Increasing Capacity to Produce High-Quality, Regionally Adapted Seed to Enhance Northeast Biosecurity and Diversify Markets for Vegetable Growers

Project Overview

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2022: $149,749.00
Projected End Date: 04/30/2025
Grant Recipient: Cornell Cooperative Extension
Region: Northeast
State: New York
Project Leader:
Crystal Stewart-Courtens
Cornell Cooperative Extension

Information Products

Growing of a Lettuce Seed Crop Factsheet (Article/Newsletter/Blog, Fact Sheet)
Timing of Planting and Harvest for Annual Seed Crops (Article/Newsletter/Blog, Fact Sheet)
Trellising Seed Crops (Article/Newsletter/Blog, Fact Sheet)


  • Agronomic: corn
  • Vegetables: beans, cucurbits, greens (lettuces), onions, sweet corn


  • Crop Production: crop improvement and selection, high tunnels or hoop houses, seed saving
  • Education and Training: demonstration, farmer to farmer, mentoring, on-farm/ranch research, participatory research
  • Farm Business Management: new enterprise development
  • Production Systems: organic agriculture
  • Sustainable Communities: local and regional food systems, values-based supply chains

    Proposal abstract:

    A robust regional seed system is vital to the economic and ecological health of Northeast farming communities. Farmers are increasingly interested in producing seed for personal/community use or as an opportunity to expand production and diversify enterprises, and Northeast seed companies including High Mowing, Fedco and the Hudson Valley Seed Company (HVSC) have interest in increasing sourcing of regionally produced seed. In order for growers to be successful, they need to learn the horticulture and economics of expanding from growing vegetables for food to seed. 

    Additionally, Indigenous communities throughout the Northeast are working to improve the quality and availability of ancestral seed varieties in order to successfully preserve culturally-significant seed lineages to increase tribal seed and food sovereignty. Doing so also increases community access to traditional recipes, cooking practices, and traditional gardening techniques.

    Growers and seed keepers expressing interest in expanding their seed work will be enrolled in the recently-developed Organic Seed Alliance seed production online course after it is tailored to the Northeast by our content experts. This course will be offered during February and March, and will be complemented by a series of Zoom trainings to address specifics of Northeast seed production, contracting with regional seed companies, etc. Growers will be divided into groups of 4-5 based on the seed crop they will grow, forming a local learning community. The local learning communities will meet monthly with a compensated regional seed mentor as an opportunity to learn from each other and consult with an expert grower. In person field meetings will bring learning communities together for on-farm learning, if possible. 

    The research component of this grant will be twofold. First, we will conduct a survey to assess the quality of existing seedstock by lab testing for seedborne diseases and providing controlled germination testing. This survey will inform grower education about disease management. Second, we will conduct two replicated trials comparing seed yield, quality, and profitability from high tunnels versus field with a biennial (allium) and annual (lettuce, herb) crop in 2022 and 2023, paired with two non-replicated on-farm sites per season. 

    This project will work with 65 commercial vegetable farmers and 30 Indigenous seed keepers over three years to expand production of quality, regionally adapted and culturally significant seed. We anticipate an increase in revenue of $150,000 and growth of 4 acres of commercial seed and a doubling of the capacity of Indigenous seed keepers to source and distribute quality seed, from three pounds of saved seed to six per person, on average. Additionally, 20 seed samples will be tested before and after the project to quantify increases in seed quality.  

    Performance targets from proposal:

    Sixty-five commercial farmers and thirty Indigenous seed keepers will increase the quality, production, and distribution of Northeast grown seed, resulting in $150,000 increased revenue from 4 acres of seed sold to Northeast seed companies and growth of one hundred and eighty pounds of heritage seed for community use.

    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.