Seed Midden

    The Newsletter of The Abundant Life Seed Foundation
    P.O. Box 772
    Port Townsend, WA 98368
    360 385-5660

World Seed Fund Update

Since receiving our World Seed Fund grant in May, we have been happily sending out seeds to various parts of the world. In the last two months, we have sent seeds to about 30 different recipients, in the U.S., Central and South America, Africa and Russia. Seeds have gone to community gardens, scented gardens for the visually impaired, and inner city garden projects. However, there is more to our grant than simply sending seeds. Part of the money was to go toward a computer to establish a data base, which I am joyously typing on right now (the computer, not the data base). We were working on quite the dinosaur, which had d ecided to go up in smoke (literally), making the grant even more timely than we had originally imagined. We are working on a brochure to help better promote our World Seed Fund. We are also working on seed saving educational materials to send to World Seed Fund recipients. We believe its vital that we help break the cycle of dependency created by perpetual gifts. We want our recipients to understand that our gifts of seeds are one-time donations, and they must save their seeds and replant. We send general, simple instructions about seed saving and storing to each seed recipient. However, many of the people we send to are not English speaking people. Many recipients are Spanish speaking, some Russian, a few French, and some other languages here and there. Some recipients are also non-literate. Consequently, we want to translate our pamphlet into as many languages as possible. We are seeking people with language skills who would like to donate their time and skills and translate our pamphlet (8 1/2 X 11 paper, double sided, not so long). If you'd like to make this vital contribution to the work of our World Seed Fund, give us a call or write us a letter (to Aleta). The more languages, the better. Any ideas for non-literate images or a desire to donate drawing skills would also be appreciated.


We were recently approached by a grower who wanted us to patent the Oregon Giant Bean, saying that we would make so much money from it, we would never have financial problems again. Saying good-bye to financial worries certainly perks up our ears, however, at what cost? We don't feel we can own that vegetable, anymore than we can own the color red. But this will be an issue that we will continue to face. At one point, we may lose the right to sell an heirloom seed, because someone else has patented it. One way to help prevent a variety from being patented is to keep it in the public domain. As a public service, we will start dedicating part of our publications to keeping varieties in the public domain. This time well tell you a little about the Oregon Giant Bean. If youd like to make any contributions, either in discussion or if you have a favorite plant youd like others to know about, let us know. Well try to fit it in. Wed also like to know how you feel about this and any possible solutions you may offer.

Seeds Worth Saving

John Van Eaton wrote here awhile ago looking for the Oregon Giant Bean. He and his wife Elsie have been married 63 years, and when they first were married, Johns parents grew this bean. They were the pioneer people in Eatonville, WA, and they passed this bean around as the most wonderful bean anybody could grow. John and Elsie moved into their own lives and at some point stopped gardening for some years, always assuming that when they were ready, the bean would be readily available. When the time came for them to plant again, they were dismayed to discover that this bean had seemed to disappear. They tried different beans, claiming to be improved Oregon Giant Beans, but, Elsie said, none came close to "the creamy, sweet tasting bean that stayed tender throughout the season, even as the larger beans were forming inside." They even started to wonder if perhaps their memories had simply created a beautiful illusion that just didnt exist. At last, John wrote Abundant Life last spring and asked if we had the bean, and fortunately, we did. We talked to Elsie recently to confirm that this was the right one, and she exclaimed happily, We've already had two batches from it, we got the right bean!

We'd love to hear if anyone else out there has had similar happy endings. Share these stories and help keep biodiversity alive.

Patent Issues Affect Everyone

Patenting issues are encroaching on our lives in more and more pervasive ways. Small farmers have lost their rights to save and sell patented seed. Indigenous peoples worldwide are losing their rights to their cultural and biological heritages. Heirloom seeds that have been in families for generations are disappearing, and large companies are owning the sole rights to these seeds. People are applying for and receiving patents for living things that people were never meant to own. Historically, intellectual property rights were meant to promote and reward innovation in the development of new materials that would benefit humanity. The logic was that companies would never invest in the development of new products if those products could not be protected from duplication in the market place, so the companies required sole use and ownership.

While this system has produced some benefits, it has had dire consequences for small farmers and communities (particularly in the third world), who depend on small scale agriculture for sustenance. Intellectual property rights have been used by big business as a way of gaining monopoly control over local community resources, as agrochemical and pharmaceutical corporations stand to make hundreds of millions of dollars from the control and commercialization of biological resources. Patents for seeds, for example, have resulted in (1) farmers being denied their traditional rights to save seeds, (2) farmers being forced to pay royalties for every seed and animal derived from patented stock, (3) farmers becoming more dependent on herbicides and fertilizers made by the same companies who collected their traditional seeds in the first place, and now sell back the chemically dependent varieties.

The Andean tomato is an example of the money and the issues at stake. It cost just $21 to collect samples of a particular tomato grown in Peru. No compensation was paid to the native people who had selected and cultivated this tomato for generations. After cross breeding it with other tomatoes to produce a new variety, the patented seed is now worth about 8 million dollars annually to the company holding the patent rights.

At a June session of the U.N. Commission on Sustainable Development, Victoria Tauli-Corpus, of the Cordillera Peoples Alliance and the Asian Womens Network, voiced her concern about plant patenting, We are apprehensive about how biotechnology and intellectual property rights are going to be used to gain control over biodiversity. We have witnessed how indigenous seed varieties and medicinal plants, which Patents (continued) our women and healers have preserved and developed, were appropriated by international research institutes and transnational corporations...Without our knowing, these seeds and medicinal plants were altered in laboratories and now we are told that those companies have intellectual property rights over these genetic plant materials because they have improved them. This logic is beyond us. Why is it that we, indigenous peoples, who have developed and preserved these plants over thousands of years do not have rights to them anymore because laboratories altered them?

What was once viewed as the farmer's inalienable right-the 10,000 year-old ritual of saving seed from a harvested crophas now been jeopardized by plant patenting laws at the national and international levels. For those who are concerned about the protection of biological diversity, the safety of our food supply and the survival of heirloom and open-pollinated seeds, all this spells certain disaster. If farmers are unable to save their seeds and share or sell them, while at the same time multinational corporations continue to buy up seed companies and replace their open-pollinated and heirloom varieties with hybrids, we will soon render these plants, some of which have been cultivated by people for hundreds of years, extinct.

Dr. Vandana Shiva, a member of the U.N. Environmental Program on Biosafety, stated in a recent interview that the conservation of biological diversity, at the most fundamental level, is the ethical recognition that other species have rights and do not merely derive their value from the economic exploitation by the human species. If we accept the notion that life can be patented, we are condemning ourselves to the notion that the living diversity of this planet can be reduced to patented private property. The implications for this go against all notions of an environmental ethic, and should be a concern to us all.

Much information from this article was taken from "How do you Spell Patent? P-I-R-A-C-Y?" written by Beth Burrows, originally published in Boycott Quarterly.

Storing Your Harvest

It's the time of year when were gathering the fruits of our labor, and completing the final stages of the cycle that Mother Nature has established for those willing to follow. At our farm, were busily gathering our seeds, cleaning and storing them away for winter, then awaiting yet another spring. Storing your seeds correctly is important if you want the maximum life from your seeds and maximum germination next spring. Don't lose all your hard work by storing seeds inadequately.

Seeds are alive and breathing in their little seed coats, but can be stored a long time, if given optimal conditions to keep them dormant. Seeds need to be kept dry and in a cool, dark place. Many seed envelopes together can be put into a gallon glass jar or tight cookie tin (any dry, sealed container). Make sure they are dry enough by including a packet of desicant (found in many commercially purchased products, or sometimes available from gardening stores) or a few tablespoons of powdered milk in an envelope. These will absord any excess moisture. The tin or jar should then be kept in a cool closet or refrigerator. Seeds stored at 60 degrees will last twice as long as when stored at 70 degrees. If stored at 50 degrees, they will last twice as long again. The cooler the better, except dont let them freeze, or they will be destroyed.

Most vegetable seeds will last about 4-5 years, with the following exceptions: Squash, cucumber and melons will last 7 years. Bean, carrot, pea, corn, spinach will usually only last 3 years. The shortest-lived seeds, lasting only 1-2 years are leeks, onions and parsnips.

In the Garden

The arrival of spring always begins with the same excited and wearying rhythm... planting as much as one can to have a vital garden and bountiful harvest. Now that the August breeze is bringing hints of autumn, we celebrate the abundance of all our seed, collected or still maturing, in the garden. The slowed pace and sense of satisfaction that this chilled breeze encourages instills reflection on how, in fact, this season was very different from the last.

This year established footpaths have begun to frame even more clearly the growth of our old and new perennial flower and herb beds, expanded annual garden bed areas, piles of decomposing compost, and the new tomato hothouse. We are cultivating a constantly evolving method of how we operate the farm. In addition to noticing the unique details of this years garden, we gather all the images, ideas and special projects that have inspired the vision for next seasons garden.

Next season the garden brings hope for a greater understanding of how to better grow and preserve the seeds we make available to you. This entails building durable isolation cages, so we can insure genetic purity, and a new seed processing room. Also, we will be focusing even more on providing better facilities at the farm to host interns and educational events.

As we move on to develop these projects we will need support from our members. Members have been a valuable resource, whose interest and membership fees enable the farm to function. At this stage of the farms development, we request support in the way of donations, volunteers, and equipment. We extend our sincere appreciation to all our members and invite you to keep in touch and visit our beautiful garden when in our neighborhood.

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