5 Nonprofits Sowing the Seeds of a Better Food System
Once the work of public researchers, plant breeding is now dominated by a handful of massive corporations, but there are still a variety of nonprofit organizations working to preserve biodiversity and ensure access to heirloom, open-pollinated seeds for generations to come. Here is a roundup of our favorites, including a few that sell seeds in order to raise funds—so you can support a good cause while doing your spring seed shopping.
Stewards of one of the oldest and largest seed banks in North America, Seed Savers Exchange boasts a collection of over 20,000 heirloom varieties—including more than 1,000 heritage apple trees—many of which are available in their online catalog. This Iowa-based organization also hosts a giant online seed swap, where dues-paying members can exchange their favorite varieties. If membership isn't for you, anyone is welcome to buy seeds.
Many modern seed varieties are simply not well-suited to organic production. That's why the Organic Seed Alliance actively promotes breeding organic-specific varieties. The Organic Seed Alliance also provides technical assistance to organic farmers on seed-related matters, and they are active participants in the fight to prevent transnational companies from gobbling up every last small and regional seed purveyor. While they support the preservation of heirloom crops, they also develop new seed varieties geared specifically for organic farmers, including the recent releases 'Abundant Bloomsdale' spinach and 'Who Gets Kissed?' sweet corn.
3. Seed Matters
Headed up by Nebraska-born seed-activist Matthew Dillon, this organization was formed a few years ago by the Clif Bar Family Foundation to promote public seed breeding and research—as opposed to corporate-backed research, which has dominated the field in recent years—and ensure that future seed development is focused squarely on the needs and interests of farmers. The Clif Bar founders provide funding for overhead expenses, but the group relies on grants and donations for all of its programs.
Have a particular love for the southwest? This is your group. in preserving agricultural biodiversity in the southwest? This is the organization for you. Based in Tucson, Arizona, Native Seeds/S.E.A.R.C.H. is dedicated to preserving agricultural biodiversity in its corner of the country. The group's enormous seed library hosts a number of endangered and nearly extinct Native American seed varieties that were historically cultivated by desert tribes. Many of their seeds are suitable for planting in other regions, however, and are available for sale online and at retail garden centers.
Southern Exposure Seed Exchange, helmed by famed plantswoman Ira Wallace, is to the southeast what Native Seeds/S.E.A.R.C.H. is to the southwest. Like its counterpart in the desert, Southern Exposure Seed Exchange conserves, exchanges and promotes traditional, locally-adapted varieties, many of which also grow well throughout the country and are available through an extensive online catalog. Uniquely, this group is based on a commune in Virginia, whose members share in the work of preserving, growing and distributing the seeds.
While technically not a seed saving organization, we felt it important to include the Organic Farming Research Foundation. It is one of the only groups devoted entirely to high-level organic farming research—a necessity for advancing the industry. Based in the organic farming hotbed of Santa Cruz, California, the group provides grants to both academics and actual farmers throughout North America to conduct practical experiments that help make organic agriculture more efficient and productive. Crucially, they also take their message to Capitol Hill, where they lobby lawmakers to provide funding for the cause.
Reposted with permission from our media associate Modern Farmer.
By Jessica Corbett
A leading environmental advocacy group marked Native American Heritage Month on Wednesday by urging President-elect Joe Biden, Vice President-elect Kamala Kamala Harris, and the entire incoming administration "to honor Indigenous sovereignty and immediately halt the Keystone XL, Dakota Access, and Line 3 pipelines."
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Returning the ‘Three Sisters’ – Corn, Beans and Squash – to Native American Farms Nourishes People, Land and Cultures
By Christina Gish Hill
Historians know that turkey and corn were part of the first Thanksgiving, when Wampanoag peoples shared a harvest meal with the pilgrims of Plymouth plantation in Massachusetts. And traditional Native American farming practices tell us that squash and beans likely were part of that 1621 dinner too.
Abundant Harvests<p>Historically, Native people throughout the Americas bred indigenous plant varieties specific to the growing conditions of their homelands. They selected seeds for many different traits, such as <a href="https://emergencemagazine.org/story/corn-tastes-better/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">flavor, texture and color</a>.</p><p>Native growers knew that planting corn, beans, squash and sunflowers together produced mutual benefits. Corn stalks created a trellis for beans to climb, and beans' twining vines secured the corn in high winds. They also certainly observed that corn and bean plants growing together tended to be healthier than when raised separately. Today we know the reason: Bacteria living on bean plant roots pull nitrogen – an essential plant nutrient – from the air and <a href="http://www.tilthalliance.org/learn/resources-1/almanac/october/octobermngg" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">convert it to a form that both beans and corn can use</a>.</p><p>Squash plants contributed by shading the ground with their broad leaves, preventing weeds from growing and retaining water in the soil. Heritage squash varieties also had spines that discouraged deer and raccoons from visiting the garden for a snack. And sunflowers planted around the edges of the garden created a natural fence, protecting other plants from wind and animals and attracting pollinators.</p><p>Interplanting these agricultural sisters produced bountiful harvests that sustained large Native communities and <a href="http://dx.doi.org/10.1353/eam.2015.0016" target="_blank">spurred fruitful trade economies</a>. The first Europeans who reached the Americas were shocked at the abundant food crops they found. My research is exploring how, 200 years ago, Native American agriculturalists around the Great Lakes and along the Missouri and Red rivers fed fur traders with their diverse vegetable products.</p>
Displaced From the Land<p>As Euro-Americans settled permanently on the most fertile North American lands and acquired seeds that Native growers had carefully bred, they imposed policies that <a href="https://doi.org/10.1086/ahr/87.2.550" target="_blank">made Native farming practices impossible</a>. In 1830 President Andrew Jackson signed the <a href="https://guides.loc.gov/indian-removal-act" target="_blank">Indian Removal Act</a>, which made it official U.S. policy to force Native peoples from their home locations, pushing them onto subpar lands.</p><p>On reservations, U.S. government officials discouraged Native women from cultivating anything larger than small garden plots and pressured Native men to practice Euro-American style monoculture. Allotment policies assigned small plots to nuclear families, further limiting Native Americans' access to land and preventing them from using communal farming practices.</p><p>Native children were forced to attend boarding schools, where they had no opportunity to <a href="https://doi.org/10.5749/jamerindieduc.57.1.0145" target="_blank">learn Native agriculture techniques or preservation and preparation of Indigenous foods</a>. Instead they were forced to eat Western foods, turning their palates away from their traditional preferences. Taken together, these policies <a href="https://kansaspress.ku.edu/978-0-7006-0802-7.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">almost entirely eradicated three sisters agriculture</a> from Native communities in the Midwest by the 1930s.</p>
Reviving Native Agriculture<p>Today Native people all over the U.S. are working diligently to <a href="https://www.oupress.com/books/15107980/indigenous-food-sovereignty-in-the-united-sta" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">reclaim Indigenous varieties of corn, beans, squash, sunflowers and other crops</a>. This effort is important for many reasons.</p><p>Improving Native people's access to healthy, culturally appropriate foods will help lower rates of <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/vitalsigns/aian-diabetes/index.html" target="_blank">diabetes</a> and <a href="https://www.apa.org/pi/oema/resources/ethnicity-health/native-american/obesity" target="_blank">obesity</a>, which affect Native Americans at disproportionately high rates. Sharing traditional knowledge about agriculture is a way for elders to pass cultural information along to younger generations. Indigenous growing techniques also protect the lands that Native nations now inhabit, and can potentially benefit the wider ecosystems around them.</p>
By Jake Johnson
Amid reports that oil industry-friendly former Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz remains under consideration to return to his old post in the incoming Biden administration, a diverse coalition of environmental groups is mobilizing for an "all-out push" to keep Moniz away from the White House and demand a cabinet willing to boldly confront the corporations responsible for the climate emergency.
Anger, anxiety, overwhelm … climate change can evoke intense feelings.
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An extremely rare North Atlantic right whale calf was found dead off the North Carolina coast on Friday.
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