Farmer Seed Initiative

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Project Updates:

January 2020- Stefan Meyer

On January 11, 2020, a seed of knowledge was planted here in Finland, MN. This potential life was covered with the soil of intention, watered with laughter and love, and fertilized with wishes of fruitful and lush growth.

Several organizations came together under the Finland Food Chain project to teach a seed saving class. Zachary Paige of North Circle Seeds, Lise & David Abazs of Round River Farm and Stefan Meyer of the North Shore AgroEcology Center (Organic Consumers Association) facilitated the class.

The seed saving class arose from the Finland Food Chain community process of identifying topic areas that are important to our community. One of the topic areas identified by our community was seed saving, so a seed saving workgroup was created. As part of the seed saving workgroup, 6 people attended a 3 day seed saving seminar in Decorah, IA hosted by Seed Savers (see August 2019 project update below). Part of the goal of this trip was to bring information and knowledge back to the community in order to expand community seed saving capacity and assist in building a network of regional growers.

The Finland seed saving class brought attendees from across the Arrowhead region of Minnesota, with attendees arriving from Finland, Isabella, Schroeder, Silver Bay, Duluth, Esko, Grand Rapids, Virginia & Bemidji. The attendees were a mix of farmers, gardeners, community food system educators & organizers and native plant enthusiasts.

The class covered a wide discourse over the various areas of knowledge important for seed savers:

Plant Biology: flower structure, pollination, an explanation of the differences between hybrid, open-pollinated and heirloom seeds, taxonomy (plant families) and genetics.

Annual Crops: self-pollinated crops, cross-pollinated crops, vegetatively-reproduced crops

Biennial Crops: life cycle, vernalization, when to plant, strategies for overwintering, re-planting in Spring.

Isolation: Distances, Small-scale Isolation Techniques, Hand Pollinating,

Seed Maturity & Harvesting: Processing, Storing, Germination Testing.

The goal of the seed saving workgroup is to work towards developing a regional seed savers network as part of a local producers cooperative. Regional seed saving is considered an important goal for local producers as it allows the Arrowhead region of Minnesota to become more self-reliant, while also breeding crops that are well-suited to the regional climate conditions (ie, short cool summers, wet falls, and bitterly cold winters).

Anyone interested in becoming part of this seed saving workgroup, becoming a regional seed grower themselves, or if you just want more information, please feel free to contact us using this form or calling the Finland Food Chain Project Administrator, Honor Schauland, at 218-353-0300.

August 2019-

Six of our North Shore farmers attended the three day Seed Savers Exchange (SSE) workshop in Decorah, IA. Along with the workshop, we were able to stay at Pepperfield Farm, a non-profit run by David Cavagnaro, an expert seed saver and host. The overall experience was great, time to focus on seed saving, time to discuss seed saving and seed interest as a group of local farmers and to take the workshop which was shy on new learnings but interesting to see how SSE does its work.

The Finland Food Chain supported/funded this educational experience and capacity building opportunity of the new Seeds Project, one of the twelve projects of the Local Food Systems effort. The group met the last night of the trip to discuss what we were thinking and what we might want to set in motion for future development of this project. Discussions were had about the SSE training and sharing of each of our farmers about where they were at and what we were thinking. Here are the notes of the meeting we held the final night of our Iowa Seed Saving education workshop.

SEED PROJECT DISCUSSION MINUTES (David Abazs, Lise Abazs, Kyle Cook, Stefan Meyer, Melinda Spindler and Nick Wharton)

Project Area

People shared thoughts about what the physical area of reach we should start with to work through the initial organization of the group of farmers working on this project. Although talk about including all of the rural St. Louis, Lake and Cook Counties, it was settled on starting with the North Shore growers. This initial team of farmers have very similar growing conditions and the nearness would provide for better communication and collaboration at this stage of the project.

Educational goals

There is interest in providing classes on seed saving in the Grand Marais area and the Finland area this winter. A combination of the farmers would develop and present a workshop on seed saving… a primer, with the possibility of doing an on-farm summer workshop to deepen the understanding and educational opportunity of other potential farmer/gardener collaboration. This would/could greatly build our capacity and broaden the potential of this seed project.

Organizational structure

We talked about different options on how we could/should be organized. Initially, keeping it simple by working collaboratively on this project, to see how things mature is the current approach. Possible ideas for future structures include forming a Farmer Seed Coop, connecting with Zachary Paige with the North Circle Seed project for joint marketing options and looking at other structures that might best fit where our current efforts lead.

Who wants to grow what?

We started to think about what crops we each wanted to save seeds of and talked about the different approaches and seed saving protocols with no definitive decisions, other than to say we would like to develop and agree to some of these protocols. There are different levels of seed saving and we did not decide on one over another, but all of us want to produce true to type seeds that are reliable for those using them. Good germination rates with genetically stability. This goes to the isolation distances that will give us different grades of seeds. They include Minimum Distance Isolation for home use, Minimum Isolation Distance for commercial production and Minimum Isolation Distance for Genetic Maintenance. We agreed that we would establish a spread sheet, share that on google drive and have each of us add varieties and our name to the ones we want to save seed from.

We also talked about our 1 – 3 year plan and our 5 year and beyond plan.
1-3 Year Plan: work individually and together on these items discussed so far i.e. 1) seed saving protocols and possible organizational steps 2) establish an educational or educational offerings on seed saving and what we are up to. 3) help each other with our farm set ups, share information and see how we all start to develop our on-farm seed saving capacity, and finally 4) identify which varieties we each want to be “responsible for” and start to fill in a spread sheet to see where we have gaps.

Also, we would like to look into equipment options, materials and space designs for the different needs related to seed saving. We also discussed some additional needs for funding for Educational supplies i.e. corn pollen bags, knives, and hands-on learning materials for the classes. Money for our continuing educational supplies, books, etc. and, money to help us capture additional experiences and educational opportunities. There are two coming up, one called the Seed Saving Gathering: Growing for Seed with Zach Paige, North Circle Seeds, Sep 22 10 – 2 p.m. pot luck lunch at Little Chili Farm in Two Harbors and the other seed cleaning and tour of a farm on Oct 12th in Vergas, MN along with the Deep Roots Festival. Travel with one night stay for whoever from the seed project group signs up.

5 Year Plan: organized group of seed farmers finds a joint location to build a Seed Center processing/storage “center” with a root cellar and walk in cooler etc. Finland was mentioned as a possible location.

SEED SAVING VARIETIES SPREAD SHEET has been established as a google drive excel sheet for the group to fill in.

Posted September 4, 2019