The Seed Ambassadors Project

Bringing Biodiversity Back

Tag: Farming

Back in Oregon…

After four months of traveling though nine countries in Europe, Andrew and I are back in Oregon for a season of farming at Hayhurst Valley Organic Farm and Nursery, one hour south of Eugene in the Coast Range. Here we hope to do grow-outs of many of the 700-plus varieties of food plants we collected on our travels. Seven hundred varieties is a bit much for the two of us to handle, and we are seeking out people in the greater Eugene area to participate in the Seed Ambassadors Project by growing one or several of our accessions to seed. Please contact us if you are interested!

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Greenhouses at Hayhurst Valley Organic Farm and Nursery, Danish Marigold, Sunset

Already we have sown several dozen varieites of tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, peas, and grains, and hope to get some lettuces, brassicas, and herbs in the ground shortly. We hope to post photos and reviews of our progress over the course of the season. Continue reading

Lithuania Part 5: Certify It!

Don’t criticize it, certify it! ORGANIC Lithuania.

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L to R: 1. A view of some of the Organic Certification paperwork, including the three colors of certificates: Red and yellow for the first two years of transition to OG, and green for fully Organic. 2. Kayla looking at some documents with the head of the Lithuania Organic Certification agency. 3. The shelves and folders of the Certified Farmers (unfortunately only a few seed growers).

After learning about the paperwork we when to a small special organic farmers market.

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L to R: 1. The Kaunas Organic Farmer’s Market. 2. Some local produce (apples, beats, parsnips sunchoke!, Rutabagas!, cabbage, squash, parsley, onions, potatoes, and some little yellow Lithuanian quinces). 3. Herbal teas that can be mixed special for your own needs. 4. Grains and the first OG kids cereal in LT. 5. Collecting some LT grain and caraway accessions.

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Lithuania Part 2: Organic Agriculture Overview

The organic scene in Lithuania is still in its relative infancy compared with that of Germany or the US. Though government affiliated Organic Certification began in Lithuania in 1993 (with nine farms certified), entry into the EU in 2004 brought on a new and different set of organic regulatory laws. The Lithuanian Chamber of Agriculture has played a key role in helping farmers keep pace with these laws, but in a country whose organic industry is so young, many of the regulations are somewhat difficult to follow.

If an organic farmer wants to grow organic seed for sale, s/he must obtain a seed certification in addition to the standard organic certification. As of 2006, only about 20 farmers in the country have this certification and all but one of them grow only grain.The single grower that produces vegetable seed is contracted to Institute of Horticulture for growouts of some of their crops (carrots and onions especially), which are then sold commercially (mostly to gardeners) by the Institute. Grain accounts for 69% of the organic ag. production here (most of the rest in fodder or sugar beets), with only 0.1% in vegetables, so the country’s need for certified organic vegetable seeds for farm use is pretty small.

One of the goals of the Chamber of Agriculture is to increase the amount of organic vegetable production in Lithuania, but the market for organics is small here and there are no marketing boards to help the farmers sell their produce. Also, most farms are pretty small by production standards and the farmers can’t produce enough to satisfy a grocer’s demands, let alone meet export quantities to reach developed markets. Organic vegetable growers would then have to rely on the local markets, where consumers will pay a price premium on some products but not others (see:
for recent prices of organic crops in Lithuania).

Continue reading

Plan B… More Hamburg, then Grain

Our plans for Poland on the 9th of December fell through, and so we found ourselves in Hamburg with lots of options but no plans. We did what we could to pursue new seed-related contacts, even recruiting the help of Christina and Juan, but we found last-minute arrangements around the holidays to be somewhat difficult in Germany.

We wound up staying in Hamburg until our December 17th flight to Lithuania, mostly exploring various parts of the city and lying low.

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One of the contacts Christina pursued for us worked out, and so we spent a delightful afternoon with Karl-Josef Muller, the head of the Association for Biodynamic Plant Breeders, and his fellow cereal breeder Martin Timmermann. Karl Joseph has been breeding for high quality grains in low fertility, low-input organic systems since 1986, and has developed and registered a variety of “naked” barley, Lawina, on the EU’s common catalogue. Take a Look at their website “Cereal Breeding Research Darzau” it contains a lot of great information.

We first checked out of some of their “nursery” plots and grow-out fields of fall-planted rye, spelt, einkorn, and barley on neighboring organic and biodynamic farms. Then we returned to the research center to see some of the specialized equipment (including custom tractor and special de-hulling machine), and then retired to their offices for coffee and a long discussion of the methods and whys and wherefores of organic grain breeding.

Karl-Josef told us, “Our aim is to develop new varieties, but it does not end there. It is also to develop new ideas for new varieties and to research and tell others (even the conventional breeders) what we have learned. Because if the idea is developed, sometimes that is enough for now. The market/interest (in organically developed seeds) is very small, but it is not our job to improve this. What is important is to develop new criteria for farming, organic farming, human being, these ideas.”

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It was a wonderful visit, and we left with a few new varieties of grains (Lawina naked barley and a light grain rye), and shared with Martin some of the perennial wheat that we had brought. We also left with our heads full of new ideas and information.

Germany: Into the Heart of the Matter

Early morning on Monday, December 4, we arrived at the doorstep of Christina Henatch, a pivotal player in the German Biodynamic seed breeding scene, Working at the Gut Wolfsdorf Farm outside of hamburg Germany. Christina was gracious enough to host us for several days during a very busy time of year for her. We talked about a great deal — from nematodes and flea beetles to the reality of so-called “organic hybrids” now on the market. We participated a bit in the process of selecting carrots for next year’s seed crop, and helped process some of this year’s carrot seed crop.

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We worked a great deal with Juan Richter, Christina’s knowledgable and helpful research assistant, and had what amounted to a four day seminar in the Biodynamic seed world of Germany.

Christina eagerly accepted many of the seeds that we brought, including the broccoli and beans, which are two of her main breeding crops. She was also excited to pass on some of our seed to her colleagues that work with grains, eggplant, salad greens and more. She shared with us some of her favorite carrots, broccoli, and beans, as well as a “naked barley” and some over wintering spinach, and offered us new contacts to explore in her network of Seedspeople.

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Christina is a part of the oldest and largest cooperative of Biodynamic breeders in the world, Bingenheimer. Bingenheimer is dedicated to developing and promoting open-pollinated varieties for the professional gardener/farmer that are of the calibar to compete with and surpass hybrid varieties. It is a pivotal time in the evolution of the seed business, especially considering the introduction of “organic hybrids,” and the German Seed Initiative, comprised of dozens of dedicated seed breeders like Christina, is the only organization taking a pro-active stance to ensure that market gardeners will continue to have access to increasingly high-quality open pollinated varieties.

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We hope to visit Bingenheimer later in our journey, but for now stay tuned for some photos of the Gut Wulfsdorf farm and our experiences here.


Barritskov, Home of Aarstiderne

Sounds a bit like The Middle Ages and knights and all that, and really that´s not too far off…

Thursday morning, November 30, we left for Barritskov, a manor house also on the East Coast of Jutland with 600+ hectares of Biodynamic forage crops and vegetables, and a sizable herd of beef cattle. Barritskov is also the home base of Aarstiderne (Danish for the four seasons), a “box scheme” that imports organic foods from all over the world and delivers any of nine different produce boxes, as well as a variety of specialty boxes (meat, dairy, fish, wine, etc.) to the doors of over 30,000 households in Denmark and now Sweden.

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We took a tour with Chris Russel, the long-time renaissance man of the business and an American that has lived and worked in Denmark almost twenty years. He arranged for us to stay in the “gardener’s house,´´ a two-hundred year-old four bedroom home with a thatched roof, that is sometimes used by the president of the company but is in the process of being converted into a guest quarters. We were the first guests to stay here and felt quite lucky to be treated so well.

We met with Chris again on Friday, and had a good conversation about our project and the project there at Barritskov. Chris even videoed an interview of us for the company´s VLOG!

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We gave Chris seeds (that he promised to increase) for their experimental garden, and he gave us access to boxes and boxes of Seeds of Change seeds from a 2002 trial garden they did for SOC. We were quite delighted for this gift, which included a few varieties that Seeds of Change doesn´t offer any more and we are excited to bring back. Most of the seeds are not on the EU Common Catalogue, so we took some seeds that we thought people might be interested in further down the line.

Barritskov was a wonderful place and while we were there we had the opportunity to explore the forests and coastline, and also walk to the town nearby. It was a great snapshot of the Danish countryside, and a much better seed contact than we had imagined.