Local Food Needs Local Seed: Increasing Production and Use of Locally Adapted Seed with a Farm to Community Network

Progress report for EDS23-046

Project Type: Education Only
Funds awarded in 2023: $41,000.00
Projected End Date: 03/31/2025
Grant Recipient: Working Food
Region: Southern
State: Florida
Principal Investigator:
Melissa DeSa
Working Food
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Project Information


Although seed is one of the most valuable inputs for any farm, few farmers save seed. Seed is viewed largely as a resource that is cheap, easily accessible, and easier to purchase than save. Farmers already face challenges of day to day operations of maintaining the family farm. Adopting another practice like seed saving - one that does not feel essential to the survival of the farm and that requires additional training and possible conflict with market crops - is not likely to happen. 

Given these challenges, there is little incentive to save seed, let alone build a local or regional seed community. This is a precarious situation; we’ve seen the fragility of reliance on consolidated outside sources for fundamental inputs like seed and fertilizers. 2020 saw a demand on seed companies that led to running out of stock and inability to fulfill all orders, leaving growers of all scales short of what they needed to plant. What if we had decentralized seed networks instead? That relied instead on a multitude of diverse growers saving and sharing seeds adapted to local conditions through the care and observant eye of each farmer. And a community that understood and supported the idea that local food really needs local seed.  

Working Food is ready to do this. For over a decade we have built a network of food systems collaborators locally and nationally, have experience in community organizing and outreach for all ages, years of practice saving seeds, working with seed companies, farmers, and other non-profits. We see what needs to be done and have visions of how to get there. Leveraging partnerships from farmers to community groups and various faculty at The University of Florida, we will build upon existing efforts to grow a “farm to community seed network”, that address recently published findings  underscoring the importance of investing in farmer training and support in seed production, providing educational resources in multiple formats, and facilitating a decentralized and resilient seed network built on multiple growers selecting for regionally adapted and resilient crops (Hubbard et al. 2022 and Snyder et al. 2022). 

We will support 3 core farmers in identifying best practices for incorporating seed production into a market farm operation, and produce outreach materials in multiple formats and platforms to inspire farmers to adopt seed saving practices. We will facilitate community outreach and connections that celebrates local food, local farms, and local seeds by providing up to youth field trips to farms and up to farmer guest visits to other farms. This project continues momentum already established to build a local food community that values local seed as a critical resource to be cared for and shared by a diverse network of growers and community supporters. 

Project Objectives:

Overall Goal: To build capacity and inspiration of emerging seed growers to become long term seed stewards, while creating awareness and support from the general public about the importance of local food grown from local seed. 


  1. Through mutual co-learning and ongoing engagement among market farmers and the experienced seed stewards, evaluate and document best practices for on-farm seed production that are likely to be adopted by farmers.
  2. Create easily accessible and informative learning materials that will inspire and educate more farmers to consider seed stewardship as an essential practice. 
  3. Publish and promote easily accessible, engaging, and diverse outreach materials and activities that use seed and food as a mechanism to deepen connections between farmers, urban ag communities, underserved communities, and the general public.


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  • Dr. Danielle Treadwell - Technical Advisor


Educational approach:

The main focus of this grant is to work with market farmers to develop best practices and gain experience with seed saving, which will lead to short and long term adoption of seed saving as an essential practice on their farms. This is achieved through a co-learning education model between these farmers and experienced seed savers through one-on-one discussions, decision making, on-farm visits, and seed crop check- ins as the seasons progress. It is a more informal and personalized approach exploring the demands, opportunities and limitations of market farmers and the requirements for seed saving that may or may not fit into the farm plan. These decisions and explorations are based on that particular farm’s infrastructure and operations, the individual farmers’ passions and curiosities, expectations, prior experiences and more. The intended outcome is that farmers gain practice in saving seeds they are interested in, based on conversations with seed saving experts that help guide the best choice for the farm. 

An Advisory Group was designed to help provide additional input to the project from diverse community perspectives, and to connect the many important people involved in local food and seed systems work that don’t often get a chance to interact. 

Field trips for and by farmers are included as an educational opportunity for various audiences. We are facilitating field trips to other farms for continued seed education for farmers, field trips for youth to farms, and for farmers to visit the youth at their gardens, to foster more farm to community connections and relationships.

Educational & Outreach Activities

13 Consultations
2 On-farm demonstrations
3 Published press articles, newsletters
4 Other educational activities: October 30, 2024. Project YouthBuild student and farmer visited Siembra Farm to learn about cowpea seed production from Cody Galligan, one of the farmer-owners of Siembra Farm. Peas were harvested from the 2 seed crops in production at the time. Project YouthBuild students also visited Working Food’s seed garden operations many times through the school year to help with seed projects.

December 6, 2023. Ten 2nd-6th grade students enrolled in Working Food’s Youth Program visited Nicoya Farm, one of the core farmers in the project, on a field trip. Students engaged in multiple farm-based activities including seed processing and a seed scavenger hunt. More details in the section below about field trips.

December 8, 2023. Nicoya Farm’s Aviva Asher was a guest for a group of 16 visiting kindergartners to the Alachua County Farm to School site. Aviva and project PI Melissa DeSa presented a seed focused program in addition to other activities for the children. Seed shelling, find the seed, and sensory seed game/sharing were among other activities. More details in the section below about field trips.

December 12, 2023. All participating core farmers plus some Advisory Group growers attended a field trip to visit Possum Hollow Farm to learn about local calabaza seed saving efforts. Next, they visited the Florida Wildflower Cooperative farm to learn about flower seed saving,processing and distribution. More details in the section below about field trips.

Participation Summary:

11 Farmers participated
1 Ag professionals participated
Education/outreach description:

Core Farmer Updates 

We are using a co-learning model between farmers and experienced seed stewards with one on one collaborative decision making (consulting), and additional opportunities for learning, engagement, and outreach. Throughout the project as farmers have been growing crops and participating in the outreach activities, we’ve been able to maintain good communication skills. All core farmers have been very open to communication via texts, emails, phone calls and site visits. 

Siembra Farm has been the most challenging because they have multiple employees who all have different roles at the farm and there isn’t one main contact for the project. Fortunately, they are still very communicative and always respond and keep up with the project. The first cowpea crop in the fall received less attention than desired; however, this was remedied by a farmer's suggestion to organize a farm lunch. This event aimed to deepen engagement with the project and foster better connections among the core farmers. After lunch, a sack of the dried peas grown and harvested on the farm that season were shelled by the group as we discussed the project. Everyone really enjoyed the activity and it was a great way to get the peas shelled quickly! The second season has been much more successful, with increased dialogue, stronger project awareness, and a better understanding of the hands-on work required by participants.

One of the crops they decided to save seeds from is tomatoes because of their low probability of crossing, and the convenience of harvesting seeds at the same time tomatoes are picked for market, unlike crops that require prolonged maturation periods in the field. One of the young farmers was identified as the most enthusiastic and experienced grower of tomatoes, making her a valuable point of contact for coordinating efforts around this crop. Another farmer that specializes in data management, administration, and planning has been contributing to those facets of the project. The other crop selected by Siembra Farm for seed saving is the Bellevue Butternut. The farmers already had their own saved seed for this crop from their previous involvement in SARE Project LS19-315- “Enhancing Seed Production of Regionally Adapted Crops in the Southeastern Farmer Seed System”. We discussed the opportunity to make selections on this landrace variety for the qualities the farmers appreciate most and anticipate an opportunity to make thoughtful selections for which traits to carry forward, rather than just save all the seeds.They have demonstrated their improved understanding of seed-saving techniques through a thoughtful planting strategy that allows them to cultivate a variety of other Cucurbita moschata alongside the project crop without crossing. They intend to trial new varieties that University of Florida has been developing, but planting them far afield and timed to flower after the Bellevue Butternuts do. 

Hammock Hollow Farm, despite recent serious personal health challenges of two aging farmers, have been very available and eager to participate. While they have missed a couple of chances for engagement due to personal reasons like the first Advisory Group meeting, they have caught up on all accounts and remain fully engaged. A fall crop in 2023 was not possible, but two spring/summer crops are currently underway and the farmers are still meeting the objectives of the project. Charlie Andrews is very excited about a sweet yellow Aji pepper that he says has been very hard to source seed for. Great dialog ensued  about the high rates of pepper cross-pollinations when growing multiple varieties. The discussion emphasized the importance of separating crops to maintain varietal purity, especially for rare peppers like these, highlighted the importance of adequate population sizes and established a strategy for incorporating the crop into a regular farm plan, rather than growing it in a small separate seed plot. For example, early conversations indicated the farmer thought a small off to the side section was what was needed for seed, but didn’t feel right to them as far as efficiency and management. We landed on a much more reasonable approach to layout the seed crop as they would any other pepper crop they would grow, but as far away as possible, and staggered in time to ensure it will not be flowering when the earlier sweet bell peppers are.  Additionally the farmers have been growing a special variety for a few years that they named Conie Pink (pronounced coo-knee) named after one of his previous employees. It was a sport, or mutation or seed mix up that was unexpected one year in a row of a variety they can’t remember now, but identified as a really special tomato that has been saved ever since and proven to be a really great locally adapted variety that the community loves. Over time a few additional mutations have occurred and he now has a few interesting variations of Conie Pink. This spring they have chosen to grow the traditional Conie Pink and a new variant that is lighter in color and very sweet. This farm is a good example of the higher rates of cross pollination potential that can vary greatly based on local conditions. They have a very healthy pollinator population and there seems to be a few new Conie Pink plants each season from saved seed that are different from the original. 

Still under development, Working Food is creating a resource for our core farmers that will be turned into a web page by the end of the project. The page will feature a curated collection of seed resources  including books, articles, podcasts, videos etc. that will help farmers deepen their learning. Resources created and learned from 3 prior SARE projects will be shared, including: 

  1. LS03-156 Saving our Seed: A Program to Train Farmers
  2. LS19-315 Enhancing Seed Production of Regionally Adapted Crops in the Southeastern Farmer Seed System
  3. LS21-351 Saving Seed for Resilient Local Systems: An online, video based course on saving seed from the Utopian Seed Project

Advisory Group Updates

The initial Advisory Group meeting was held on October 19, to welcome and introduce all project collaborators. The group received a comprehensive overview of the project’s objectives, significance, and expectations. Nine participants were able to attend out of the thirteen anticipated. Hammock Hollow unfortunately could not attend due to health reasons, but was updated later. The other two core farmers attended as well as representatives from the University of Florida Field & Fork campus farm, University of Florida Department of Plant Science, a charter school teacher, two urban agriculture/non-profit farmers, a representative from Alachua County Farm to School program, and the lead farmer for the Florida Wildflower Cooperative. Several months after this meeting, Working Food became acquainted with new leadership for Porters Quarters Community Farm and has been engaging them in dialog, with hopes they will be part of the Advisory Group.  A mid-way meeting (not yet scheduled but likely planned during summer down time ) will allow for continued feedback and tweaking of activities if needed. A third and final meeting will happen towards the end as we wrap up project details, review our successes, failures, and final project outputs. 

The framework for achieving the objectives of the projects were discussed at this meeting and 4 key areas were identified for further work. Any progress made since that meeting is described below.

  1. Coordinating field trips. 
    • We organized farmer engagement opportunities through farm visits, knowing that farmer to farmer engagement is one of the most important ways farmers learn and connect (Snyder et al. 2022 reference in original proposal). Even though some of the farmers knew of each other, they have not had a chance in their busy schedules to make the time to meet up. This project, which only encompasses a small part of their daily work, has given them that opportunity. 
    • Our first field trip for farmers was on December 12, 2023. All core farmers participated in visiting Possum Hollow Farm in Alachua to learn about Joe and Trace’s Cuban Calabaza seed stewardship project (featured in SARE project EDS21-30, “Saving Seed for Resilient Local Systems: An online, video based course on saving seed from The Utopian Seed Project”). After that we drove to the nearby Florida Wildflower Cooperative’s farm and seed aggregation/processing facility operated by Terry Zinn, who is an Advisory Group member and also was a part of SARE project LS19-315, “Enhancing Seed Production of Regionally Adapted Crops in the Southeastern Farmer Seed System”,which helps research native milkweed seed production practices. 
    • We plan to host future field trips for farmers to visit Working Food’s seed processing facilities when spring/summer seeds are available for a processing demonstration. We also plan to coordinate additional demonstrations when squash, peppers, and tomato seeds are available for processing.
    • On December 6, 2023 Working Food’s Youth Program collaborated with this project to bring a group of elementary aged kids from the George Washington Carver Afterschool Science Club to visit Nicoya Farm. These students have the opportunity to work in their garden at the community center weekly throughout the school year and are very engaged in gardening. They arrived excited with some pre-existing knowledge about plants, insects, biology, seeds, and eating local food. An assortment of activities were enjoyed including a farm scavenger hunt, harvesting herb seeds, designing seed packets, shelling peas (that were grown on the farm as part of this project), feeding chickens, picking tomatoes and just playing and enjoying the farm. Daniel and Aviva who are core farmers on this project were very engaged in helping organize and plan for this trip, and their oldest daughter even participated! Feedback from the farmers was positive and the kids loved it! 
    • On December 8, 2023 Aviva of Nicoya Farm joined the project PI Melissa at Farm to School’s garden for a field trip that 16 kindergarten students participated in. Students from around the county regularly attend this location as a field trip site, and these students came from Glenn Springs Elementary for a morning of fun farm-filled adventures! Melissa and Aviva worked closely with Pam Worsham (on the Advisory Group representing Farm to School) to develop the content based on seasonality, time available, and the age group. Kids got to harvest roselle and carrots, explore the sensory garden with aromatic and textured plants, play “I Spy” in the garden, do some plant themed lifecycle yoga, find the seeds inside various fruits, pods and surrounding plants, participate in a sensory seed exploration activity, and shell peas on a blanket together (grown by the farmers a part of this project). The students were very excited about all of the activities and especially loved shelling the pea seeds! They all wanted to take some home and were so enthusiastic about that activity. 
  2. Discussing ways this project might connect with impacted communities and culturally diverse communities. 
    • Abigail with GRACE Grows, a non-profit organization that offers opportunities for unhoused individuals both at the shelter’s garden and at the homes of those that receive housing, mentioned the desire to have more dialog about support and reciprocity between the general public and impacted communities. A follow up meeting with the project PI and Working Food’s Executive Director was held to discuss a variety of other issues that impact our work with GRACE Grows. While no immediate action was identified, one idea that surfaced was exploring ways to tailor outreach efforts towards vulnerable populations. This included identifying opportunities to provide seeds and plants on an as-needed basis.  This can be challenging however, since personal and trusting relationships are required to engage in this way, and can be hard to plan with individuals who have so many traumatic challenges day to day and can’t always commit to attending an event or receiving a service. We will continue to maintain the dialog and offer support for seeds, plants and opportunities to connect. 
    • Nicoya Farm mentioned a local grocer that carries Middle Eastern, Persian, and Turkish foods that is growing some of their own culturally significant foods for the store. For example Molokhiya, which is one of the crops Working Food’s Seed Collective carries. No further action has been taken on this. 
  3. Opportunities for additional spaces for seed grow outs at urban farms, campus farms and other farms. 
    • Since this project began, the staff at the University of Florida’s Field and Fork program have committed to always having a seed saving project, and connecting interns when possible. This fall we grew two types of non-traditional kale (Ethiopian, Brassica carinata, and a Liberian type called Kame Greens Brassica rapa). After the farm field trip to Possum Hollow Farm, they brought back Cuban Calabaza seed, which they are growing now as well as a crop of Brazilian Starfish peppers for seed. These seeds were stewarded by pepper breeder Doug Jones in North Carolina and have been a great variety for us here in Florida. An intern signed up for the seed project and has been a great weekly support in helping keep up with the crops. We are teaching her about seed saving practices and the other interns are also learning. On March 29, 2024 they came for a tour of Working Food’s seed operations based at GROW HUB to learn more about our work and the importance of local seed saving efforts. Conversations are underway with the University of Florida’s Department of Plant Sciences to see if seed grow outs could happen there on a regular basis as well. Working Food already has a working relationship with them and worked with a student this past summer and spring to conduct an amaranth variety trial.

4. Learning and community outreach efforts for all ages.  

    • Advisory Group members specifically involved in education expressed interest in an additional meeting to discuss the development of useful materials. At our subsequent meeting on November 30, 2023 that included the Farm to School Coordinator Pam Worsham, Working Food’s Youth Program Director Jesse Wilson, University of Florida’s Field & Fork Program Director Kelli Brew, and the project PI Melissa DeSa, we discussed ways to develop, improve or tailor existing Working Food seed education content for different ages ranges and groups of educators (i.e. public school, after school). Ideas included upgrading our seed scavenger hunt kit, pulling singular lessons from our seed zine for kids into one-time lessons with additional links/resources for educators, and an opportunity to provide teachers who have school gardens with extra training. Additionally, for adult education it was suggested that a very easy, “Top 5 Seeds to Save in Florida” would be helpful to get people started and not feeling like it was hard. The theme of 5 came up: 5 easy to save seeds, 5 minute lessons for educators, and 5 culturally significant crops to grow and save from. It is most likely that this will happen over the summer months when there is naturally more time for projects (unlike most places when it comes to crop production, summer is our downtime in Florida). 

Progress milestones: 

Our proposal identified a few ways we could track our efforts related to outreach and education: 

  • Enthusiasm and engagement of farmers - thus far all farmers are engaged and interested in the project, have seed saving at the forefront of their minds, and are communicating as needed. See notes above about conversations and engagement with specific farmers. 
  • Information needed between farmers and experienced seed stewards is being clearly communicated. The information and communication cadence seems to be at a good level based on direct feedback from the farmers. Interactions are scheduled based on the seasonal fluctuations in workflow and farmer capacity. Like any small farmer with many demands on their time, things can slip or be forgotten, so periodic reminders from the project PI, farm visits, and other minor check-ins have been helpful in keeping things moving. Their honest conversations about what crops work for them, and the challenges and opportunities they experience have been really helpful in learning how market farmers might actually be able to make on farm seed production work. Semi-structured interviews at the end of the project with core farmers will be helpful to better understand their experience with seed saving and how to move forward with future plans to continue integrating this essential practice into their farms. 
  • Response of community to outreach efforts. While this objective was most impacted by our final reduced budget, we are still making progress..  Thus far we have made social media posts, written two newsletter articles that goes out to our mailing list of 2,282 people, and published a blog post on our website, all of which have been positively received. We plan to have more social media/outreach engagement presented in the coming months, once the graduate student from UF is onboarded and able to help with producing outreach materials. Working Food also has a new part-time employee helping with outreach efforts in general, which will expand our ability to update and educate the community about the work we are doing. 

Learning Outcomes

Key changes:
  • we are not assessing these until the completion of the project.

Project Outcomes

1 New working collaboration
Project outcomes:

*Please note we are not assessing changes in attitude, learning, adopting practices until the end of the project.*

Seed is an essential resource for all farming operations. But it is more than just an input. “Seed is a natural resource requiring broad and collaborative stewardship. The quality of seed and the suitability of a variety can make a very substantial impact on the profitability, environmental impact, and sustainability of the farming operation” (Zystro 2019). The stewardship of seeds by individual growers selected for adaptability to place, will produce reliable crops that support the productivity and profitability of the farm. In our original proposal we provided additional documentation for how crops that are saved and bred with local conditions in mind, are beneficial to the bottom line of a farm: increased productivity, vigor, market potential for profitable crops, and community. 

By working closely with farmers to identify best practices for adopting seed stewardship, and have them practice with the support of this project, we are facilitating the growth of farmers that will not only have access to, but will be a part of creating, a sustainable seed network. Outreach materials will provide inspiration for others. As more individuals become involved in this essential practice, we hope it builds a decentralized network that is ultimately more sustainable than any seed bank, seed company, or “doomsday” seed vault. Bill McDorman, retired Executive Director of Rocky Mountain Seed Alliance, has pointed out that centralized seed systems can and have been military and political targets, as well as being vulnerable to natural disasters or technological failures. But seeds kept moving, adapting, shared, owned, and housed among many people, is nearly untouchable.  


It is apparent that many farmers agree seeds and seed sourcing locally is important but that they lack the skills, time, and space to dedicate towards seed saving. Furthermore, even if there were many farmers saving seed, a mechanism must be in place to help with the aggregation, processing, storage and distribution of seed. We are considering what next steps might be to explore cooperative type models that could be tested here for viability. 

Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.