Restoring Our Seed: Extension Program to Train Farmers in Ecological Seed Crop Production

2002 Annual Report for LNE02-160

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2002: $135,000.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2004
Matching Federal Funds: $15,000.00
Matching Non-Federal Funds: $54,000.00
Region: Northeast
State: Maine
Project Leader:

Restoring Our Seed: Extension Program to Train Farmers in Ecological Seed Crop Production


This project coordinates a team of farmers, lay and cooperative extension, and seed companies to conduct a training program in three respective states for seed crop production under organic management. Farmers learn how to integrate seed production into an ecological whole-farm system, incorporate beneficial habitats for pollinators, select seed crops for disease resistance and local adaptability, and share efficient seed harvesting and cleaning techniques. Farmers learn ways that growing seed can diversify their farms and increase profits. The team will conduct seminars, field days and produce educational resources.

The workshops and field days are producing an on-line manual posted on our website . A Seed Stewards educational program is being taught in Belfast, Maine to involve teachers and young people. This project represents a community-based approach to strengthen our bioregional seed supply.

Objectives/Performance Targets

  • To conduct a farmer training program in organic seed crop production to increase on-farm sustainability and farmer profit, with supporting community education.

    To increase the number of farmers trained in organic seed production.

    To increase the quality and quantity of organically grown open-pollinated vegetable seed by growing-out and improving stock seed for broad-scale availability.


In our first year, we have:
  • Established a team process involving state coordinators, demonstration farmers, vegetable breeders, cooperative extension and small seed companies,

    Conducted a winter Seed Conference in Maine, in which trainers taught:

    -how to integrate growing seed into existing cropping systems;

    -proper spacing, isolation distances, and populations for robust seed crops;

    -how to restore native habitats to attract beneficial insects and pollinators.

    Initiated a NE Farmer-Breeder Network to conduct farmer-based breeding projects to increase adaptability to our short season/cold climate, to increase yield, flavor and horizontal resistance in an open-pollinated tomato and dehybridize a popular but no longer available hybrid cucumber.

    Planned summer field days to demonstrate:

    -how to establish and score replicated trials;

    -how to detect off-types and diseased plants;

    -how to evaluate/select to increase yield, cold-hardiness and disease resistance.

    Piloted a youth seed-saving curriculum in a demonstration school.

Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes

Early Outcomes
  • Conference Attendance:

    76 farmers, extension and breeders attended the Winter Seed Conference 1/11-12 at the MOFGA Education Center in Unity, ME. We added a pre-conference day 1/10 for beginning seed farmers. 92 people attended.

    Collaborative Farmer-Breeder Participatory Research:

    The conference produced five farmer-researcher breeding projects to be conducted at:

    -MOFGA ROS demonstration site – farmer: Jack Kertesz

    -New England Small Farm Institute/ROS demonstration- farmer: Jeremy Barker-Plotkin

    -Hampshire College ROS demonstration site- farmer: Rowen White

    -University of Maine, Highmoor Farm – Mark Hutton

    1)Evaluate and select open-pollinated heirloom tomatoes for horizontal resistance to early blight.

    2)De-hybridize a superior Johnny’s pickling cucumber, ‘Conquest’ that is no longer commercially available by segregating lines and recurrent mass selections for flavor and cold-soil tolerance/early maturity and horizontal resistance to alternaria and possibly gummy stem blight, both prevalent regional diseases.

    3)Improve through farmer-based breeding an open-pollinated radish for the Northeastern grower. The commercial seed industry has moved away from open-pollinated radish in favor of more expensive hybrid seed. Farmers desire reasonably priced, high-quality organic seed of a superior open-pollinated radish variety. This project will improve one variety with horizontal resistance to soil pathogens.

    4)Grow-out and evaluate a Haudenosaunee heirloom corn variety, estimate level of genetic variation and develop a strategy to maintain genetic diversity and overcome effects of in-breeding depression.-Hampshire College Indigenous Organic Seed Garden – farmer: Rowen White

    5)Demonstrate biennial crop breeding using carrot as the model crop. -Mark Hutton, Maine Cooperative extension at Highmoor Farm

    Partners in the projects include:
    -Rob Johnston, Johnny’s Seeds, will contribute technical expertise and stock seed for the discontinued ‘Conquest’ cucumber hybrid

    -Dr. Mark Hutton, Maine Cooperative extension, vegetable specialist

    -The Public Seed Initiative, based at the Cornell University Plant BreedingDepartment, will manage the first generation grow-out of ‘Conquest’ cucumbers to provide stock seed for our demonstration sites this year. They will make the cross between ‘Conquest’ and an open-pollinated pickle line.

    -Three ROS demonstration farmers in Maine and Massachusetts.

    The greatest resource this project has produced is the regional farmer-breeder network established at our conference. Our website posts project events, articles, the web manual, handouts, and updates.


Jack Kertesz
Demonstration Site Farmer
204 Clark Rd.
Unity, ME 04988
Office Phone: 2075683444
Bryan O’Hara

Lead Farmer
373 Tobacco St.
Lebanon, CT 06249
Office Phone: 8604234834
Bryan Connolly
Demonstration Site Farmer
76 Warrenville Rd.
Mansfield Center, CT 06250
Office Phone: 8604238305
Jay Leshinsky
Garden Coordinator
Middlebury College
Middlebury, VT
Office Phone: 8023883850
Dr.Mark Hutton
Maine Cooperative Extension
Highmoor Farm
PO Box 179
Monmouth, ME 04259
Office Phone: 2079332100
Dr. John Navazio
Extension Trainer
PO Box 1988
Port Townsend, WA 98368
Office Phone: 3606768622
Will Bonsall

39 Bailey Rd.
Industry, ME 04938
Office Phone: 2077783387
Dr. Raoul Robinson

Breeder Consultant
445 Provost Lane
Fergus, ON N1M2N
Brett Grohsgal

Even Star Farm
Far Cry Road
Lexington, MD
Frank Morton
Extension Trainer
PO Box 1509
Philomath, OR 97370
Office Phone: 5419294068
Jeremy Barker-Plotkin
Demonstration Site Farmer
22 Poole Rd.
Belchertown, MA 01007
Office Phone: 4133239608