10,000 years ago, humans started farming, and it fundamentally changed our relationship with the world around us. When we left behind a nomadic life, and stayed in one place long enough to see a crop from planting to harvest, it led to the creation of towns, cities, governments, and all the other things that go into a stationary community. At the heart of all that change was seeds.
After we decided to start Elk Run Farm, we wanted to get feedback from the people the produce would be going to. We surveyed a few food banks, and used that data to create the crop plan we are going to implement this season. Some of the vegetables and fruits most in demand we expected, like tomatoes and carrots. Some we did not, like melons and broccoli.
Once we knew what crops we wanted to grow, I had to decide which varieties we wanted. This is actually a fairly complicated question, and one that I enjoyed answering. I spent a few hours going through six or seven seed catalogues, reading variety descriptions and looking at days to maturity, disease resistance, and breeding history.
There are two main kinds of seeds available to farmers of our scale: hybrid and open-pollinated (of which heirloom is a subset). Hybrid seeds are often more uniform, productive, and reliable. Open-pollinated seeds are more genetically diverse and adaptable, and can be used in seed-saving. While I did purchase a fair number of hybrid seeds, the majority of the seeds we will be planting this season are open-pollinated. This is for a couple reasons.
The first is ideological. I believe that it is important to maintain genetic diversity in our seed stock and give people the ability to save their own seeds from year to year. Having power of your own seeds is a very real kind of power, and allows you to save seed from the best plants from year to year, making the plants you grow stronger and healthier over time.
The second is future-focused. With an increasingly unstable climate, having seeds that are more adaptable allows farmers to select the plants that do the best in a particularly dry year, for example, and the seeds from those plants will do better than seeds from the plants that did not thrive in the drought. This allows farmers to tap into the inherent ability of open-pollinated seeds to respond to different conditions more robustly than hybrids.
The third is economic. Supporting seed companies that are breeding open-pollinated seeds, particularly in the Pacific Northwest, means that they can continue the good work they are doing. Breeding programs are key to developing and improving new varieties that will do particularly well in a specific locale, at different times of year, and under specific disease pressures.
Adaptive Seeds – New Mama Super Sweet Corn
Super Sweet. 80-90 days.
Uprising Seeds, a 100% organic seed company in Bellingham WA, is one of the companies I bought seeds from for this season. They are committed to breeding and sourcing seeds that do particularly well west of the Cascades. Adaptive Seeds, in Sweet Home Oregon, identifies seeds grown in the Pacific Northwest, as well as seeds that are suited to Market Farming, which is what we are doing at Elk Run. This made it very easy for me to choose varieties, since I bought pretty much everything that was both native and suited to our scale of production.
Uprising Seeds – Umpqua Broccoli
Seeds are at the heart of any good vegetable farm, and choosing the right seeds is often the difference between success and failure. I believe that good varieties should be shared and celebrated, so when you come to visit us at the farm, don’t hesitate to ask about what varieties we have growing!