Save Seed for Genetic Diversity

Many more families across the Flathead are getting their hands back into the dirt by growing some of their own food

By Mike Jopek

With snow melted off the south face of Big Mountain, many locals have planted their home gardens. It’s been a shockingly hot and dry spring with May temperatures in the 80s. Gratefully June brings rain.

On the farm, we’ve been field-testing new spinach. Abundant Bloomsdale is a cross between a cold hearty open-pollinated spinach variety and other disease-resistant ones.

The Organic Seed Alliance worked with numerous farms to develop the open-pollinated seed and judging by our production results, the future heirloom spinach is a huge hit with consumers.

The variety was developed over the decade and publicly available this year. Growers are encouraged to save seeds and replant offspring to adapt the spinach to local weather. Bulk seed will become available to small growers next year.

The dark green leaves are crunchy and sweet, while the stems are succulent. The heavily savoyed leaves sit on top of sturdy stems. This makes for great looking bunches at the marketplace.

Judging by consumer reaction to these spinach test-plots and that neither the rows in the hoophouse nor the open field were fast to bolt-to-seed in the blazing hot sun, we’ll give this seed another planting for fall or next spring.

In the kitchen I chopped the spinach bunches, stem and all, into eatable pieces and wilted it by pouring a heated sauce of olive oil and apple cider vinegar on top. It tasted great.

During last year’s Farm Bill debate, Sen. Jon Tester introduced an amendment to clarify a proposal from the previous Farm Bill. Tester has long promoted more public research into conventional breeding techniques at places like land grant universities to only better Montana meats and seeds.

Tester’s proposal called for public research on public cultivar development through conventional breeding.

Recently on the documentary TV series VICE, Tester talked about bioengineered plant seeds and how farmers since the beginning of time have always had control of their seed. Tester said patented transgenic seeds offer a different way of doing business for agriculture.

When it comes to most bioengineered crops, farmers cannot save seed. The patented offspring is the intellectual property of the corporation that created the seeds back at the lab.

Even much agricultural research at public universities across the nation is somehow not part of the public domain.

Many conventional farmers traditionally saved their seed and replanted for a new season. On our farm, we have been saving seed garlic for more than two decades. We grow three varieties that have adapted well to the unpredictable growing conditions near the 49th parallel.

Many more families across the Flathead are getting their hands back into the dirt by growing some of their own food. It’s a great and fast-growing local food movement.

Local gardeners looking for seeds for their home beds may want to check out the Good Seed Company in Whitefish. They’ve been growing and sourcing heirloom and organic seeds since the 1980s.

The Good Seed Company promotes untreated, cold hardy, non-GMO and open-pollinated seeds. Robin Kelson wrote on her website, “I am dedicated to revitalizing and rebalancing our soils because I know that rebuilding our soils ability to generate nutrients is essential to putting nutrients back into our food.”

This is our 25th year of growing food in Whitefish and each season I learn more about the importance of seed, soil, wind and water.

Part of our Farm Bill created seven regional climate hubs across the nation to help farmers, who are often on the front lines of climate change, navigate new chaotic weather.

There are far too many big-weather challenges ahead for Montana growers to ignore. Farmers across the nation need more access to public seed research and classical breed development.

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