The Seed Ambassadors Project

Bringing Biodiversity Back

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Thailand 2009

This month we took a short trip to Thailand, where we combined family time with my dad (who lives there), with some Seed Ambassadorizing in a small village called Nong Ta Klong in Buriram Province, in the northeast.

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– We recommend changing it to 5 seconds per photo.

On a previous trip to Thailand we had made friends with Loong Yoot, a brilliant and inspirational man whose motto is to “teach by not teach.” Loong Yoot received a scholarship to study Permaculture in Australia many years ago, and has spent the past eight years riding his bicycle around his home country teaching people by example about sustainable living. In a country where most structures are made of resource consumptive wood or cement, he teaches people to build adobe structures for community learning centers and other uses. In a culture where consumerism and materialism are rapidly stripping both rich and poor of their sense of self, he shows that another, simpler way of life is possible and in many ways preferable. Loong Yoot’s workshops bridge the class divide by bringing the rural poor together with elite city folk searching for a new way of life, and enable travelers to develop meaningful connections with people and places in that elusive “off the beaten path.”

The last time we were in Thailand (early 2004), we spent five weeks working and learning with Yoot in a village close to the Cambodian border. This time, due to a limited time frame, we spent only three days.

Po Tongbai, the former village head man of Ban Nong Ta Klong, had already started a bit of a “Center for Sustainable” in this increasingly dry region when he dug three large ponds on his land a few years ago. Some questioned his sanity, but his family and friends now enjoy fresh fish year-round, and his family has a lush, irrigated garden in the dry season. But the invitation to build an adobe structure, to invite people from near and very far away to learn about living a less resource-consumptive life, was initiated by his daughter Noi. Over the course of three weeks, dozens of people will come to Po Tongbai’s land to have fun, make connections, and learn by doing.

In the short time we were there we made many bricks and built two walls of the structure; learned how to make rice noodles in the traditional way; did a teensy bit of gardening; ate lots of delicious food; and gave a seed saving workshop. We brought some international seeds with us to share with the villagers, and in return some of the women in the village walked us around and gave us seed for many beautiful food and flower plants, some of which might even mature seed for us here in Oregon. We are thrilled to grow their authentic Thai holy basil, an edible species of cleome (spider flower), and Loong Yoot’s edible ball-shaped loofa from the northern mountain regions, among others.

Thank You Organic Allotment Friends

I wanted to thank Howard Sooley for the nice words he wrote on the Organic Allotment blog recently. Another thank you to Alan Jenkins and the other OG Allotment folks for keeping up the good work and making us want to be in Europe every time we read your posts.

We miss their enthusiasm and kindness. Their very active blog is one of my favorites for regular reading online.

Please read their recent Seed Saving post, it makes me warm inside. Which is convenient as it is snowing now in Oregon and it isn’t going to get above freezing for 3 days.

Here are some fall and winter photos. (I recommend opening the slide show full screen and setting the speed to 5 seconds.)

Stay warm and happy winter time from the Seed Ambassadors Project.

Spring Seed Swap and a new Local Seed Stewardship Initiative

Yesterday was the Eugene Permaculture Guild’s annual Spring Seed Swap. Every year, hundreds of gardeners and seed savers convene for a few hours on a Saturday to share seeds, plants, and a potluck meal. The event is more than the free gifting of seeds, though, and has become a pivotal community event for the local gardening scene.

This year was the Seed Ambassadors Project’s first appearance at the spring seed swap, and we brought two grocery bags filled with seed that we have saved in the past few seasons. By the end of the day these bags were whittled down to one tenth of their original quantity. It is so great to think of so many local gardeners growing locally saved seeds! Of course, we did not come away empty handed, as we gathered samples of some locally saved tomatoes, orach, mustard, a gourd, a salsify, a parsley, a root parsley, and a blue flat leafed kale that we are really excited about.

Joy Larkcom’s Bull’s Blood Chard Ukrainian Beet Kamuoliai 2 Beet
Joy Larkcom’s Bull’s Blood Chard, Ukrainian Beet, Kamuoliai 2 Beet (from Lithuania)

We believe that it is essential that home gardeners and farmers save seed to preserve genetic diversity. It is apparent that even small seed companies are unable and/or unwilling to do so, as they must respond to the forces of the market and whims of the large seed companies. Locally stewarded seed is of course optimal, though national seed saving networks, such as the Seed Saver’s Exchange, are also very excellent in this regard. One of the goals of the Seed Ambassadors Project is to encourage local seed saving. Each time a variety of vegetable is saved in a particular bioregion (or microclimate or garden), it adapts to the specific conditions of that place. Ultimately, food sovereignty begins with seed sovereignty.

As we have mentioned in previous posts, our seed quest last winter resulted in the collection of more than seven hundred varieties of seed, many not available in the United States. Added to this amount are the fifty or so varieties we collected this year in Romania, and a few dozen other varieties collected by other friends Seed Ambassadorizing in Mexico and Italy. While we are doing everything we can to grow out as many of these varieties as possible in our own large seed garden, isolation distances required by many biennial outbreeders (beets and chard, brassicas, onions and leeks, parsnips and carrots) severely limit the amounts of these species we can grow out to seed in any given season.

Sarah Kleeger and John Herberg Gardening Russian Hunger Gap Kale Sarah Kleeger, Alison Kinney and Sutherlin Kale
Sarah and John Herberg with some onions, Russian Hunger Gap Kale, Alison Kinney with Sutherlin Kale

Last year we grew several of each of these species, not quite knowing how we would isolate them this year for flowering and seed production. Several people have contacted us through our website and offered to help (thank you!), and we are trying to plug these people in as much as possible.

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Seed Ambassadors Transylvania

This year, the Seed Ambassadors Project was invited to the Transylvania (Northwest) region of Romania by the Ratiu Family Foundation as part of the Ratiu Center for Democracy’s Agricultural program, Turda Fest. Turda Fest’s mission is to honor “the history of the greater Turda region and promote options for a sustainable future…. [and to] provide educational opportunities in agriculture for ecologically sound and financially viable development.” Turda Fest’s main component has been an agricultural festival in the fall, but is expanding to include educational and organizational activities throughout the year.

Our Turda Fest program, from February 1-9 was organized by Turda Fest’s brilliant Program Coordinator Marta Pozsonyi and Peace Corps Volunteer extraordinaire Kate Lucas. The program included village workshops with farmers and meetings with other people involved in agriculture in the area, such as the local Agriculture Minister and ag-oriented NGOs. We also ate some incredible slow food meals, visited the local seed grow-out center, toured the local salt mines and went on a hike, and held a press event.

Winter Fields of Transylvania  Transylvanian corn feild  Horse and Cart
winter fields, corn stacks, horse and cart

At the village workshops, we spoke about organic farming in Oregon, diverse marketing tactics, and the importance of maintaining on-farm biodiversity through seed saving of traditional varieties. We shared what we knew about what people and organizations in other countries in Europe are doing to cope with the loss of heirloom and traditional varieties, with their various interpretations of seed saving organizations. We engaged the farmers in discussions about the problems they face and what they see as possible solutions.

Andrew Still giving presentation  Mihai Viteasul  turda market
Presentations at the Democracy Center, and Mihai Viteasul, the Turda market

First thing in Turda, we were interviewed for a local paper as well as a local TV station. The newspaper journalist spoke with us for two or three minutes and took a few photos. When we suggested the photos might turn out better if we were outside, we all moved outside and she took one photo. On our way outside she asked me if I actually thought we would accomplish anything while we were there. I told her it was possible. Andrew piped in and said, “Of course!” I then asked her if she thought we would accomplish anything. She told me, “Definitely not. It is not possible. What the people need here is money, not information.” Her newspaper article read like an editorial that expressed this point of view, and the photo she published with it was the one that was taken outside, in which my eyes were closed and Andrew wore a mid-sentence grimace. We had been prepared to face this attitude, but thankfully it wasn’t as prominent as it might have been.

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Southern Willamette Valley Seeding Calendar

christosneon
A Southern Willamette Valley Seeding Calendar

Including season-extension using propagation greenhouses or hotframes

v. 2.12 February 8, 2008

  • January seeding in the greenhouse is for the pros, with two possible exceptions: Alliums and salad greens. Asian greens, mustards, arugula, bok choi, especially, are strong germinators in cool soils, with no supplemental heat required. Plant out by early March, harvest by early April. The fast, early crop. Wherever possible, use freshly-saved seed – freshness lends significant impetus to seedling vigor at this time of year.
  • February is the month in which inexperienced gardeners tend to sow too early. You will lose little and gain greatly by waiting. However, with appropriate resources, commitment and incentive, February is the month advanced gardeners get serious about season-extension in the greenhouse.
  • For direct seeding without the assistance of a propagation greenhouse, the spring seeding schedule takes the following course: there is pea and fava bean planting time in the weeks around Valentine’s Day. Then it’s time to direct-seed cool-weather spring greens. Then corn, then squash, then beans. The pea/fava planting time still has hard freezes and is mostly cold weather, but with occasional cool periods. Peas and favas can grow when the temperature is not much above freezing. The cool-weather greens can tolerate freezes, grow well in cool weather, and have photo-period requirements that fit this schedule. The early corn-planting time can still have occasional light freezes – but the weather then is still considerably warmer than earlier in the season. Corn needs warmer weather to make good growth than peas or favas do, so there is little point trying to get it in earlier than this. Squash and beans are normally killed by frost, and thus are put in after most danger of frost is past. Timings suggested in the seeding calendar below, include the earlier sowing times for transplants afforded by ‘indoor’ propagation aids, such as greenhouses or, for home gardeners, hotframes or basements with supplemental light and heat.
  • Feel free to copy, re-purpose and circulate. This calendar was assembled by gardeners and farmers with the School Garden Project of Lane County and Food For Lane County. Bookmark to check back for continuing updates.
  • Feedback, additions and corrections are encouraged. Please forward them to Nick Routledge.

 Southern Willamette Spring Seeding Calendar 2008 (pdf)

seedcalender2008

Romania intel

As Andrew and Sarah prepare for their Romania trip, Kate Lucas, our point-person on the ground there supplies us with some further intel on what they’re getting into. In agro-political terms, the current situation looks absolutely fascinating:

I’ll try to give you a general picture of what’s going on in Romanian agriculture, but don’t take my words as gospel, it’s notoriously hard to get clear information here even when you’re asking the “experts”. Hopefully by the end of Sarah and Andrew’s trip we’ll all have a clearer picture of the emerging patterns.

Currently the agriculture situation is one of tremendous potential; to become organic, local, and cutting edge or to succumb to the pressures of factory farming and genetic engineering. It seems as though Romania is currently on the edge of a precipice but once things get a little shove, it’ll be fast and furious movement in one direction or the other. Romania is a country in transition and the focus of a lot of investment speculation. We already have a pig CFO set up by Smithfield in Timisoara (which has been closed once already due to a swine flu out break) and other large corporations like Star potatoes are starting to get a foothold. Continue reading

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