Roll-out of our SOSGA project programming has, in general, been smooth, although in the first phase of this project we also hit certain a few obstacles during implementation. Each of these has actually served to better our programs, which attests to the leadership and the friendships within our group. The necessity of making changes to our plan and budget has helped us gain experience in functioning as a team, and has shown us how agile we can be in making things right on a given issue and moving ahead.
Now a few years in with this organization, we feel that we’re making good use of the opportunities that come to us and of those we generate. This project is our best example so far. The Western SARE project has been extremely timely. Thanks to your key support, we have a bit of momentum to work with now and build on.
The Accomplishments and Impacts sections, below, are the best scorecard of our group’s progress towards our Project Goals to date.
Project objectives (directly from 2014 Grant Proposal)
(1) Maud Powell will convene and facilitate 18 bi-monthly Seed Network meetings around southern Oregon, hosted by farmers and accompanied by an on-farm workshop, presentation, or demonstration (May 2015 – December 2017). Six field events for 2015 have been proposed, to be confirmed by seed grower association members at 2015 general membership meeting (February 2015)
- The on-farm, public field days were immediately successful and have been a widely appreciated part of SOSGA’s programming. So far 13 events have been successfully convened, with attendance ranging from 10 to 50+ with an average of about 20 attendees per event. The remainder of the events-5 field days-are currently getting scheduled for the 2018 calendar.
- All cash payments have been promptly mailed to host farmers after event completion. They’ve appreciated that.
- Powell and SOSGA board members have convened regularly for the purpose of charting out the coming months of SOSGA Seed Network events.
- A different farmer has hosted each field day so far, so the events are helping spread attention around the valley and are motivating seed farmer visits to other farmers’ fields.
- Powell’s management has given this program everything it needs. She does a fantastic job planning the program and making it go. Examples are her skillful program development, effective public outreach, and practiced event facilitation.
2) Don Tipping will mentor three beginning seed growers during the 2015 and 2016 growing seasons. He will visit each grower two times per season, offering practical advice and feedback to mentees (May 2015 – November 2016)
- We designed and launched a new mentorship program in 2016, a development which we communicated to SARE along the way. We have received very positive feedback from program participants about the mentorship interaction “format” and about the budget as re-designed with this in it.
- In year 2016 we were able to support 4 one-to-one relationships in our valley between new seed producers and veteran mentor producers, and in 2017 we had facilitated another 3 relationships. The mentors found it worth their time as well as gratifying, and mentees all bonded through the program, too (as an additional yield of the program – social capital and support networks).
- SOSGA Mentorship program is increasingly recognized as one of SOSGA’s pillars of purpose, and a step towards finding its unique fit in the region. As a result, the organization is making efforts to secure longer term funding to continue this valuable component of the organization.
(3) Chris Hardy will plan and host two spring regional seed exchange events (April 2016 and April 2017). He will coordinate and moderate a public Rogue Valley seed farmer panel on the history of open-pollinated plant breeding and seed production in the Rogue Valley. Hardy will promote the seed exchange and panel to the public and farmers through six Facebook groups, with event page and follow-up materials reaching 50,000-200,000 online readers
- Hardy managed the agreements with the hosting venue (the Ashland Armory) and led the way through all event and attendee logistics. The spring 2016 seed exchange was publicized to gardeners, farmers, and local seed supporters the Rogue year. It took place Thursday March 31 2016, from 3-730 pm, and over 50 people attended. We expect to see an upward trend in attendance in the coming years, as our seed messaging reaches broader audiences in our region, and interest in small farm seeds continues to grow.
- The event built camaraderie among our grower members. SOSGA members attended to host exhibition tables of their seeds and any related causes or companies they represent (their personal seed companies, movements like the Open Source Seed Initiative). SOSGA also had its own table, as staffed by a rotation of young SOSGA grower members. SOSGA also oversaw various seeds related demos, from seed cleaning to fun educational kids activities.
- The events were photo documented and circulated by multiple SOSGA member users through Southern Oregon social media networks (Facebook, especially).
(4) Eric George will upgrade crop pollen mapping system to open source GIS platform (free), to enhance SOSGA’s pinning map quality and enable the measurement of isolation distances and new spatial quantitative data analyses (April – June 2015)
- George and Andrew Schwarz have split efforts and pay on the pollen mapping system to transition the map use interface from a multi-file BatchGeo map set to a single plane interface, in user friendly Google Maps platform. SOSGA is continuing to gather and maintain Southern Oregon regional seed geospatial information as the leading seed institution in the area.
- We mapped locations and created detailed metadata for all existing SOSGA paid-member growers; locations of other known or possible seed production sites in our valleys; and locations of major produce farms that merit attention from the point of view of pollen contamination potential… e.g. any winter and summer squash production on produce farms, un-mowed acreage of bolting brassica produce crops, un-mowed rows of bolting Beta vulgaris produce crops
- This mapping system has yet to be embedded in the SOSGA website interface, or taken public in our region. Please see our prototype, linked below.
- Please see in-progress, navigable SOSGA seed map here: https://www.google.com/maps/d/edit?mid=1O7KpSfTkoksX6E3BL69CG-zVdew&ll=42.28372340791851%2C-123.06295358099362&z=10
(5) Eric George and Chuck Burr will improve the SOSGA website and increase the organization’s online presence. Projects will include a thematic bibliography for seed production, breeding, and business skills, as well as current news and research. George will collect key references for the bibliography form SOSGA members (November 2015 – March 2016)
- Similar to decisions about our Mapping component (described above) the SOSGA Board identified the need for an enhanced web site and high quality online ‘landing place’ for seed professionals and for the interested public. We also wanted to transition the website away from a custom-created and managed HTML site (pioneered and maintained by seedsman Chuck Burr), since that meant that all website updating responsibilities would have to fall to the SOSGA members with web site programming skills.
- With Burr’s assistance, Hardy has since taken the lead on bringing the website forward to its present iteration. The payment from the grant for this program is now being split between those to SOSGA grower members. The new site, powered by WordPress, is much more photographic and visually engaging, and represents our SOSGA growers in a good light.
- We meanwhile have steps still to take on updating the website copy to reflect the current dimensions and intentions of the organization. As previously noted in discussions with WSARE, we feel this writing work will be best suited to the last months of the granted project time line, since our SOSGA Vision and Mission are still in a process of gestation and change. By the end of the project SOSGA will be entering it’s 4th full year, so by then we commit as an organization to solidifying the next version of SOSGA’s purpose statements and to working to ensure that our organizational messaging reflects our best values and organizational strategy (e.g. updated Mission statement, etc.).
(6) Eric George will research seed cleaning set-ups and systems for different-scaled operations and produce a written report. George’s publication will be posted on the SOSGA website and presented in person to prospective and experienced seed farmers at the Eco-Farm Conference in January 2017 (December 2015 – January 2017).
- George teamed up with SOSGA Secretary and co-researcher Andrew Schwarz to visit, tour, and interview 6 seed farmer SOSGA members. The first round took place in fall 2015, when we visited with Jonathan Spero, Sebastian Aguilar, & Steve Florin. In a second round of interviews, in fall 2016, we met with Tom Powell, Don Tipping, & Chris Hardy. We have both made additional visits and research follow ups (substantially travelling in my case) late September 2017 and early-mid February 2018.
- George has produced rough draft stage SOSGA seed farmer Profiles that situate each growers’ seed processing set-up within their strategic seed goals, opportunities, and limitations for their farm.
- Schwarz is coding recorded voice interview files that we captured, searching for the best quote-able nuggets to include in the grower Profiles.
- Schwarz is working through his collection of high quality farm and farmer photos to organize and include in the research publication. He also plans to deliver these photographs to the grower-members themselves, for use in their own seed marketing and promotion.
- The research is shedding light on questions of equipment sharing, cooperative schemes among young seed growers on “tooling up,” and what enterprises and seasonal crops seem to fit as activities complementary with production seed growing. Our understanding of ourselves continues to evolve, and inform our opinions for us contexts on appropriate technology with regards to seeds processing, our marketing relationships, and where we’re getting bottlenecked.
- We already are applying this research – especially with regards to making investments in shared seed processing equipment, and what acquisitions would be most appropriate and why. In our case here in this project, we are re-allocating money originally set aside to purchase a Belt Thresher, to instead purchase something more appropriate for our context: a new instrument called the Winnow Wizard. Our research made clear to us that Belt Threshers, while useful on their own terms, are in a class of tools that only marginally meets the needs of our growers. Problems are that they need extensive and meticulous clean-outs between lots and require substantial-sized lot minimums — in both cases, the mismatch is that most of our growers specialize in supplying their customers with a higher diversity of smaller, higher value lots. Additionally, the threshing step in the production process is a time sensitive one, and many growers’ harvests will come due in the same window, there are logistics and sharing puzzles there. The Winnow Wizard, on the other hand, is a terrific fit: virtually no clean outs needed; no lot minimum issue for proper performance; smaller price tag and lower technical ability barrier to entry; ongoing local technical support from the tool’s creator; and a long window of use by growers, as it’s for the “finish cleaning” stage rather than a more urgent activity, like threshing. This story of re-evaluating our collective tool purchase is but one example of how our findings are already affecting the ways we are thinking about our organization and our farm businesses.
- We do not feel certain, or finalized, that Eco Farm in California will be the best venue for the exposition of our research and lessons learned. It may still be though. Other possible venues under discussion have included the Organic Seed Growers conference every second February in Corvallis, OR, or the Oregon Small Farms conference every March in Corvallis.
Professionally and as a community, most SOSGA members have been benefitted by the advancement of this organized growers’ platform. This Western SARE project has so far served us well; we thank you. Your Farmer-Rancher funding has infused our early farmer-to-farmer programming with the capital and energy needed to carry out a satisfactory and educational year of activities.
Monitoring and getting feedback from our 2016 and 2017 programs, we’ve made a number of adjustments in the organization, including ones we didn’t concretely foresee back in 2013, at SOSGA’s first meetings.
Some of these ideas have emerged, slowly, from ‘economies of scale’-farmer cooperation thinking, and have lead us to discuss cooperative equipment sharing arrangements, co-marketing initiatives, seed purity isolation planning, and similar ideas. There are precedents for many of these initiatives, which is valuable in strategizing the best ways to approach things. These axes named all remain promising, and they support the professional intent of SOSGA—to deliver the best in seed integrity, seed quality, and crop diversity, for professional and home growers.
One of our proudest innovations belongs under its own heading: ideas around mentorship and new farmer incubation. The farmer field days-based seed network and the one-to-one mentorship relationships are two initiatives that have inspired trust, goodwill, and optimism without our organization. They work from the core of SOSGA’s essential character and its strengths. We originally thought that our organization possessed a difficult stumbling block and conundrum: that SOSGA is not a wholly homogenous group of growers, and especially that some are experienced and carry reputation whereas other members are newbies, or merely prospective. Instead if this growing as a tension, through activities like these our programs help unite green, new growers with the valley’s more seasoned ones. Over 3 years, SOSGA’s veteran core has served to attract the next generation to the table — that is our healthy fit.
It has been a beautiful, emergent twist and progression to watch and be part–that among this multi-generational cast of characters, we are finding key mission categories that match our membership and that provide the coordinating frameworks to propel SOSGA forward to its next stage.
Milestones achieved or in progress, as directly outlined in grant section titled “Producer Adoption,” pp. 8-9, Dec. SARE 2014
“These questions will guide monitoring of project progress along the three-year project duration, and will provide the primary framework through which this grant will be evaluated at project conclusion.” George, p. 9, SARE 2014
Has there been a measureable increase in seed sales revenue for the region’s beginning and young seed growers?
- Our programming has directly opened markets for new young producers. From the “soft” networking opportunities, to the “hard” production and contracting informational sessions, opportunities are being created that young and beginning seed producers are making use of.
Do seed producers have the equipment, spaces, and processes needed to clean and grade seeds to deliver high-quality commercial seed lots?
- Our research is showing that each veteran seed grower has developed and equipped their own processing system to achieve their seed goals within their overall, specific farming scenario. The younger growers have numerous models to view as they figure out how to match their seed equipment set-ups to the specific goals they have as a producer. Seed equipment sharing also to a certain already occurs among the SOSGA growers network. SOSGA plans to continue investigating and investing further in making sure our growers have the right seed post harvest processing tools and spaces for viable seed farming.
Has the seed farmer field day program increased camaraderie among regional seed growers and SOSGA members?
- People are having fun while learning a lot. The Seed Network field days program has consistently drawn a healthy mix of general public attendees and professional growers and SOSGA members. These every-other-month convergences engender camaraderie in myriad ways–getting out to each others’ fields, converging briefly for a beer in Jacksonville after an event, establishing the basis for a later email technical question from a younger grower, learning who our “go to” producer experts are for given crops … there are many avenues to that result. So yes, camaraderie has been an apparent outgrowth of these network happenings.
Have the field days enhanced awareness among the general public about the Rogue Valley’s seed farmers, their growing methods, and where to buy their products?
- SOSGA has grown in the public’s awareness right in step with a regional, two-county pair of ballot measures that pertained to small seed producers’ sovereignty in southern Oregon. We are also tightly linked to OSU Extension, through project Technical Advisor Maud Powell, so our programming and our media is reaching our desired audience. Evidence to date has included: excellent attendance at on-farm field days, substantial publicity and requests for members speak on seed politics issues, and requests by the local master gardeners guild about how its members could buy seeds directly from Southern Oregon seed growers.
Are any farmers actively referencing their affiliation with the SOSGA network as part of their marketing and PR presence?
- We recently had a camaraderie-rich photograph, taken at the 2016 springtime SOSGA seed exchange in Ashland, featured in the front inside cover of one of our members’ 2017 seed catalogs.
- SOSGA members have been able to use their SOSGA affiliation in certain situations as additional credibility in matters of seed, and to build new partnerships around organic seed supply. SOSGA members are earning positions on more non-profit Boards of Directors and committees, and our members are making more effective business connections in the seed world.
- Some members cite their isolated seed growing location as a marketing benefit, in terms of the expected genetic purity of their seeds. So the fact that SOSGA maintains seed geographic information helps buttress these claims today and, in the face of future threats, defend growers’ site characteristics going forward.
Have more event organizers and conference coordinators sought out SOSGA seed growers to serve on information panels?
- This is definitely happening. However it is difficult to measure whether this increased demand for our members as speakers has been caused (or not) in part by the individuals links with SOSGA membership and activities.
Have SOSGA members noticed measureable increases in requests for technical consultation or other seed expertise services?
- Same as above. The answer, however, is that yes: we believe the trend is upward.
Is the number of visits to the SOSGA website increasing each year?
- Hardy has taken the lead this year on the online re-presentation of SOSGA. The web page is more visually striking and photographic, and we continue to add on-strategy content. The addition of a SOSGA facebook page not only serves to highlight and expand on SOSGA activities, it also works as a portal for more casual web goers that brings them to the official SOSGA site. We expect the hits to keep increasing as our organization generates further buzz.
Educational & Outreach Activities
I have a nice Word document table I could share/attach for you, but I’m not sure how to do that. I will attempt to, below, using the “Add Media” button above (it appears below like it’s just gibberish code – not an attachment).
I could also send it as an attachment in an email if I can know who best to send it to.
But to flesh out the numbers above:
– 7 consultations: This number comes from two years’ operation of our mentorship program. Experienced seed producers have counseled and spent time with young seed growers, 4 relations in year 1 and 3 relations in year 2. Each of these sessions included many more interactions than just one single “consult” per relation. Rather each relationship was budgeted for 10 hours of the mentors’ time, and almost all 7 fulfilled that. Thanks to the mentors, and for our highly engaged, up and coming producers.
– 12 on-farm demonstrations / field tours / workshop-field days: These public events on SOSGA seed grower member farms have been conducted for three years now, beginning in July 2015. There have been all manner of good topics covered, as a focus for a given workshop/field day/tour, that then are integrated with a site tour of the farm hosting the event. Each topic offered has been a product of special skills the farmer has to offer or of unique approaches they may be taking with their farm or career. Please request from me the Word document table of these events, or another way to upload that file.
– 2 “talks” or presentations: both of these took place at the SOREC extension center (OSU extension), so indoor in a workshops space rather than on producer farms. We had two different presentations like this. First, in June 2015, owners and seed buyers from 5 established organic seed companies presented to a good sized group about business norms and how to improve practices in wholesale seed contracting. In February 2016, on the heels of a popular, nearby seed conference, we recruited sweet corn breeder Dr. Bill Tracy to speak to us (same venue) about plant breeding processes and quality seed production best practices.
– The final 2, filed under “other,” are seed exchanges, which were a hybrid of public outreach and education and local seed genetics dissemination, bundled into a rural-spirited cultural celebration. Both were very well attended. I could provide you exact or estimated attendee numbers upon request. We felt the events were successful, and received positive feedback from members of the public.
Quality organic vegetable seed production
Proper and seed isolation and seed quality assurance
Farm systems and business design: for integrations of seed production and vegetable production on working farms
Small-scale, diversified Seeds Harvest and Post-harvest processing: tools, spaces, workflows, and strategies ...designing for suitability to particular farm situations and holistic life contexts
Vegetable seeds business: both the Retailer ("seed company") roles and the Seed Grower roles, with the most business and economics information shared for the latter category (farmers/growers)
Particular knowledge, by crop group or farming style: seed crop fundamentals, harvesting, and processing ... for example, for Medicinal Herbs, for Small Grains, for Seed Garlic, for Biennial Vegetables, Dry Farming, etc
Seed growing — so the joke goes — is a type of farming that, even more so than other farming activities, is a form of production carried out in isolation. It’s a joke in that there’s truth to this not just geographically and botanically (seed “isolation”) but actually socially also.
The Southern Oregon Seed Growers Association (SOSGA) follows other seed associations in different parts of the West, but also departs from those groups by playing more active seed systems development roles, in addition to the more common supervisory ones. At this point it is difficult to say how the many “seeds roles” for our area will play out, and within which organizations different roles are housed. SOSGA began as a seed pollen pinning association, basically. Over four or more years, though, SOSGA has developed substantial programming, and spearheaded programs that look like they will stay.
Responding to the prompt, here are some ways we have contributed to agricultural sustainability in our region, and be informative beyond. On a basic level–addressing the actual Title of the project–we have been succeeding in growing a seed producers network in the region. On this foundation we feel that seed development, as an ongoing activity, is starting to enjoy more fertile grounds in the region.
- Together, the group has given form to a locally-controlled technical and social hub for diversified, generally organic, seed growers. This is social infrastructure, if you can call it that, which helps set up and continue to foster growers’ overall success. By most metrics a researcher might apply, the benefits felt from enhanced social capital and relationships justifies continue investment in these programs. Our growers are well-positioned nationally to garner production contracts with organic seed companies especially, where expected demand is sharply upward oriented. Improved seed quality and fairer price points (or more ability and confidence to negotiate these) are good places to look for progress. Coming out of the 2018 Organic Seed Alliance conference in Corvallis, our growers left with the contracts they were looking for. Southern Oregon is clearly wanted zone for high-quality organic seed production, and SOSGA is part of sustaining that brand and further developing our potential in the region.
- New seed growers are growing commercial quantity seed lots, with lowered risk and better profitability due to formal and informal access to experienced seed mentors. SOSGA has helped organize and spur on this important element of region’s seeds capabilities, with attention to new grower formation and intergenerational knowledge transfer. Organizations like Organic Seed Alliance have been instrumental in kickstarting seed production education in the West, and in providing foundational learning materials; however we see our work as an important advance towards grounding this training in specific farm situations and trajectories, and providing ongoing (rather than one-off) support systems while building social capital locally.
- The public has certainly benefited from a new “portal” into the world of seeds and farmers’ dilemmas today. Public support is so critical and yet seeds and their source are predominantly an out-of-sight, out-of-mind input for modern farmers and gardeners. Certainly people who don’t even use seeds are disconnected from the realities of local and commercial seeds, and are thus unable to help sponsor our direction and present opportunities. Our field days and seed swaps serve multiple functions, but one of them is public exposure and education, and a chance for seed professionals to interact more their community, too.
- We are close to releasing a next-level SOSGA website, complete with a revised and streamlined seed GIS. SOSGA has a professional reputation to develop and a brave, compelling story to tell, from its origins to where it is now. We may operate on a modest budget, but the organization needs an adequate website to make sure we don’t hit our targets. We feel like we are well on our way now in that respect. Our seed growers’ GIS is a key part of our organizational purpose (the founding one, actually), and is a way to define and visualize the geography of seed production and pollen coverage in the valley. Our organization is an applied one – so over the previous years we have re-designed our approach to practical pollen mapping so that it best serves current and future seed growers, and so that it remains up-to-date and maximally useable by our Board members (most of whom are not computer programmers). We transitioned from the first system — based on an online platform called BatchGeo — to a much streamlined and improved Google Maps-based platform. This new mapping system stays saved year-to-year (BatchGeo self-deleted periodically) and is easily updated by anyone in the organization. It is visually appealing and communicates the basic landscape level data a seed grower needs — who is located where, and what risks those sites pose to a given growers’ isolation status. Originally, we created many, many maps — opting to create a whole separate map per species grown. Now, we pin where growers home sites and alternate sites are located — from there current and prospective (future) growers can know who to get in touch with, so that they can communicate from there about which species specifically they are safe to grow, and which are at risk of unwanted crossing. SOSGA is then positioned to mediate those relationships as necessary or requested, to guide all parties towards a win-win outcome, and overall, help to populate the valley with seed producers, yet not compromise the activities of existing growers. This is a process we could share with other regions practicing smaller scale seed production, as existing regional seed associations–typically dealing with much larger scale farms–don’t necessarily match the realities we observe.
- Through our written and photographic research publication, growers both old and new will have another resource and, we hope, a few new frameworks for evaluating and planning their seed processing set-ups. So many guides and resources mention certain seed conditioning tools, but fall short in helping growers be able to understand and position the tool in the context of their unique, often complex (small-) farm scenario. We designed our research and output format to offer contextualized profiles of a range of operators and their businesses within our region. I am still finishing the profiles and the Discussion and Analysis section. We hope others find it of use!