Seven Seeds Farm
For Seven Seeds Farm the focus of seed production is improving towards the ideal of letting the ecology of the land guide their seed selections. Don Tipping has learned a few lessons from nature. One was to pay attention to the way the local wilderness wove complex biodiversity into a rich and abundant forest capable of supporting thousands of species of plants, animals, and insects through seasonal extremes.
When Don and Kimberly Brown moved to the area in 1997 they were determined to farm in a way that also generated ample abundance, and knew that diversity was essential. They sought diversity not only in the number of distinct crops they produced, but in the functions that each crop, animal, or design element would provide to the farm. What they didn’t know when they began, was how important seed would be.
“Ironically, when we first chose our farm name we weren't thinking about growing seed at all,” Don says. Now seed sits at the center of their intricate web of agroecology, comprising 80% of the farm’s economy. Don says, “Seed production lets the land and plants express more of their full biology and ecology, and can be regenerative to a permaculture system in that way". If seed is the end product you are exporting from your farm, Don explains, then you are only taking a small amount of biomass off your farm– a few hundred pounds of seed a year instead of thousands of pounds of fresh produce.
Don also often grows enough plants for a seed crop that he can harvest a percentage for sale as fresh produce through a CSA, providing an opportunity to select the population for ideal types, harvesting plants that are fine for consumption, but don’t have the exact traits that describe that variety. It’s both a conservative attitude of “nothing wasted” and a progressive inclination to “improve towards the ideal”.
Improving towards the ideal is an ongoing activity in seed-- stock seed maintenance, making selections to improve heirloom varieties, and conducting field trials to assess varietal traits; from there it was a short leap into plant breeding. Don looks to mentors like Raoul Robinson (author of Return to Resistance) and John Navazio (Organic Seed Alliance) for ideas and inspiration. Don also believes that improved plant genetics will be important tools in addressing increasing environmental pressures in organic systems. "Genetics is where the rubber meets the road in terms of how to address the situation.”
In addition to breeding and improving varieties Seven Seeds Farm maintains a strong focus on heirloom seeds. In 2009 they inherited a local collection of over 200 varieties of seed. Don has been evaluating the varieties and selling the best of them locally to farmers and gardeners. In January 2010 Siskiyou Seeds establishes its retail storefront at www.siskiyouseeds.com offering over 200 varieities of organic open-pollinated vegetable, grains, herbs and flowers. Some seed specialties include melon, cucumber, squash, tomato, mustard, lettuce, onion, radish, and chart seed.
Don’s seed work has a large outreach component, from his intern program to teaching workshops with Organic Seed Alliance to train other seed farmers, but there’s also an appreciation for his work standing right beside him in Don and Kimberly's sons, Wali (11) and Jasper (7). An intern recently asked Wali what he wanted to be when he grew up, and Wally replied that he would do what his dad does. Don says, “Sustainable means that you need to maintain a system past your own lifetime. That means creating work that is engaging for the next generation. The building block of sustainable agriculture is the functional healthy family farm.”
Seven Seeds Farm
3220 East Fork Road
Williams, OR 97544
Certified Organic by the Oregon Department of Agriculture.