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Cultivating Resilience
By Matt Drewno, Green Belt Mini-Farm Manager

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The 8th Organic Seed Growers Conference took place in early February, in Corvallis, Oregon, sponsored by the Organic Seed Alliance ( Over 600 farmers, researchers, gardeners and enthusiasts participated. Being among such a thoughtful, committed and passionate group of people celebrating the culture around seeds made the theme of this year's event, Cultivating Resilience, very real.

The conference offered over 35 workshops on topics such as Conversations with Seed Elders, Building Resilient Seed Systems, Community Plant Breeding, and Breeding for Resilience in the Face of Climate Chaos. There were several key speakers who brought their wisdom and experience to the event. As is true with so many gatherings around food and seed, there was simply too much going on at once! I was, however, fortunate to participate in several wonderful workshops.

Carol Deppe (, longtime seed-breeder, saver and activist, spoke on the topic of Breeding Crops for Organic Adaptation, Resilience, Vigor and Flavor. Carol shared her wealth of experience, pacing the stage like a super-charged gardener obsessed with her work. Her love of plants and her patience for listening to what they are saying were clear. I was amazed as I added up the number of experiments she had occurring in her garden; I had to ask how she kept track of everything. Her reply: "I pull an easy chair into the garden, get a jug of water and wait. If something comes up, I write it down."

That is pretty much Deppe's style, though you wouldn't know it if you had read her books, The Resilient Gardener and Breed Your Own Vegetable Varieties. One of my favorite moments in her presentation was when she described the trials and tribulations of working with Delicata squash, in order to make a Delicata squash that was a "true portion-size" and "worth the hassle of preparation". After years of cross-breeding ancient varieties which were on the verge of extinction, and hours of culling, pollinating and taste-testing, she got it! As the applause faded along with the gentle laughter at Carol's expressive joy, she drew back quietly and stated, "A good artist knows when to stop."

Another highlight for me was to be present at the keynote given by Cary Fowler, who was instrumental to the formation of the Svalbard Global Seed Vault ( His personal story was fascinating. He played a key role in developing not only the seed vault, but also a global network of seed germplasms intent on securing our vital seed sources. Presently there are over 800,000 seed varieties to be stored inside the heart of a mountain in the northernmost latitudes on Earth, a place where, should the power go out, seeds would remain preserved in the minus 18 degrees C glacial air of the arctic Svalbard Archipelago.

Fowler's mission is a race against time. The purpose of the Seed Vault is to serve as an insurance policy for humanity, a seed safety deposit box. No GMOs are accepted, and storage is free, paid for by an endowment. The global network of seed banks and germplasms send duplicates of their seed collections to Svalbard where they are stored under conditions which will preserve them indefinitely. The deposits are never opened and can only be withdrawn by the individuals who deposited them. Fowler's presentation reminded me that the future is full of "yes and yes" and not just one solution. The key to the survival of planet, people and ecosystems will rely on a broad range of solutions working together, with the ultimate goal of conservation, restoration and sustainability.

One of the most inspiring moments of his presentation had to do with the present conflict in Syria. The International Center for Agricultural Research in Dry Areas (ICARDA), located in Aleppo, was in the middle of a civil war. Realizing the dire situation, they deposited over 30,000 seeds in Svalbard. Just last year, the Global Seed Vault completed its first withdrawal—ICARDA moved its headquarters to Morocco and reestablished their collection.

The 8th Organic Seed Growers Conference was fascinating and vital. The seed swap to close the event was so full of excitement, gratitude and a sense of community that it was hard to leave. Just to be in this hive of seed-savers was uplifting to a degree that I have never really felt before. I can't wait to plant the seeds I gathered that day—the love of the seed breeders in that room, the growers and savers of those seeds was reciprocated by those who received their gift—and the seed waits patiently to burst into life, celebrating the work of all the birds, bees, plants, microbes and humans who have nurtured the generations throughout time. I hope to be there to witness it all!

Advancing the ethical development and stewardship of the genetic resources of agricultural seed.
—The Organic Seed Alliance

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