The fifth annual Student Organic Seed Symposium will be held at Colby College in Waterville, ME from August 5-8. Details regarding applications, student demonstration plot submissions, field trips, and guest speakers are soon to follow. We hope you can join us!
Growing the Organic Seed Spectrum: A Community Approach
Over 50 graduate students, faculty and seed industry professionals gathered at the University of Wisconsin-Madison from August 9-12, 2015 for the 4th annual student-run Student Organic Seed Symposium (SOSS). This year’s theme, “Growing the Organic Seed Spectrum: A Community Approach,” was explored through lectures from organic community experts and field trips showcasing the Midwest's organic seed spectrum - from locally focused to globally integrated.
exploring the organic seed spectrum
The symposium’s speakers were innovators in the organic seed sector. Founders, owners, and breeding staff of Johnny’s Selected Seeds, High Mowing Organic Seeds, and Southern Exposure Seed Exchange provided perspective on the history, current status, and future potential for the organic seed industry. University researchers presented their work on breeding vegetables and grains specifically for lower-input ecologically-based farms and flavor-focused consumers. In addition, Michael Sligh from Rural Advancement Foundation International (RAFI) offered the perspective of a nonprofit organization working to promote a diverse, improved, accessible public seed supply.
A field trip took the SOSS group to organic food and seed companies of several sizes. At Organic Valley, a national-scale farmer cooperative in La Farge, WI, attendees learned about the cooperative’s effort to strengthen organic seed, soil, and pasture systems. Next, the group visited Vermont Valley Community Farm and Organic Seed Potatoes in Blue Mounds, WI. There, they discussed the unique challenges of producing certified seed potatoes in organic conditions and heard about the rigorous record-keeping involved with both variety trialing and successful farming. The trip ended at A.P. Whaley Seed Company in Mt. Horeb, where the group viewed and sampled heirloom and newly-bred tomato varieties.
Student Demonstration Plots
SOSS places high importance on sharing the work of student plant breeders. Varieties bred by participating students - from beets to quinoa to watermelon - were planted in demonstration plots for in-the-field discussion, followed by a hands-on cooking workshop with three Madison chefs.
The public joined SOSS participants for two interactive events: a day-long, field-based Organic Seed School on Sunday, August 9 and an informal evening Science Cafe on Monday, August 10. Organic Seed School is focused on providing farmers and gardeners with the practical knowledge needed to start breeding their own vegetable varieties. The Science Cafe, called Green Genes: Seed Breeding for Organic Agriculture, provided a place for informal conversation between organic plant breeders and Madison community members. This free event featured seed trivia, snacks, and a moderated Q&A about seeds, breeding, and the future of our food system.