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DEAR NEW FARM:
I am an organic farmer in Hawaii and president of the Hawaii
Cooperative of Organic Farmers (HICOF). I enjoyed and fully
Moyer’s comments about using organic seed, and I
also believe many are scamming the system by not doing so.
I also know that depending on where you are, Hawaii for instance,
there are no organic seeds available for locally developed
vegetables (e.g. ‘Manoa’ lettuce or ‘Waimanalo
Long’ eggplant), thus forcing our organic farmers to
use other organic “similar” varieties. It would
be wonderful if Rodale would be interested in helping us create
an organic seed program for our state.
President, Hawaii Cooperative of Organic Farmers
Jeff Moyer responds:
Thanks for the email and the support for our work here at
The Rodale Institute. I fully understand the difficulty certain
regions have in finding the specific varieties they need for
the crops their customers want. This only stresses the point
more that we as growers and farmers need to be in contact
with the seed suppliers and let them know what we want, then
support their efforts by purchasing them. If there is an organic
market for specific varieties, seed companies will do what
they can to supply it.
I'm not sure what you mean by your question about TRI helping
to create an organic seed program in Hawaii. If we can help,
we will. What do you have in mind?
Paul Hepperly, research manager
at The Rodale Institute, responds:
Aloha Nui Loa. Glad to hear you are interested in supporting
organic seed of locally adapted and developed veggies. This
is a great idea whose time has come!
I would initiate a conversation with the former sugar cane
researchers at Hawaii Agriculture Research Center in Aiea
to adopt organic seed as part of their program. They have
a nice facility for production in Kunia, Oahu. They also reproduce
conventional seed for University of Hawaii.
A portion of their station could potentially be transitioned
to organic, and then they could produce seed to organic specification.
When I was in Hawaii, Dr. C. Whalen was in charge out there.
I believe it would be better to work through existing institutions
as a cost-effective way to meet your goals rather that starting
from scratch. Even though that institution is not an organic
institution, I believe they may well be open to supporting
the growing organic movement, and this may help in the greater
transformation of agriculture in Hawaii. These are some of
DEAR NEW FARM:
I would like to pass on to Jeff Moyer that I was impressed
with his article on committing to organic seed. He laid out
all the right reasons for using organic seed. Yes, it is the
law but it is much more. By purchasing organic seed the farmer
is helping to fund breeding programs designed specifically
for organic systems, which will benefit all organic growers
and strengthen the entire organic industry. Planting organic
seed is also true to the mission of developing a fully integrated
organic and sustainable food system.
Commercial Seed Manager
Seeds of Change
DEAR NEW FARM:
I cannot agree with Jeff Moyer. Last year for the first
time we found many organic varieties of vegetables no longer
available. The small seed suppliers are now buying organic
seeds from larger companies who carry only one certified variety
of each vegetable. That is why this year all the seed suppliers
had the same variety in organic seeds. This is a disaster.
I had to tell customers this year that I did not have ‘Sugarsnax’
carrots because the organic seed is no longer available.
Organic farmers should not trade off produce quality for
anything, including buying seed because it is organic! We
need to get more small seed suppliers to grow their own organic
seed again as they used to. Price is not the issue; the organic
seeds that the seed companies do have do not cost much more
than the conventional ones. This is because they are buying
them in large quantities and because there is no longer the
variety selection. Following Jeff Moyer's advice will ensure
that organic farmers have poorer produce quality than non-organic
Jeff Moyer responds:
Thanks for the comments on my article about organic seeds
and the need for organic farmers to support the fledgling
organic seed industry. You make several good points regarding
a very complex decision-making tree. I agree that saving your
own seed is an excellent way for some growers to get the specific
varieties that do well on their farms, as is having more small
seed companies grow their own seed. We also need to encourage
more seed suppliers to expand their variety selection—which
they will do when the demand is there. And that was the key
point to my article, not that we as farmers should trade off
produce quality for organic, but that we should request the
varieties we want to be grown organically.
We, growers and farmers, need to take the time to ask the
seed companies (big and small) to get the varieties we want
in organic. As more and more growers ask for the seed, it
will become available. If, on the other hand, we don't show
interest in purchasing organic seeds, seed companies will
read that message as not being an economical venture. That
is why I say we need to support the entire industry, from
top to bottom, so that we all may benefit.
I also agree that everyone planting the same variety is
a disaster waiting to happen. Again, we need to ask for the
varieties we want in organic selections. No matter what size
farm you manage, you can have a positive impact on the seed
industry. As organic growers we should not have to choose
between produce quality and purchasing organic seed, and I
believe that if we support the organic seed industry today
we won't be in that position tomorrow.