Growing a Regional Seed Producers network in the Rogue Valley, Oregon
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 9 events have been successfully convened, with attendance ranging from 8 to 54 people.
- All cash payments have been promptly mailed to host farmers after event completion.
- 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.
- The public SOSGA events hosted in 2016 were:
- Seed Breeding for Organic & Sustainable Systems, with Bill Tracy @ at SOREC – 17 in attendance
- Growing Medicinal Herb Seeds and the Profitability of Seed Production @ Oshala Farm – 25 in attendance
- Biennial Seed Tour @ Wolf Gulch and Wandering Fields – 32 in attendance
- Contracting with Seed Companies @ SOREC – 54 in attendance
- Seed Processing and Equipment @ Chickadee Farm – 27 in attendance
- Running a Seed Business @ Seven Seeds Farm – 8 in attendance
- Seed Mentorships @ By George Farm – 19 in attendance
- Growing Small Grains on a Farm @ Dunbar Farm – 42 in attendance
- How to Incorporate Seed Crops into a Diversified Small Scale Farm System @ White Oak Farm – 16 in attendance
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 style this year, 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 earlier in the year.
- We were able to support 4 one-to-one relationships in our valley between new seed producers and veteran mentor producers. The mentees all bonded through the program, too, as an additional yield of the program.
- Funds are in the process of being paid, according to hours logged by farmers Steve Florin, Sebastian Aguilar, Ben Yohai, and Tom Powell. Mentorship hours for the 2016 relationships have been collected, and now I will write the farmers their checks, which should be helpful in advance of the cash needs of the spring planting season.
- The four benefitting 2016 SOSGA mentees were: Kyle Reilly, Giffin Gates, Andrew Schwarz, and Kylie Cassidy, corresponding to the orders of the ‘Mentors,’ respectively
- 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.
- 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.
- 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. 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.
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.
Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes
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 programs, we’ve made a number of adjustments already, and ones that we probably didn’t concretely foresee back in 2013, at SOSGA’s first meetings.
Some of these ideas have emerged, slowly, from ‘economies of scale’ thinking, and have lead us to discuss cooperative equipment sharing arrangements, co-marketing initiatives, seed purity isolation planning, and similar ideas. These proposals all remain promising, and they support the professional intent of SOSGA—to deliver the best in seed integrity, seed quality, and crop diversity, in the quantities to satisfy both garden and commercial grower demands.
Most pleasing, however, have been innovations under a different thematic 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.
Ironically, we originally thought that our organization possessed a difficult stumbling block and conundrum: that SOSGA is not a wholly homogenous group of growers. Instead, it unites 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. In practice, anticipating the needs and benefits to members can thus get confusing. Whereas a young grower may experience benefit from something, say hypothetically a central level, co-branding marketing initiative touting “SOSGA Produced Seeds,” the more established–and already touted–growers may not perceive such a benefit at all. Worse yet, in such a circumstance, they could in fact experience a net negative result, by being lumped in to the same group as less experienced producers.
It has therefore been a beautiful, emergent twist and progression to watch, that from this crux and among this intergenerational cast of characters, we are finding a few key mission categories that fit our membership and that have potential to propel SOSGA forward to its next stage.
3220 E. Fork Rd.
Williams, OR 97544
Office Phone: 5418469233
Mindful Earth Farm
513 Carter Ln
Ashland, OR 97520
Office Phone: 5413016447
555 Foss Rd
Talent, OR 97540
Office Phone: 5413019657
OSU Extension, Small Farms
569 Hanley Road
Central Point, OR 97502
Office Phone: 5417767371
1133 Old Highway 99 S.
Ashland, OR 97520
Office Phone: 5412012688
Lupine Knoll Farm
1225 Messinger Rd.
Grants Pass, OR 97527
Office Phone: 5418466845
Middle Rogue Farm
2315 Upper River Rd
Grants Pass, OR 97526
Office Phone: 5415071302