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

2003 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


Restoring Our Seed coordinates a team of organic farmers, cooperative and ‘lay’ extension, and seed companies to conduct a training program in seed production and crop improvement in organic systems. Farmers learn how to integrate seed production into an ecological whole farm system, incorporate habitats for pollinators, select seed-crops for disease-resistance and local adaptability, and how to harvest and clean seed.

The team is conducting conferences, seminars and field days, producing an on-line manual posted on, establishing a regional seed-saving network, and generating participatory on-farm breeding projects. A Seed Stewards educational curriculum is posted on our website and being taught to involve teachers and young people. The project represents a community-based approach to strengthen our regional 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.


Participant Numbers:
92 farmers and gardeners – Seed-Savers Conference, Jan 9, 2003, MOFGA, Unity, ME

75 farmers – Crop Improvement Conference, Jan. 10-11, 2003, MOFGA, Unity, ME

8 breeders, Maine breeding Circle, Small Farm Field Day

40 farmers and 10 lay-extension – Summer Farmer Field Days

117 farmers and gardeners – Restoring Our Seed Winter Conference, Nov 15-16, 2003, Brattleboro VT

ROS Articles have been published in:
MOF&G, Winter 2003 Report on January ROS Seed conference, The Natural Farmer

Publicity in Fedco Seed Catalogue, and NOFA-VT Newsletter

We have been interviewed for upcoming articles in Rodale. Seeds of Change E-Newsletter and Acres USA

ROS Exhibits:
NOFA Massachusetts Summer Conference, August 12-14, 2003

Common Ground Fair, Unity, Maine, Sept. 19-21, 2003

Community Food Security Coalition Conference in Boston, Nov.1-5, 2003

New England Vegetable and Berry Conference, Dec.16-18, 2003, Manchester, NH

ROS Consulting:
Participated in a national Summit on Seeds and Breeds, Wash. DC, Sept 6-8, 2003 coordinated by RAFI and submitted a paper in their proceedings.

‘Saving Our Seed’ project; Carolina Farm Stewardship Association Support for proposal writing, Consultants for team-building and strategic planning one day seminar in SC, Nov, 2003, and long-term support.

ROS Workshops Farmer Field Days and Conferences:
‘Economics of Seed Crop Production’, CR Lawn, NOFA-NY Winter Conference, Jan/03

‘Farmer and Gardener Breeding Circle’, Small Farm Field Day, MOFGA/Maine Coop Extension, Aug. 3, 2003

‘Improving Open-Pollinated Crops’, Reducing Disease in Seed Crops’, Dr. John Navazio, MOFGA

‘Selecting Tomatoes, Cucumbers and Root Crops for Seed in Maine’, Dr. Mark Hutton, Maine Coop Ext. Highmoor Farm, Sept. 7 and 11, 2003

‘Hands-on Field Training – Selecting for Crop Improvement’, CR Lawn and Eli Kaufman, Ground Fair, Unity, Maine, Sept 19 and 20, 2003

‘Hands-on Seed-Saving Workshops’, Rowen White, Sept-Oct, 2003, Hampshire College, Amherst, MA

‘Organic Seed Crop Production:; A New Niche for New England Farmers’, Vegetable and Berry Conference, Dec.18, 2003, Manchester, NH

Restoring Our Seed Regional Conference, Brattleboro, Vermont, Nov.15-16, 2003

ROS Demonstration Sites:
A demonstration youth seed-saving program and student-run seed company was established with the Troy Howard Middle School, Belfast Maine

Two demonstration seed production and crop improvement sites were established with SARE funding in Maine at MOFGA Common Ground, Unity, ME, and Highmoor Cooperative Extension Farm, Monmouth, ME. Crop improvement projects were initiated in radish and tomatoes and a breeding project to improve an open-pollinated pickling cucumber.

Original Plan:
The improvement projects used a model recommended by Dr. Navazio incorporating susceptible-check and resistant-check varieties alongside the variety to be improved.
5 events for farmers were planned during the summer.
The training program was planned for one year each in three states in three consecutive years.
The first winter seminar was presented in primarily a lecture format with two main presenters.

The original demonstration site design provided an instructional model that included susceptable and resistant crops to measure the progress of the crop being improved. This is too complex to be replicated on typical production farms. Once farmers have learned how to score for disease by attending a field day or viewing slides, it is sufficient for them to sow only the crop they wish to improve on their own farms. Rather than require farmers to set up ‘disease nurseries’ as advised by Dr. Navazio, we revised our model for on-farm selection and crop improvement under typical farm conditions. Farmers at our conferences and field days have determined the crop improvement projects they wish to take part in. We will provide seed, instructional guidelines, extension in the form of telephone consultations and on-farm visits. Farmers will share their accomplishments and what they learned on their projects with each other at follow-up conferences. Thus far, 42 farmers have expressed interest in taking part in one or more projects, starting in the 2004 growing season.

We have learned that it is difficult to get busy farmers to travel distances to attend events during the summer. However, winter attendance at both conferences has exceeded expectations.

It takes longer than we anticipated to build momentum. Even through farmers attended the winter theoretical conference, farmers need to see the demonstration site BEFORE they apply new
methods to their own farms.

We decided to combine the Winter Seminar for Vermont and Massachusetts which we held in November, 2003 because we discovered it takes two years to get a program rolling. We’ve decided to conduct a culminating Restoring Our Seed Conference in November, 2005 for seed savers, seed growers and breeders to showcase their projects which were initiated under the program and to plan future follow-up.

The second winter conference was more participatory. We conducted four brainstorming and discussion sessions, and three group project sessions each day. We anticipate that this model will facilitate more follow-up farmer participation. At subsequent gatherings farmers will share their project successes, challenges and lessons learned with each other.

Seed Savers Network:
REVISION: In our original proposal we emphasized commercial seed production and crop improvement. We have expanded the educational component to include small-scale seed saving because we found a huge need for it. Our Massachusetts co-ordinators Rowen White and Matt Rulevich have established a seed savers network and a Seed Center for cleaning seed in the Hampshire College Barn with matching funds from the Pioneer Valley Seed Savers. Based on the success of a hands-on seed-cleaning workshop Oct 11, 2003 at the Seed Center, a larger seed harvesting and cleaning workshop is planned for next year.

Interaction with farmers:
REVISION: We have found that the internet is not the preferred medium for most farmers to conduct interactive dialogue. We are publishing periodic newsletters with questions and answers and are transcribing question and answer sessions from our conferences.

On-Farm Breeding:
REVISION: We have expanded the crop improvement component to include on-farm breeding projects in response to the high enthusiasm of conference participants.

Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes


Two breeding projects initiated in the January, 2003 Winter Conference will be continued:
Dehybridizing a pickling cucumber for taste, disease resistance and improved
length-width ratio and
Improving Pruden’s Purple heirloom tomato for horizontal resistance to early blight.

At the November, 2003 Conference teams of farmers decided on two additional breeding projects to conduct on their own farms. These include:

Farmers will cross Brassica rapa salad greens, select for beauty, cold tolerance, and collaborate with chefs to create unique niche market varieties for specialty restaurants.

Farmers will select lettuce varieties for cold tolerance.

ROS will provide extension resources for farmers interested in learning how to breed an organic potato for early maturity, high yield, superior flavor, and disease resistance in cooperation with Jim Gerritsen of, a leading organic producer of seed potatoes, and Dr. Raoul Robinson, author of ‘Return to Resistance’, and ‘Manual for Amateur Potato Breeding’.

Our first draft of the Restoring Our Seed Manual was distributed at the November, 2003 conference participants, and is posted on See attached.

As a result of the November, 2003 conference, 22 growers report being more likely to save seed, only one less likely, with 3 more continuing to. 22 growers report being more likely to sell seed, 4 maybe more likely to sell seed, 5 less likely to sell seed, 1 the same and 4 other answers. As a result of the January, 2003 conference, 23 growers reported being more likely to sell seed, only 3 less likely, 4 likelihood not affected and 7 other answers. This is an important first step in meeting our performance target to increase the number of farmers trained in organic seed production. See the enclosed conference evaluations for more measurable learning results.

As a result of the ROS program, the quality of seed being offered by New England seed companies to farmers will improve. At least two area seed companies have improved their field inspection and quality control systems as a direct result of information learned from our seminars and field days. In their 2004 catalog, High Mowing Seed reports upgrading their organic variety trialing program, consciously initiating breeding programs for organic agriculture and hiring a part-time plant pathologist and testing analyst. Tom Stearns now trains his seed growers to actively engage in rogueing and selecting their seed crops. At Fedco Seeds there is a heightened awareness of the importance of field inspection and disease identification thanks to several on-farm visits by Dr. Mark Hutton in collaboration with Fedco purchaser Nikos Kavanya. Kavanya and other Fedco personnel have gained skills in field disease identification and developed procedures when inspections reveal possible problems. At least one lot of sclerotia-infested seed is not being offered as a direct result.

“I have grown by leaps,” reports Kavanya.

‘It was such an inspiring conference… The idea that the best new material can come from a collaboration of amateur and professional breeders is powerful and exciting.’
Doug Jones, faculty and Farm Manager of the Central Carolina Community College farm.


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