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A Retrospective: A Journey of Seed Saving and Beyond

Alan and Linda Kapuler, Oregon Country Fair, photo by Serena Kapuler.

Conceived in unity and born for the common good, as part of the Back-to-the-Land movement inspired by the consciousness revolution of the 1960s, two Als and a Linda founded Stonebroke Hippie Seeds in a $90-a-month rental house in Jacksonville Oregon in 1975.

We knew little about gardening, less about seed saving and nothing about business. A few years later we changed the name to Peace Seeds. Here is a true story: I was standing by the sink cleaning seeds from a Buttercup Winter squash, putting the internal pulp and seeds into the compost bucket when it occurred to me that three months later I would buy a packet of the same seeds costing the equivalent of an hour’s work in the gladiolus field where I was glad to get $1.92 take home pay.

I realized I could save the very seeds I was tossing out, completing the cycle of saving the seeds from the plants me and my family had grown in our backyard garden. Completing the cycle, from plant to seed to plant, endlessly with thousands of cultivars in most all the food plants of the temperate zone on planet Earth was our dharma for the next 20 years.

From the outset we were organic — we were hip that poisoning the Earth with ’cides and synthetic fertilizers was not the way to abundance, goodness and biodiversity. At first we turned the land by hand, double deep digging, by choice. Later on tillers and tractors came into our lives like credit cards and bank accounts.

Persistently we collected and amplified seedstocks of the best heirlooms that came our way. On a visit one year to Frances Hoffman in Nampa, Idaho, we saw huge amaranth plants with long thick spikes that she likened to elephants in her garden. She recounted that the heirloom seeds had been passed on since the 1880s by devoted woman gardeners and originally came from Germany.

Some 20 years later a visitor from Peru saw one in our garden and she identified it as one of the ancient staple Andean grains. So the seeds came from Peru to Germany to us.

Salads, the main staple of our diets had a minimum of 20-30 kinds of leaves, roots and flowers. Non-violence (ahimsa) was a major interest. Meditation on the mad violence and misuses of energy in our world led to scrutiny of the food system. Discoveries were made that reduced the amount of killing in our daily eating and tops of carrots, radishes, parsnips and turnips were replanted to give new roots. Some could also flower and make seed.

Garlic and onion bottoms were replanted. They regrew. This process (‘snibbitting’) encouraged a different view of life; a gentler and more loving touch in the connection between growing food and nurturing our loved ones. We ate and replanted the same garlic for three years. We saw in the apples and other rosaceous fruits the core of a perennial, non-violent food system for temperate zone humanity.

The world spins and we city kids became gardeners and farmers, falling in love with one another and life itself. Alan Venet, Linda Sylvester and myself worked beyond the norm and into the future from an infinite present that gave us daily miracles in the garden. Our experience progressed from human food plant cultivars to the planetary genome pool.

Our interests expanded to include the local Oregonian species, the endangered, nearly extinct bioregional species and the world flora. Peace Seeds, initially A Planetary Gene Pool Service and now A Planetary Genome-Pool Resource and Service was born from the need to provide a way to conserve biodiversity, from the dream of peace and goodness for everyone, and from the dereliction of humanity allowing the ongoing destruction of the biological world.

The Middle Years

After saving the seeds for hundreds of cultivars we began to search for a way to understand the structure of plant diversity. We wanted to grow and collect varieties that are central to the biodiversity of the world. So we came to Rolf Dahlgren thanks to Ken Chambers of the Botany Department of OSU and his bubble mapping system which allowed us to represent the groups of plants in a way that facilitates gardening that optimizes diversity.

Olaf Brentmar and I worked together in the beginnings of what we then called ‘coevolutionary gardening.’ In its subsequent development, we call it kinship gardening. Kinship gardening optimizes diversity and provides guidance for permaculture.

Kinship gardens flourished during the era when I became Research Director of Seeds of Change. Seeds of Change, a national organic seed company, brought certified, organically grown seeds of hundreds of heirlooms, open-pollinated and originally developed flower and food plants to tens of thousands of gardeners.

We support the connection between the seeds and the plants with whole cycles, with the needs for fertility enhancing regimes in our composts, cover crops, rotations and in the grexes that come from multi-mixed hybrid populations of choice cultivars as a way to adapt vegetables and flowers to our own ecosystems and to radical weather.

In the process we discovered that many F1 hybrids give rise to stable and valuable lines after a few generations. So after growing Sweet 100 Tomato for a decade and saving seeds yearly, we had an open-pollinated line which we called Peacevine Cherry Tomato.

Some years later a study of vitamin C content in 35 varieties of cherry tomatoes found Peacevine Cherry to be the highest — higher even than its parent. Another successful open-pollinated line from a hybrid is True Gold Sweet corn from Golden Jubilee Sweet corn.

While we explored kinship gardens of annual temperate zone food plants, family level kinship gardens of the Asteraceae (daisies), Solanaceae (tomato, potato family). Apiaceae (carrots) Lamiaceae (mints), and world flora, including one inside a 30- x 96-foot greenhouse, that flourishes to this day, I continued to explore directions for nutritional selection based on the free amino acids that are used by our cells to make proteins.

Free amino acids of the kinds used to build proteins are found in the petals of sunflowers and marigolds, in snap beans and snap peas, in squash and yacon, in carrots and broccoli (green more than white), in sweet corn, in gobo, in cabbage and kale, in tomatoes and potatoes (as much free aminos as in protein — 3 percent each), in zucchini and winter squash, in onions, garlic, leeks, in beets and in giant ground cherries, in chicories and radicchios, in the new growth of bamboo, the root of the licorice plant, in the tops of fenugreek and shungiku, in arugula and the roots of black salsify.

The ’90s

After Seeds of Change bought the mail order business of Peace Seeds. Turning it into Deep Diversity, I began earnestly to breed for the public domain as part of a program to provide meritable new introductions based on nutrition and originality.

All of our seeds are bred using classical genetics, giving us and the gardening public open pollinated true-breeding lines.

The opportunity to provide unique cultivars for the organic community was an inspiration. Now we have the Purple Sweet Corns, Tiger’s Eye Sunflowers, the tall and grand Marigolds including Red Metamorph, China Cat, Orange Sunshine and La Ribera, and Nutribud broccoli, Swanlake melons, Gaia Snap Bush beans, True Gold, True Platinum, Rainbow Inca, Martian Jewels, Double Red and Antholutea Sweet corns, Savoy kales, Turnip Grex, Three Beet Grex, Pearls of Heaven and Newburg onions, Opal Creek, Sugaree and Green Beauty Vine peas, Purple Parsley Bush peas, Early Moonbeam watermelons, Endurance, Gloriosa, Sunshine and Dragon’s Fire sunflowers.

As Peace Seeds moved north of its birthplace to Corvallis, Alan Venet and Cheryl Lee began Southern Oregon Organics, another seed company devoted to heirlooms, organics and eco-sanity. Several years later they began a collaboration with David Seber leading to the online organic seed company Sow Organic Seeds.

The changing era and the discoveries of molecular biology brought genetically modified organisms into our awareness, our food stores and our lives. Now GMOs, the patenting and ownership of living creatures and the consequences of scientific discoveries in the realm of cells, viruses and macromolecules are increasingly prominent in our concerns.

These experiments in the genetics of food plants laced with genes from viruses, bacteria, fungi and other creatures are being tested on humanity, unlabeled and regarded as safe in many foods, mostly processed as if to disguise their origin.

Among the alternatives to the slaughterhouse food system are widespread gardens, extensive cultivation of soybeans for tofu, miso, tamari, tempeh and edamame, cultivation of gourmet and medicinal mushrooms, biodiverse silviculture, water, soil and species conservation and Mollisonian permaculture.

As an alternative to GMOs, from the Andes come many ancient, generationally tested food plants of great value. While we are familiar with potatoes, peppers (Capsicums) and winter squash (Cucurbita maxima), which are native to the Andes, these ecosystems have given rise to other useful crops including yacon, oca, maca, zambo, arracacia, the Andean lupin, mashua, mauka, ulluco, and others. Consider this example: Yacon is a relative of the sunflower, the Jerusalem artichoke, the dahlia, with large sweet tubers. It has several merits. The tubers contain inulin, a polymer of fructose that is not digested by our alimentary canal but is metabolized by the lactobacilli in our large intestine. Thus, it feeds us B vitamins, including B12.

Yacon plants have central crowns of eyes used for propagation, laterally and extending to underneath the crown are the edible storage tubers, up to 2 pounds, that are virtually tasteless on harvest but that sweeten up after several weeks in storage at room temperature. This is an example of a non-violent food plant. It provides a delicious vegetable containing the free amino acids isoleucine, valine, asparagine and glutamine.

Then too, in our Willamette Valley garden, transplanting a greenhouse grown crown division in a gallon or 2-gallon pot gives about 10 pounds of tubers in one growing season of April to November. They like lots of water during summer and early fall.

We have gardened in the Willamette Valley for 14 years. It has been our good fortune to lease 2.5 acres with deep and fertile soil and abundant water. Currently, our annual seed list is two pages long with 75 cultivars.

In 2003 we grew about 150 pounds of the tuberous, edible rooted Shamrock plant (oca, an oxalis), the second most common Andean food plant. At the turn of the millennium, I retired from Seeds of Change and resumed Peace Seeds.

Development of more nutritious crops for the Willamette Valley, Oregon, the Cascadia Bioregion, the economical and efficient use of our energy resources and increasing use of microorganisms to enhance our gardening are of interest to us now.

We continue to work for peace, overcoming and persisting through our own frailties and lack of insight, growing further into breeding for the public domain, selecting and developing nutritionally improved cultivars and engaging kinship gardens where and whenever possible, promoting gardening, conservation, organics and biodiversity.

Since the mid-1980s, we have published eccentrically with a three- to four-year interval the Peace Seeds Resource Journal. The last issue was Volume 9, 2001. These journals provide an ongoing account of our work with kinship gardening, free amino acid nutrition in our food plants, the phylogenetics of food plant orders and families under headings of Planetary Ecology, Gardening, Botanical Science, Health and Nutrition.

Acknowledgements and Appreciation: Extensive thanks go to many folks for their myriad contributions to Peace Seeds and a healthy, fertile world. The following are some of the most prominent contributors: Eric Ackerson, Doug Ackland, Alan Adesse, Aprovecho, Monk Bergin, Jerry Black, Lindsay Bradshaw, Olaf Brentmar, Alice and Hal Brown, Heather Coburn, Craig Crowder, Carol Deppe, Don Eminhiser, Ianto Evans, Yvonne Frost, Peter Gilman, Kathy Ging, Green Journey’s Steve and Aline, J.J. Haapala, Gabriel Howearth, Frances Hoffman, Scott Jarvis, Carl Jones, Kusra Kapuler, Lester Ketchie, Tracy and Dan Lamblin, Peter Liebes, Lost Valley Educational Center, Peter Miller, Steve Northway, Rich Pecoraro, Jennifer Peterson, Christian Petrovich, Joe Reeder, Steve Rose, Chris Roth, Marcus LaRusso, Bina Schulte, Seed Saver’s Exchange, Howard Yana Shapiro, Hope Shepherd, Curtis Showell, George Stevens, John Sundquist, Taylor, Craig Thomas, Tobias, Louisa Tompkins, Scott Vlaun, Judy Weiner, Ken Williams, Frank and Susan Wise, Coelesta Yeoman and the many other people who have planted, weeded and shared with us the work, joy and trials of life. Distinguished thanks go to Dr. Robert Nagourney for successfully treating my non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

By Alan Kapuler.

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