OSA and Sierra Seed Cooperative Teach On-Farm Breeding

Sierra Seed Cooperative had the pleasure of hosting Organic Seed Alliance (OSA) to teach a Fundamentals of On-Farm Plant Breeding Workshop this past weekend. We had a full classroom of seed-savers and farmers from all over Northern California come out for the two-day event. John Navazio, OSA Senior Scientist and Washington State University Seed Extension Specialist, and Jared Zystro, OSA’s California Research and Education Specialist, made a great teaching team. The classroom lectures were a great balance of nitty gritty science and anecdotal stories about OSA’s participatory plant breeding projects.  As many of the participants were advanced seed savers or seed company representatives, the questions and dialogue between the students and teachers produced a lively and high caliber conversation relating to our conditions and concerns in Northern California.

Tim Van Wagner of First Rain Farm in Nevada City, California had planted out thousands of radicchio and spinach plants in anticipation of the field day portion of the event. John had sent Tim three different varieties of Italian radicchio and chicories. All of the participants were amazed at the diversity of plants that came straight out of a commercial seed packet. It was clear that the Italian seed market doesn’t obsess nearly as much as other markets about uniformity. Since these varieties had excelled in previous trials for cold hardiness, we simply did an initial rogue of the obviously diseased or weak plants, and left a dense planting for the winter weather to provide the next round of selection. Tim will do another series of selections in the spring to determine which plants will contribute to the final improved seed crop. There is a market in our area for winter radicchio at local high end restaurants, so these improved strains will be a great contribution to the seed offerings at Sierra Seed Cooperative.

It was a successful event and everyone left inspired to integrate the teachings in their own farms or gardens! The workshop was also a great educational step forward for Sierra Seed Cooperative and will result in higher quality seed production and Open Pollinated (OP) variety maintenance in our bioregion.

Participants have decided to stay in touch as we embark on on-farm plant breeding and crop improvement projects in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Folks were so inspired that they started the Northern California Plant Breeding Club over the weekend. Feel free to join in the conversation on our Facebook group page.

Folks were so enjoying the time spent with other seed enthusiasts that the weekend seemed to go by all too fast. We are looking forward to future collaborations with OSA here in the Sierra foothills.

Rowen White
Director of Sierra Seed Cooperative

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