Developing a Public Domain Seed Bank for the Ozark Bioregion

Project Overview

FNC06-631
Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2006: $17,095.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2008
Region: North Central
State: Missouri
Project Coordinator:
Daniel Roth
Elixir Farm

Annual Reports

Commodities

  • Vegetables: beans, cucurbits, tomatoes

Practices

  • Crop Production: seed saving, seed bank
  • Education and Training: demonstration
  • Sustainable Communities: local and regional food systems

    Summary:

    PROJECT BACKGROUND
    Participating farm descriptions:
    ELIXIR FARM in Brixey, MO is a certified organic 330 acre farm- utilizing 100 acres of pasture and 3 acres of intensive gardening. Elixir has produced seeds of medicinal and native plants for 20 years.

    Oran Mor Community Farm is a Permaculture model farm located on an Ozark hillside surrounded by forest. Through composting methods and rigorous hand weeding, the farm is managed to produce vegetables (which are certified “Naturally Grown”) for the local farmer’s market.

    Bear Creek is a family farm in Osceola, MO, producing vegetables, seeds and seedlings for the local farmer’s market, and a nearby heirloom seed company.

    At Elixir Farm, cover crops are used to improve soil, in addition to using manure from a small herd of Dexter cross cattle. Elixir has been farming organically for 15 years. Oran Mor farm uses Permaculture methods and no till gardening to produce vegetables and raise Nubian Goats. At Bear Creek Farm, all crops have been grown according to organic standards for the last 9 years.

    PROJECT DESCRIPTION AND RESULTS
    The goals of this project were to produce and evaluate 50 seed varieties for inclusion in a public domain seed bank for the Ozarks. An equally important goal was to assess the level of community interest in building a local seed bank. We expected to share information with 75 farmers and gardeners, mostly through “farm days”, where we offered tours and demonstrations of sustainable farming practices and seed saving methods for the Ozark Region.

    We expected 10 farmers to volunteer to continue the project, saving seed for the Ozark Seed Bank. We also expected to share information about the project with 2000 farmers and gardeners through on line information and a printed seed list with seed saving tips.

    Process. To produce 50 seed varieties on three different farms, we needed to be strategic in the timing and locations of our seed plantings. Many seeds will cross-pollinate, if not isolated from one another through time or distance. To produce several of the same species, and harvest pure seed, we needed additional remote locations. One site was prepared in field a half mile downstream from the main garden, another area was fenced a mile up the road, on a ridge surrounded with forest. In both areas, drip irrigation was set up and 7 1/5 foot fencing to keep out deer. The summers here are very dry, but erratic weather in recent years has brought consistent Spring floods, as well. The seed plot downstream was set up with the expectation that flooding would return, and so all fencing and irrigation was removed by early fall, and a cover crop of triticale and clover was planted to protect the soil from flooding. Fencing was lightweight plastic 2” mesh, supported by metal T posts every 20 feet. The entire fence (500 feet around) was dismantled in 3 hours.

    The other method we used to allow more seed crop varieties of similar species is isolating crops through time. In the case of cantaloupes and cucumbers, we were able to plant crops in late spring and harvest seeds when they were mature, and plant an additional crop of another variety in the summer, for harvest in August or September. This method worked very well and allowed us to double the number of varieties we could harvest in one year at one location.

    PEOPLE
    David Haenke, Forester at Alford Forest, Inc (sustainable forest in Brixey, MO) participated in a joint presentation at the Ozark Area Communities Conference. David gave a presentation on the role of Ozark Forests in sustainable agriculture.

    Andy Read, Horticulture Specialist for MU Extension Service, southern Missouri region

    Andy made a presentation about seed varieties for the Ozarks and possibilities for extending the garden through uses of drip irrigation in summer, and row cover in winter, and for insect control. He also shared information about the Ozark Seed Bank project in an article which was printed in 11 counties in southern Missouri.

    Loura Linsenmann, farmer in Mansfield, MO conducted trials of beans, tomatoes, and squash varieties.

    MaryAnne Isaksson, vegetable and poultry farmer in Ava, MO conducted trials of squash and flowers

    The Ava Organic Gardening Club participated with variety trials, evaluating vegetable and flower varieties for their suitability to climate and growing conditions in the Ozarks.

    Cathy Schneider and Jim Glynn from Oran Mor farm conducted trials of 15 varieties of vegetables and flowers.

    Robbins and Jim Hail from Bear Creek Farm conducted trials and seed harvests of four heirloom tomato varieties.

    Baker Creek Seed Company publicized and included our project outreach at the Spring planting festival in 2008, where we shared information about the project and seed saving.

    Barbara Jones, Missouri State University (College of Arts and Letters) publicized and included our project outreach and results in a presentation at the Springfield Celebration in the fall of 2008.

    RESULTS
    The public interest in this project was consistently strong at all events where we made presentations. There are about 15 new growers who have offered to help with the project next year, and other seed savers from Arkansas are also interested in being involved. Other collaborators and organizations have expressed interest in helping this project, including Ozark Studies professors at Universities in both Missouri and Arkansas, and staff at the Ozark Folk Center in Mt. View, Arkansas.

    While the support and interest have been encouraging, we also experienced that the demands of seed saving in which seed purity is maintained may be more than can be reasonably expected of most farmers, because of the many other factors that decide what crops are planted and when. Specifically, the need to isolate crops and plant only one variety of each species (tomatoes, for example) is not something that all farmers are willing to do for the sake of producing useable seed. Some volunteers were willing to save seeds, but not willing to limit the other crops they planted. This problem makes seed saving for a bank impossible, because other farmers rely on seed varieties that are pure and reliable.

    One possibility for including all growers is to accept help from farmers who are willing to conduct seed trials to assess or confirm the suitability of certain seeds for our climate. We experienced that many growers are willing to conduct a “seed trial”, while there are much fewer farmers who are willing to plant only one variety (for the sake of seed saving). We are expecting to continue this project and invite most farmers to help with seed trials rather than seed crop production.

    There were 50 varieties which were selected for this project, and 38 of them proved to be productive varieties, free of insect and disease problems in our growing conditions. These 38 varieties were included in a printed seed list, with seed saving tips, including wet seed cleaning and fermentation (used to limit seed borne disease), and seed storage information. Seed lists are available now through the website ozarkseedbank.org and through extension agencies in south central Missouri.

    Weather was a limiting factor, especially during 2008, in which heavy rains and flooding persisted during most of the spring. This definitely affected some of the seed trials and compromised our ability to record useful data. Our conclusions at the end of the project are that for effective evaluation of varieties, it is best to have more than one growing season in which to evaluate. Future evaluations will plan for at least two years to try each variety.

    DISCUSSION
    One of the greatest successes with this grant was the establishment of remote seed plots. The fenced areas were arranged to allow easy assembly and dis-assembly and convenient entrance and exit for limited tractor use (soil preparation, and one pass for weed control and cultivation). These plots allowed for many successful seed crops during the same season, which would have been impossible otherwise. The remote gardens will be in continued use in future years and will allow a new possibility to leave some of the other cultivated areas planted in legume cover crops.

    Another great experience was being able to provide seed saving information to interested farmers in our region. Seed saving has some popularity at this time, but accurate seed saving information is not consistently available. It was very rewarding to be able to share detailed information about necessary isolation distances, seed cleaning techniques, and crop improvement strategies.

    For other farmers interested in creating regional seedbanks, our experience was that presenting at many local festivals brought more attention to the project, and helped us identify more farmers who wanted to cooperate on this project. Seed saving is a unique part of agriculture, because it combines the usual factors of agriculture with important aspects of food security and regional heritage and culture. We found collaborators from several universities, government agencies and community groups. We intend to continue work with these collaborators and see a great resource to future farmers resulting from our work together.

    OUTREACH
    Our project was publicized by newspaper articles, which were first printed in the newspapers of our area. It is expected that the articles will be reprinted in the upcoming spring, in newspapers with broader circulation, including photos of farms participating in the seed project. Project events were also publicized in the three largest local newspapers, as well as through email lists from local community groups and individuals interested in sustainability. Project results were shared during a farm tour day and at four community celebrations where we set up a booth with information and examples of the seed crops we produced.

    The seed crops that resulted from our trials were represented in a seed list which was sent out to farmers who had expressed interest in local seed saving. The articles and published notices reached at least 6,000 readers. 568 farmers participated in our results programs at local festivals. 28 farmers attended our farm tour field day and seed saving demonstration.

    Information about our program continues to be shared with groups and individuals through our printed seed list (we expect to share this information with 2000 farmers in 2009). We are also continuing to share information at regional events, like the Annual Seed Swap at the Ozark Folk Center in Mt. View, Arkansas (attendance 175). The seed swap this year will be the subject of a 30 minute documentary which will be created and broadcast by the public television station in Little Rock, Arkansas. We are glad to be a featured participant at this event.

    PROGRAM EVALUATION
    The SARE program was very professionally conducted, from my experience. I appreciated that all necessary documents were available in an online format, which made participation easier for us (we are 30 minutes from our post office, so mail is not the best way to reach us).

    If I were to advise a change, I would recommend the grant notices being determined earlier in the year, perhaps in January or February, so that our project could have started in Spring 2008, instead of late spring/early summer. I understand that there are other factors like budgeting and other schedules, but the late March notification can be limiting on some projects.

    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.