The 2017 Northeast Organic Seed Conference: Owning Our Seed

by Heron Breen & Petra Page-Mann
We are thrilled to announce the Northeast Organic Seed Conference! It will be held Friday through Sunday, January 20-22 2017 in Saratoga Springs, in tandem with the NOFA-NY Winter Conference. The theme “Owning Our Seed” expresses our passion to become better stewards of our seed, both in the field and in our policies. There has never been a better time to strengthen the rich network of seed savers, breeders, growers, and distributors here in the Northeast US and Canada.

Flowers: From introductory to advanced seed saving, there is much to learn at this conference.

Flowers: From introductory to advanced seed saving, there is much to learn at this conference.

“This regional seed conference grew out of the incredible success of Organic Seed Alliance’s Organic Seed Growers Conference,” observed Ken Greene of the Hudson Valley Seed Library. “Their national conference has become the foundation of our community: a place where we can come together and share, learn, and advance the organic seed movement. The 2017 Northeast Seed Conference is a chance for us to strengthen our local seed community, address our specific climatic, economic, and cultural challenges together, and find our voice in the national movement.”
Over 20 sessions will explore diverse subjects related to seed in the Northeast. From “Hand Pollination: Variety Improvement and Development” to “Northeast Native American Seeds: Respectful Stewardship,” and from “Biennials in the Northeast” to “Owning Our Seed: Perspectives on Intellectual Property,” there is much to learn and share.   Dozens of presenters include seed pioneers (Rob Johnston, CR Lawn, Will Bonsall, Rowen White, John Navazio, Klaas Martens, Brent Loy, Tom Stearns) as well as the up-and-coming faces (Michael Mazourek, Ken Greene, Dan Brisbois, Adrienne Shelton, Lisa Bloodnick, Petra Page-Mann) of organic seed in the Northeast.
Unique and unforgettable events are being planned for the conference, as well. Friday evening, Chef Dan Barber (Blue Hill at Stone Barns) and Dr. Michael Mazourek (Organic Plant Breeder, Cornell University), will share their passion for seeds, plant breeding, collaboration and the food inspired by the process. Saturday’s dinner will include a Three-Sisters showcase & tasting, celebrating the significance (and deliciousness) of corn, beans and squash in the Northeast.  Saturday evening’s seed swap will be an apt expression of the diversity, abundance and generosity that is perhaps the heart of Owning Our Seed, in the best and broadest sense. “It has been a joy to be part of the movement that has rebuilt this capacity in our region,” says Michael Mazourek. “This meeting is long overdue to bring us all together toward an even brighter seed future.”
Corn: Delicious diversity! Saturday's supper will highlight combinations of the Indigenous 'Three Sisters' of corn, beans & squash.

Corn: Delicious diversity! Saturday’s supper will highlight combinations of the Indigenous ‘Three Sisters’ of corn, beans & squash.

There will be abundant time for learning as well as connection at this conference.  Though our focus is on the Northeast, we welcome anyone interested in seed to join us.  We are especially excited to reach beyond our borders and learn with our fellow seed-lovers in eastern Canada.  Cross-pollination is important for plants to adapt; it is also important for human communities to grow increasingly resilient. “In colorful patterns and shapes, seeds whisper to us and remind us that their life is our life, and our mutually beneficial relationship extends in our bloodlines thousands of years,” Rowen White of Sierra Seeds writes. “I am so honored to gather this winter with a diversity of seed stewards who remember reciprocal relationship with seeds that extends past beyond living memory, and continue to cultivate vibrant new seed culture that is rooted in integrity and care.” Rowen’s extensive knowledge and network of indigenous Northeast seedkeeping will add great richness to this conference.
CR Lawn (Founder of Fedco) will be delivering the keynote speech that addresses all attendees of both conferences simultaneously. Indeed, an organic farming conference held in tandem with an organic seed conference overlap and interrelate in many ways. Excluding only very recent history, seed and crop improvement have always been the realm of the gardener and farmer. As seed has moved from commons to commodity, ‘farmer’ and ‘seed saver’ are no longer synonymous. Re-integrating and re-imagining these relationships is at the heart of this conference. CR’s address will speak directly to creating an ethical, sustainable seed system here in the Northeast, sharing strategies for overcoming obstacles along the way.
“Ever since our Northeast SARE-funded Restoring our Seed project attracted hundreds of eager participants a decade ago, I’ve been aware of the huge interest in the seed arts in our region,” said CR.  “A lot has happened as we’ve developed and refined our skills in the last decade. It has been a long wait to come together to share old and new knowledge, contacts, to renew our energy and our inspiration. Don’t miss it!”
For more details, go to news/events/winter-conference. Hope to see you there!

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Claire Cekander

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