During the first week of February, the Tiny Diner Farm has to get its seed orders complete for the 2015 season. We have a wish list from the nine different restaurants owned by Kim Bartmann. With these chef wish lists and our farm ecosystem requirements, we have to plan production for our three different sites (TD restaurant, TD urban farm, TD@Garden Farme – rural, rented plot). On the one farmhand, searching through tons of seed catalogs, dreaming of colorful abundance, full lively fields and delicious plates makes us farmers drool late into the cold winter nights. On the other farmhand, there are deeper issues pertaining to the state of seeds that dry-up the salivation planning: lost crop varieties and diminishing agrobiodiversity.
Taya Schulte, the rural farm manager, and I have been pouring over seed catalogs from Wild Garden Seed, Seed Savers Exchange, Kitazawa Seed Company, Adaptive Seed, Territorial Seed, The Thyme Garden Herb Seed Company, Peaceful Garden Seed Company, and Johnny’s to name a few. While we can’t buy seed from all of them, we do have our favorite companies that produce high-quality, true-to-type seeds. We have chosen over 70 varieties of vegetables, herbs, fruits and flowers to fill all of our growing spaces. Unlike the previous 2 years, we are buying more seed in bulk this year. It is more economical and allows us more successional flexibility while we are in the middle of our growing season. Some of the crops in our crop list include, ‘Frisee’ Endives, ‘Salt n Pepper’ cucumbers, ‘Oriole’ chard, ‘Albino’ beets, and ‘Flashy Trout Back’ lettuce. What our list does not include are some of the varieties that we love to grow but cannot find in the catalogs this year like long black Spanish radishes and Portugal peppers. While these varieties may be in other catalogs that we have overlooked, the loss of varieties due to consolidated seed production and lack of seed savers continues to be a silent plague on farmers’ fields and on our kitchen tables.
Over the last century that seeds have been sold commercially (150 years ago there were no seed companies, everyone shared/saved their own seeds), we have lost hundreds of crop varieties. For example, we used to have over 300 commercial tomato varieties available; that number has dropped into the 40s. And this is just one crop. From aging farmers to land grant institutions that service corporate biotechnology instead of its original intended audience (family farm communities), seed production and breeding has consolidated into the hands of researchers and chemical companies. Given that seeds are the backbone of food production in our agricultural systems, this is a dangerously narrow gamble. Not only have we lost a lot of our skills and seed rights that come with seed saving practices, we have lost seed varieties. Seeds and skills are the same: if you don’t use ’em, you lose ’em.
Fortunately, we have grassroots strongholds that can help us regain our seed stewardship and local caches again. The Organic Seed Alliance (OSA) is a national organization that promotes the development and stewardship of our genetic resources in the seed world. While gardeners, farmers, and eaters can begin seed protection by supporting OSA’s work, we can also take part in and support local work of seed stewards here in the Midwest. Amongst more well-known seed organizations (Seed Savers Exchange, Native Seed/SEARCH), Seed Sages is based right here in the Twin Cites. It seeks to train farmers and gardeners in the art of seed saving, to regain our rights as seed stewards and breeders, and to protect and enhance seed diversity.
Many farmers and gardeners, including us at the Tiny Diner Farm, have been too strapped to think about seed saving at the end of a busy season. However, we want to shift the balance of seed power in our landscape more and more every season, starting with a dedication this year. We aim to save 30 varieties this season by training with Seed Sages and others. We want to foster agrobiodiversity in the seed world so that we have more colors, more textures, more flavors, more habitat niches, etc., for ourselves and future generations. So that we regain our lost rights as seed stewards. So that we pass on a seed legacy from our farm to others farms. So that we regain our skills as breeders. And so that we can drool in the short-run and avoid dry mouth in the long-run.
Your seed diversity devotee,
Tiny Diner Farm Manager & Community Outreach Coordinator
Categories: Farm Update