Saving Seeds

By Joe Romano,

Marketing Manager

Hemileia vastatrix germinating urediniosporesLike the seeds dreaming beneath the snow your heart dreams of spring.

— Kahlil Gibran

It's spring, in Ithaca, the time when a local person's fancy lightly turns to thoughts of planting. The frost of winter has grudgingly trundled off to the mountaintops, and the soil has warmed and softened, ready to yield to the hands and tools of the farmer and gardener. Now has also begun the planting of starts and seeds. Saved from previous bounties or obtained from reputable sources, seeds have been stored, protected, and sown since time immemorial.

Right this minute, a secure storage vault sits silently, buried deep beneath the permafrost in a man-made cave inside a frozen mountain on a remote Arctic archipelago near the North Pole. Equipped with ventilators designed to maintain subzero temperatures, the vault was designed to house millions of boxes of dormant seeds. Though it sounds like the lair of a James Bond villain, the vault is very real and was created to protect the security of food plants from all manner of assault, including nuclear winter. Called the Global Crop Diversity Trust, according to its executive secretary, Cary Fowler, "It [has] the capacity to store samples of every crop variety we think exists now, plus [has] room to add new collections."

Designed as a sort of Noah's Ark for seeds, the trust is "the ultimate backup for plant material." Though it is functionally little more than cold storage to protect plant varieties, the lengths to which scientists will go to protect species is actually quite dramatic, as this story related by relates:

As an increasingly bloody civil war raged around them, a team of scientists in the Syrian capital Aleppo quietly packaged and shipped a series of nondescript cardboard boxes to an island not far from the North Pole. The boxes bore no sign of the conflict that had surrounded them or the precious material they contained ... "It was extraordinary," says Ola Westengen, one of the scientists' Norwegian colleagues who received the seeds. ... "These seeds are extremely valuable." The samples from Syria now sit alongside hundreds of thousands of others — sent by teams in countries from Burundi to Uzbekistan. Westengen, who was until recently coordinator of operations at the Vault and now works at the Norwegian University of Life Sciences, describes his colleagues' work shipping seeds from Syria as "heroic."

Read more: Saving Seeds


One Bad Apple...

By Joe Romano,

Marketing Manager

The goldenrod is 
yellow, The corn is 
turning brown, The trees in apple orchards, 
With fruit are 
bending down.

— Helen Hunt Jackson

applesontreeEve ate one. Teachers love them, too. They keep doctors away, and they are as American as baseball, at least when baked in a pie. Long lauded as a panacea for health, good looks, and longevity, it has, sadly, come time to ask, "Is the American apple safe to eat?"

In a major step toward bringing genetically modified (GM) apples to market, the US Department of Agriculture announced a decision on Friday, the 13th of February to allow "Arctic" GM apples to be grown in the wild with no further oversight. The USDA claimed that "the GE [genetically engineered] apples are unlikely to pose a plant pest risk to agriculture and other plants in the United States." Arctic apples won't become available in most produce aisles until 2017 at the earliest. The reason behind the genetic modification of one of our most familiar foods? To keep it from getting brown when it is no longer fresh.

So, what does the USDA mean when they say "unlikely to pose a risk"? For years, those concerned about GMOs have been told that they are "safe" and that there is a "scientific consensus" to back that up. A quick look at the literature confirms that story. The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), a group that stands by both evolution and human-caused climate change, states uncategorically,

The science is quite clear: crop improvement by the modern molecular techniques of biotechnology is safe ... The World Health Organization, the American Medical Association, the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, the British Royal Society, and every other respected organization that has examined the evidence has come to the same conclusion: consuming foods containing ingredients derived from GM crops is no riskier than consuming the same foods containing ingredients from crop plants modified by conventional plant improvement techniques.

Read more: One Bad Apple...

Starting at the Beginning: Fruition Seeds

By Kristie Snyder,

GreenLeaf Editor

fruition coverIt all starts with a seed. Whatever your produce of choice, wherever it came from, it started with a seed. Those heirloom tomatoes you wait for all year? Started with a seed. That loaf of fresh-baked bread — started with a seed. Your morning bowl of oatmeal — seed. Seeds are foundational to all of plant agriculture, yet they're often the overlooked component in a sustainable food system.

Petra Page-Mann and Michael Goldfarb started out as small-scale farmers with little awareness of what went into seed production. Over time, they became concerned about a lack of regional seed varieties, the loss of seed diversity, and the concentration of seed growers into a few huge companies. To allay these concerns, they created Fruition Seeds, a company that offers certified-organic, non-GMO, open-pollinated seeds specifically bred for Northeastern growing conditions.

Based in Naples, NY, about 60 miles west of Ithaca, Petra and Michael not only grow stocks of reliable heirloom and open-pollinated seeds for farmers and home gardeners alike, but they collaborate with farmers across the Finger Lakes, including, in this area, GreenStar suppliers Remembrance and Blue Heron Farms. Recognizing that every grower has unique needs, Fruition Seeds works with farmers to improve or create varieties suited specifically to their farm and market — refining old varieties for better performance, breeding entirely new varieties, and "untangling" hybrid seed stock (breeding its offspring into open-pollinated varieties that resemble their parents).

Read more: Starting at the Beginning: Fruition Seeds


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New in Produce

Local Bounty Bounding In

Andrew Hernandez,
Produce Manager

BlueberriesThe local bounty keeps on keepin' on — August brings green beans, kale, tomatoes (yes!), and blueberries.

August — the swan song of a full summer month calls as the autumnal session edges closer with the coming of September; we move away from the hot-air humidity of July; and are promised the chance of more comfort, but at the cost of recessing daylight and falling degrees. Beyond lamentations of climate woes, we can smile in cheer as local produce continues to rear its beautiful head. This month, Stick and Stone Farm provides us with organic green beans, kale, and various tomatoes as their season is finally upon us, and Hillberry (transitional organic) and Rose Valley Farm (certified organic) continue to supply us with their delicious blueberries, fresh-picked and ready for your pies or smoothies, or just eating out of the container. And we still have an abundance of produce from local favorites: Remembrance Farm, Blue Heron Farm, and Dancing Turtle Sprouts.

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