No Patents on Seeds: some ideas from Europe

We Oregon and Washington farmers just had a great mid-week idea sharing session at Breitenbush Hot Springs outside of Salem Oregon, where we met up with a lot of farmers we had not seen since last year’s Farmer to Farmer Exchange. We enjoyed workshops,

Hard at work, networking and socializing at the spiral tubs.

great food, and most of all, discussions in the hot healing pools and sauna. Especially when it decided to snow five inches on Tuesday afternoon. We met up with our friends at Uprising Seeds, from Bellingham, Washington, and despite the difficulties of rounding up five seed people long enough to snap a photo, I did manage to arrange this.



Getting back to the farm, we were welcomed by 300 flats of happy, freshly germinated lettuce and mustard plants. Next week we will have plenty of thinning and making our first selections, getting rid of plants that do not belong.

Mind the minotaur if you stray from the spiral tubs or yurt.


We have come across a couple exciting and ponder-inducing morsels from Europe in the past few weeks that we would like to share, hopefully they will get the gears rolling in brains far and wide. The first is from Germany, where last week there was a discussion in Parliament on the problems farmers face due to the patenting of plants and animals. An open letter was sent to members of parliament, with the core request being :  “We ask you to call for an urgent re-think of European patent law in biotechnology and plant breeding and to support clear regulations that exclude from patentability plants and animals, genetic material and processes for breeding of plants and animals and food derived thereof.” The co-signers, and there are a lot, cited market concentration in the seed industry due to patents, higher prices to farmers for using patented seeds, and the negative impact to innovation in plant breeding when genetic material is patented. The plea seems to have fallen on sympathetic ears, because the next day the German Parliament unanimously adopted a resolution against patents on plants, animals, and traditional breeding methods. We need to do the same thing, for we are facing the same difficulties listed by the Germans.

Secondly, we recieved a great video from our friends at Real Seeds in the UK. They have been doing some seed cleaning innovation, and have shared the product of their latest attempt to duplicate an expensive piece of equipment, at home:

Keep it up, folks, together we could soon be building more affordable, scale-appropriate seed equipment and ensuring that corporations do not privatize the genetic resources that have been owned by no one, or everyone, since forever.

Organic Seed Conference 2012

The WGS crew has recently returned from a weekend retreat with our organic seed comrades. The Organic Seed Alliance hosted their 6th organic seed conference in Port Townsend, Washington. It was three days of tall talk and three nights of smoky scotch whiskey. Here’s what I learned:

  1. Prime your peas!
    A study comparing the effects of several different seed treatments for damping off in peas showed that simply soaking the peas in good ol’ water overnight, with occasional agitation, followed by a quick dry before seeding was more effective at reducing damping off than a host of branded commercial seed treatments. The presenter, Lindsey du Toit of Washington State University, went on to note that the USDA has standards of review for the acute toxicity and environmental impact of new chemicals, but has no standards for whether or not they actually work. We don’t need any of these bogus products for our seeds. This spring, soak your peas like your grandmother did. Get real, get a bowl of water.
  2. Get off your corn cob!
    Bill Tracy of the University of Wisconsin told us a surprising story about corn genetics and the “green” revolution. When scientists finally had the right genetic analysis tools, they compared corn from before and after the green revolution to see what caused the dramatic increase in yield that conventional agriculture is always crowing about. They were expecting to find more chloroplasts or some kind of enhanced protein synthesis. To their surprise, they found a slight difference in leaf angle, and a shorter tassle length. That’s it. Mainly there were just more plants per acre, and corn plants with more upright leaves could be crammed closer together. Now we have the same corn that is slightly adapted to living in a corn city, and we grind it up to feed to cows living in cow cities, and we grind them up to feed people living in people cities. We don’t need all that unhealthy processing in our food system. Chew for yourself. Get real. Get fresh sweet corn on the cob.
  3. Get Radical!
    It’s not enough to be right, said Eric Holt-Gimenez from the Food First Institute. We can lobby Congress all day long to throw us a bone from the Farm Bill, but it won’t do any good if we don’t have the political power, the will of the people behind us. Don’t waste time persuading politicians, convince the audience: the people. Dr. Holt-Gimenez told the story of his work in the early days of la Via Campesina. Together the farmers of Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua did a massive study comparing two thousand organic and conventional farms spread across the three countries hit hard by hurricane Mitch in 1998. Their meticulously collected data showed that peasant farms practicing organic methods were more resistant and resilient than their conventional neighbors. They were right, but the World Bank had the power. Instead of supporting the burgeoning organic peasant farming movement, the World Bank decided to build a network of roads and sweatshops that ultimately crushed the movement and moved thousands off the land. No change can come from a movement without power. Get real. Transform what power is.
  4. Stand together, brand together!
    Adam Butler, cofounder of Butler Bros, a values led advertising company, showed us some numbers about industry spending on advertising. The orange juice industry spends millions of dollars annually to convince people to drink more OJ. Monsanto spends hundreds of millions of dollars annually telling us all how wonderful biotechnology is for feeding a growing planet. The organic industry spends zero dollars on any advertising. Mr. Butler’s point was not that we rush out and buy up some TV ads, but that we as a movement and a profession could us a little public relations help. He proposed combining a brand logo with a values statement that would unify our movement and help to explain what we stand for. The organic seed industry has the Safe Seed Pledge; perhaps the organic food industry needs a Safe Veg Pledge. What we can’t do is continue to allow Monsanto and its minions to dominate the global food conversation. The power is in the people, and we need to take our side of the conversation directly to them. Get real. Talk organic.

2011: A photo odyssey


Well, last week we got a decently sized flood out at Gathering Together Farm, and as we are waiting for the waters to seep back into the soil we are cleaning seed and pondering the new season. Part of that process is sharing some of my favorite images/moments of last year, so here we go in no particular order:


Strawberry Spinach berries after a good smashing. The dark black on the tarp is the seed, which sinks, while the pulp floats.

Me screening strawberry spinach to remove leaves and stems

A shady afternoon screening session

Radish stomping grounds
















Morning light on drying chicory









Cutting my malting barley plot.



Half the crew contemplating a truckful of orach, half contemplating the sunflower guardian.








Orach, at varying levels of cleanliness


Beginning of the Sucrine








Lettuce breeding project

Rafting to work, early in the season











Looking down the barrel washer at Hank: removing delicata seed





A stout set of smashed squash, supposedly stationed for speedy seed separation.







Well, that seems to cover it from my camera’s perspective, but I know there are more images floating out there somewhere. I will do my best to document more fun things this season. Stay seedy!

Dear USDA,

A little while ago, the USDA came to town to hear public comments on their draft

The author, looking for the reason why Roundup Ready Sugar Beets are not a fully regulated crop.

Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) of Roundup Ready Sugar Beets. It was a full auditorium on the Oregon State University campus, with attendees ranging from Roundup Ready Sugar Beet growers from the Midwest to local organic farmers and concerned citizens. If somehow you missed one of the three nationwide public comment sessions, you still have your chance to speak out online, by visiting the USDA- APHIS website, where you will also find the EIS itself.

For some pointers, here is a summary of what I said at the public hearing:


I hardly know where to start with this draft EIS, I found so many points of contention. However, I would like to focus on three main aspects.

First, I would like to address the negative socioeconomic impact on Roundup Ready Sugar Beet (RRSB) growers, who would lose money if the crop is regulated. These impacts are caused in large part by the limited availability of conventional sugar beet seed and corresponding herbicides due to the widespread adoption of a crop that should not have been approved for use before an EIS was completed. The USDA allowed this shift to RRSB, and had the EIS been done when it was supposed to be, economic impacts due to short supply of conventional seed could not have been used as a reason to deregulate. It is unfair to include this issue as a defense for RRSB now.

Secondly, the EIS states that “Total pounds of herbicide applied per acre is expected to be greater under alternatives 2 and 3″, although the number of different herbicides is dropped. I have to disagree with the notion that using glyphosate is an acceptable safe alternative to other herbicides. Consider the European Journal of Agronomy, Volume 31 Issue 3, which deals with issues of “Glyphosate Interactions with physiology, nutrition, and diseases of plants”. In an article entitled Glyphosate and Resistant Crop Interactions with Rhizosphere Microorganisms, the authors document a rise in fusarium and antagonistic bacteria following glyphosate applications, while other articles in the journal document weed population shifts, and negative effects to plant health due to glyphosate’s fundamental restructuring of soil communities. The EIS specifically states that the use of Roundup in the production of sugar beets will have no negative impact on humans, other mammals, and microorganisms, however, I have just referred to several papers that demonstrate this is untrue. More research needs to be done, and all the current research must be taken into account here.

Lastly, there is a recurring claim that genetic contamination is very unlikely when isolation distances are set, the pinning map is adhered to, and all sorts of precautions are taken to keep the RRSB from getting into organic and conventional fields. However, it has been shown over and over that GM traits will get out of even tightly restricted areas. In the sugar beet court case, there is a redacted document listing multiple instances of contamination of sugar beet fields, although the names and information are withheld so that the farmers do not lose business when their customers drop contracts. In the public hearing in Corvallis, Ted Hake of Universal Seed revealed that their company has recorded contamination levels of 20% in last season’s crop. 20% contamination for Universal Seed is no small matter, and is definitely higher than the 0% contamination which the EIS advertises. The point is that this contamination does happen; it has happened under partial deregulation and will happen more if fully deregulated.

Please reconsider the option supported by this EIS, and please look further into scientific research on all aspects of this crop before a regulatory decision is made.


Ride the Lawn!

Picture this: You are a large seed and fertilizer company who has been trying to get a glyphosate resistant grass approved for general use for years. The only problem is, genetically modified crops have to go through a regulatory process which is quite slow, and at every corner somebody is just waiting to file a lawsuit. Oh, and also your test plot escapes the assigned area and ends up contaminating the irrigation ditches of nearby farms. Minor issues. You feel like you have been doused in honey; your prize crop is pretty sweet but moving slow and getting stuck on everything. How frustrating!

Until now, that is. Scotts Miracle Gro demonstrated late last week that it is easy to simply side-step the big vat of honey. All you have to do is explain to the USDA that you used nothing in your engineering process that could be considered a “plant pest” and that your glyphosate resistant plant cannot be considered a noxious weed because the conventional form of the plant is not a noxious weed. Voila, no regulation. Easy as pie and quick as a whip, congratulations, you are in business.

Wait, what?

Read “Wait, Did the USDA Just Deregulate All New GMO Crops?” By Tom Philpott, explaining this stunning new concept.

Also, read “Going rogue: USDA may have just opened the GMO Floodgates” By Tom Laskawy.

Also Also, here is the announcement straight from the horse’s mouth: APHIS Kentucky Bluegrass Press Release.

Interview with a Frank.

Holy cow, it was hot today! We were busy getting drip irrigation onto the majority of our crops, and looking at ripening seed out of the corner of our eyes. Tomorrow a couple of Brassica crops get our full attention, and we will cut them and lay them out to dry. Videos of such activities will be in order, obviously.

This just came down ye olde information tube from Frank himself; an interview with him

Early season Frank, doing early season selection.

done by Jessica Knoblauch of Earthjustice.

You can read the entire interview, and listen to it in its 25 minute splendor HERE

Seed Day #1

Seed processing has officially begun for us today, with the scarlet ohno turnip. We harvested these a little over a week ago and they have been drying, waiting to be crushed from the pods and onto our tarps. Most likely we will be doing a mustard variety later this week, and the kales are all filling out nicely with pods.

Watch Hank explain one of our methods of seed extraction:

Confused? Come to one of our seed saving workshops and get all straightened out.

Public Patent Foundation Lawsuit

Wild Garden Seed has joined over 80 other small farms, organizations, seed companies, and individuals in filing a complaint to prevent Monsanto from suing farmers if unwanted patented genetic material is found on their land.

This original complaint was filed a couple months ago in March, and Monsanto responded by saying they do not and will not pursue lawsuits against farmers when “trace” amounts of genetic contamination occur. The lead Attorney for the Public Patent Foundation, Daniel Ravicher, responded to this by asking Monsanto to set this promise in stone and make it legally binding, effectively settling this out of court.  Instead, Monsanto hired one of the top law firms in D.C., and reasserted their right to sue farmers who become contaminated.

With this failure to agree to not sue, an amended complaint has been filed by the Public Patent Foundation, with the addition of around twenty new plaintiffs, including Wild Garden Seed. Another new plaintiff, Marty Mesh of Florida Organic Growers, had this to say:

“If Organic farmers, seed growers, and companies have no assurance that technology they have never asked for, never signed a licensing agreement to use, have no desire to be a part of, and in fact, go to great lengths to avoid, can still trespass on their farms and subject them to a lawsuit by the patent holder who seemingly escapes all  liability for that trespass,  then it is not only morally wrong,  ethically  unjust, but also legally perverse.” (From “Family Farmers Amplify Complaint…“)

A pdf of the ammended complaint, including Monsanto’s responses and Public Patent Foundation’s letters, can be found here.

On the beet

A brief update on the sugar beet case, a couple weeks old but news nonetheless:

The appeal by Center for Food Safety to the recent partial deregulation of Roundup Ready sugar beets has been bundled together with the appeal by the sugar beet industry to the same partial deregulation. What? Yes, both sides appealed the partial deregulation, CFS for not going far enough in preventing possible contamination, and the beet industry for going too far to prevent possible contamination. As the appeal from the sugar beet industry was filed in Washington, D.C. just ahead of the other appeal, the decision was made to hear the two appeals together in D.C.

children of the kale

In other news, we were going through some of our overwintered crops the other day looking for suspicious characters. We played a big game of “which of these plants are not like the others?”, and removed plants that we did not want in the popultion.

Dear plants, please do not make Hank sad. Do the right thing.

come out, come out...

Wild Garden Seed Workshops

As was proclaimed in our 2011 catalog, we are in fact doing a couple seed saving workshops this season. If you are looking to learn more about personal seed saving, or commercial level production, come join us! Visit the Wild Garden Seed website to sign up.

1. Grow your own Seeds

Chicory harvest 2010

A workshop brought to you by Wild Garden Seed

Saturday June 25, 2011

Gathering Together Farm- Philomath, OR


Do you have special vegetable varieties that you love? Do you ever worry that seed companies will stop carrying them and you will be left in a lurch?  Or do you just love plants and want to see them through their whole life cycle? If you answer yes to these questions, come learn about saving your own seed.

This all day seminar is designed for the home gardener or small scale grower wanting to learn the basics about how to save seeds.  Frank Morton and his crew will bring you into the fields at Gathering Together Farm (GTF) where we will discuss how to plan your garden to incorporate seed production.  We will touch on how to manage pests and disease, irrigate, maintain varietal purity, harvest and clean your home grown seeds.

Get the inside scoop from the pros. All day workshop costs $120 includes lunch catered by GTF. Workshop begins at the GTF farm stand on Grange Hall Road in Philomath promptly at 9 am.  Come prepared for the weather, and to walk around in the fields.

2. Seed Growing for Market

Scanning for disease in last year's lettuce field

Brought to you by Wild Garden Seed

Monday June 27, 2011

Gathering Together Farm- Philomath, OR


This all day seminar is designed for professional organic farmers interested in growing seeds commercially as part of a diversified farm system.  If you have saved vegetable seed for your own use, but are considering growing for commercial sale, this is the workshop for you. Frank Morton and his crew will bring you into the fields at Gathering Together Farm where we will discuss how to:

  • plan for growing seeds commercially on your farm,
  • manage common pests and disease,
  • irrigate seed crops
  • maintain varietal purity
  • improve crop varieties
  • harvest and clean seed lots

Want to know what screen will get those little green balls out of your lettuce seed?  We can show the screen, and how to use it. This workshop is designed for growers working with seed lots on small acreage (<1 acre per lot), and for primarily hand harvesting and processing.

Get the inside scoop from the pros. All day workshop costs $225 and includes lunch catered by GTF.  Workshop begins at the GTF farm stand on Grange Hall Road in Philomath promptly at 9 am.  Come prepared for the weather and to walk around in the fields.