Building Organic Seed Systems in California

California has the largest agricultural economy in the U.S. This probably does not come as a surprise to anyone who can picture rolling hills of grape vineyards or vast fields of lettuce. Less well known is that over one-third of California’s agricultural economy is from seed production. With its dry summers and falls and its myriad of microclimates, California is a world-class producer of many vegetable, field crop, and flower seeds. However, at present, too little of the seed that California is producing is adapted to the needs of diverse sustainable agriculture systems. That is why OSA is so excited to be working to build organic seed systems in the golden state. This year, thanks to generous support from Columbia Foundation, Gaia Fund, USDA Rural Development, and the USDA Organic Research and Education Initiative, OSA will be busy with the following activities:

Vegetable variety trials: OSA will be working with Dale and Christine Coke at Coke Farm in San Juan Bautista and Eddie Tanner at DeepSeeded Community Farm in Arcata to evaluate locally appropriate vegetable varieties, including green beans, swiss chard, lettuce, broccoli, kale, and specialty cucumbers. We will have public trial field days this fall at both farms.

Organic sweet corn and carrot breeding: Thanks to OSA’s participation in two national organic breeding projects, we are working with California organic farmers to develop new, organically bred varieties of sweet corn and carrots. The sweet corn will be open-pollination, vigorous, disease resistant, high-quality, tender, and sweet. The carrots will be vigorous, disease and pest resistant, nutritious, and high quality.

Two-day fundamentals course with Sierra Seeds Cooperative on September 22 and 23: Participants can expect to learn fundamental skills to develop and adapt seed varieties for their organic farm conditions. OSA’s Dr. John Navazio will discuss the biology of seed production, seed harvesting and cleaning, choosing appropriate seed crops for your system and climate, maintaining the genetic integrity of varieties with appropriate population sizes and isolation distances, conducting variety trials, and basic on-farm breeding techniques such as mass selection and progeny testing.

Seed saving and community seed systems workshops at the National Heirloom Expo in Santa Rosa on September 11-13: Join OSA’s Jared Zystro at the Expo to learn how to save your own seeds and be part of local community-based seed systems.

Seed production field days: OSA will be coordinating two seed production field days in California this fall. One of the two workshops will be held at Mano Farm in Ojai, California on November 10, 2012. Field day guests will get a chance to see a variety of seed crops, and hear about the details of seed production, harvest, and marketing.

Fall college tour: OSA’s Jared Zystro will be repeating this spring’s speaking tour at agricultural colleges, giving future farmers an overview of seed production and the seed business.

Be sure to follow updates on upcoming events by visiting OSA’s website, Seed Broadcast blog, Facebook page, and Twitter.

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