The Seed Ambassadors Project

Bringing Biodiversity Back

Month: November 2006

United for a Common Cause

At the Frøsamlerne, event in Denmark we met up with Kayla and Amanda Preece, sisters(also from the Pacific Northwest) that have been traveling together checking out the seedscape of Italy since the beginning of November. We will be traveling together through our visit to Lithuania, after which they will return to the US.

Stay tuned for Kayla´s blog posts to find out more about the story in Italy and her take on the Seed Ambassadors Project.

Denmark: East to West in 12 hours

When we got off the bus in Copenhagen it was very cold and seemed as though nothing was open. We decided to walk towards the center of town, past Tivoli Gardens and the wax museum to the main square. When we got to the town square it was full of life. We were surprised to see so many people awake so early — until we realized it wasn’t early for them, it was late. The bars were still open and they were still out from the night before. Once we had this realization it became obvious that every person that passed us was quite drunk, and so we had an amusing time sitting on a bench in the square watching the show.

Eventually it was late enough to call Søren Holt, a member of the Danish Seed Savers Association (Frøsamlerne) who would be our ride to Ødense for the Seed Cleaning Workshop later that day. We had a bit of difficulty with the pay phone, until a kind and compassionate (and very drunk) young man offered to make the call for us. After our pick-up was arranged, our new friend asked us what we were doing in Denmark. When we told him, he laughed and said, “You guys are very big nerds. I thought I was a big nerd when I play online video games, but you are even more nerds. You are like bionic nerds, made up of many pieces of smaller nerds stuck together!” I thanked him for the complement and the phone call, and we parted ways.

It was early enough that we were able to go back to Søren’s house before driving the 2.5 hours to Ødense. He served us toast and coffee and finally, Ikea made sense to me! We took a quick tour of his garden and were off.

The seed cleaning workshop in Ødense was attended by about 18 people, all members of the Frøsamlerne. The presenter, Jeppe Dalsgaard, has worked for seed companies in Scandinavia long enough that he had a great amount of knowledge to share: He knows the magic of cleaning seeds by hand (without fans!). Jeppe gave thorough demonstrations on cleaning spinach, kale, and carrot seeds using only three different sized screens, a shallow metal drum that looked something like a large cheese cake pan with a very fine wire mesh at the bottom, two trays and a muslin sack. He also gave the mathematical equations for how dry a seed can get at a certain temperature with a certain atmospheric humidity. He explained the finer details of “priming” parsley seed so it germinates quicker, and taught about the difference between seed vigor (speed with which seeds sprout) and germination rate (total percentage of sprouted seeds after a given period of time).

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Frankfurt to Copenhagen plus Goethe

We arrived in Frankfurt, Germany at 6pm on Thursday (11/23), after leaving LAX at about 8pm Wednesday night. Entering Germany was easier than any country I have ever traveled to. No “embarkation card” as is common in Southeast Asia, no visa, just a quick glance at our passports, a question of “where are you going?” (answer: all over!), a stamp in our passports and we were in. No one was staffing the customs booth (!), so we had no one to ask what, exactly, counts as “goods to declare,” and so the seeds and garlic remained with us. I think the smell of garlic may be with us for a long time, as it was packed tight in our bags and its perfume permeated the ziplocks.

We found a cheapish hotel room (40 Euros = $53US) and promptly fell asleep. It was almost like Thursday didn’t happen. Thanks to the wonders of jet lag, we awoke at 3am ready to start the day. I’ve always wanted to be a morning person, so I hope it will last!

We spent early Friday morning walking around exploring the city, and then, once the bus and train depots opened, trying to figure out the easiest and cheapest way to travel the 800 km to Copenhagen. We decided to take the bus — a 15 hour ride from 2pm until 5am the next day!

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We’ve been approved for the Small Lots of Seed Permit!

We were approved for our Small Lots of Seed Importation Permit only two days after it was submitted electronically, just in time for my birthday yesterday. Who’d of thought the USDA was so thoughtful?

We’ll be getting links up to some of the details of the license, what it allows us to do (and not), in the near future. For now we can just heave a sigh of relief that we’ll be able to bring back seeds. woo hoo!

Take a look at the “seed permit”

Our Field Trip to the USDA

In our quest to be transparent and legal in all of our Seed Ambassadorizing, we decided to procure a permit from one of the largest beaurocracies in the American Government: the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture). One of the programs of the USDA is the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), and a program of APHIS is the Plant Protection and Quarantine (PPQ) program. Whew! The PPQ runs a permitting program to import small lots of seed (more info can be found at http://www.aphis.usda.gov/ppq/Q37/smalllotsseed.html), and lucky for us, this permit can be applied for online.

If all goes well, the Small Lots of Seed Permit should allow us to both ship and carry up to 50 seed packets at a time without a phytosanitary certificate (and we hope without much additional hassle). But we first had to register for Level Two access for the USDA website, which requires presenting oneself and one’s government issued ID to a local USDA worker.

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We drove thirty minutes through a downpour and presented ourselves to Delores, a USDA Farm Service Agency employee, who glanced at my driver’s license and chatted it up with us as she tried to figure out how to navigate the computer program. She asked us what we were doing and we told her a bit about our project, at which point she walked us over to the desk of one of the Humboldt County Agricultural Commissioners, who seemed interested in our project.

We talked with John from the County Agricultural Commission for a few minutes, and he was very helpful, despite not knowing much about the programs we were applying for (since he was a county employee and not federal or state). He seemed to think that some seeds (especially Agricultural crops) may need to be quarantined (!) or treated with both fungicides and pesticides (!) before we could bring them in, “to protect against food supply bioterrorism.” He was sure to warn us that there may be additional State regulations that we would do well to inform ourselves about, because “everything has changed since September 11.” He gave us the phone numbers of some people in the state capital, and wished us luck.

After John had done his official duty, he told us about some freaky purple warty Peruvian heirloom potatoes he had just bought from a farmer’s market that he was excited to grow out… Though he doesn’t know how anyone was able to import them, because “it takes and act of Congress to import potatoes from Peru.” Thank goodness we’re not trying to import potatoes from Peru!