasons in Siskiyou County, afternoon winds and isolated location, I feel there’s great potential for the Shasta Valley area to be a very successful region for seed crop production.

Dean’s Purple – purple pole bean

Reverend Marrow’s Long Keeper – storage tomato

Some other crops that are now bolting, a term used when a plants starts sending up flowers that will produce pollen and then seeds, are pak choi, tulsi, cilantro and spinach. I’ll be saving seed from fleshy fruits too, such as tomatoes, peppers and watermelon. Saving seed is a journey in persistence. It goes beyond growing the plant, caring for it and seeing its leaves and fruits develop. If you’re saving the seeds you go further and get to interact with the bold flowers, pods and bees, bees, bees. In a good season, plants mature and then fully dry in the field. There are seed extraction and cleaning steps and drying, then testing for germination rate. Persistence, persistence, from seed to seed.

Pak Choi pods forming

Pak Choi