Seeds of Organic Farming: Plant Breeding & Preserving Diversity

Scientist, Organic Farmer & Seedsman Alan Kapuler Discusses Organic Farming’s Past, Present & Future and Plant Breeding

Alan Kapuler graduated from Yale University in 1962 when he was just 19. He went on to receive a Ph.D. in Molecular Biology from Rockefeller University. He is a seed saver, plant breeder, painter, organic farmer and public domain plant breeder advocate who co-founded Seeds of Change. He lives in Corvalis, Oregon. Kapuler shares the history and the origins of the California organic farming movement and its parallels with the national organic farming movement, as well as his own personal story and evolution as an agriculturalist, geneticist, organic grower, seed saver, plant breeder and biologist.

Interviewed by David Kupfer

Connecting with Nature

ACRES U.S.A. What was your first exposure to agriculture?

ALAN KAPULER. When I was nine or ten, my parents got an old chicken barn in upstate New York they bought for a summer country house. It was a big, long, low-ceilinged chicken barn they wanted to turn into a house, a place to live during the summer, as we lived in Brooklyn. We would go up there every summer for years. We used to get fresh corn and strawberries from a man who lived down the road. He had a field of corn and a bunch of strawberries. I remember that was the liberating experience of my life. It was probably one of the most formative things that happened to me because it was the first time I would go out in the corn and nobody knew where I was. I remember being safe in the cornfield. Back in Brooklyn I was getting beat up for one reason or another.

ACRES U.S.A. How old were you at this time?

KAPULER. I was nine. It was horrible growing up in Brooklyn, the general experience was one I would not give to anybody else. I remember very strongly that I could go into that strawberry patch and eat until I was sick. I loved it. Of course it was 30 or 40 years later that I found out that my family actually came from Germany and Russia and they had been farmers. And so my parents, who were professionals, had no idea that even went on, and they were trying to figure out how I could end up being a seed sower and a farmer when they had it all planned that I would be a scientist and a professor. I ended up going to high school and college and then graduate school, and I got out being a molecular biologist. I got into my late 20s, and I was an assistant professor at the University of Connecticut in biology. I worked with a group of viruses and many of the enzymes that make up genetic material. Somewhere in that sequence I got into the psychedelic revolution. There were many different steps in that, but most striking was sitting in a creek for six hours with Ron McComb. He had come across the country as part of Country Joe and the Fish’s entourage called the Union Light Company, and he and his buddy were the Union Light Company. They did lightshows using liquid projection and slides. I was a graduate student in molecular biology, but I used to like to go to the Fillmore East and listen to rock and roll. I was working more than 100 hours a week doing molecular biology and I would take off five hours on Saturday night because I needed a break, and that would be my break. I would hop in a cab, go to the Fillmore, listen to the 11 o’clock show until 2 in the morning and come back and go right back into the lab. I believe that intrinsically all us urban kids raised in fairly heavily constrained circumstances — and in many ways the school system is a continual tribulation against freedom — were being constrained in one way or another to be able to adapt to a society which in many and most ways is truly sick in the way it interacts with the Earth. The society we live in is so destructive of the natural world. Here it is you’re working on molecular biology so you can help the world so you can make more discoveries, and they tell you you’re doing good and you’re going to cure cancer and you’re going to help humanity, and you realize it’s all a lie. It’s a well-fabricated lie of materialism that ends up manipulating us in such a way that we believe that we’re doing good, but when you jump another level and look out at the Earth, just like if you were to jump back 300 years and look at the United States, you would see streams abundant with fish, you’d see the skies filled with birds, you’d see game all over the place, you would see people living in communities and tribes in a basically peaceful interaction with the whole environment. Now what do you see? I believe we got that basic limited programming and didn’t get plugged into the Earth. You know it’s the old joke about where does milk come from; it comes from a container that you buy in the supermarket. We know not that many people have ever squeezed the teats of a cow and known what that was like, or dug their hands into the fertile earth and smelled it and tasted it.

ACRES U.S.A. After you had this series of experiences and epiphanies what direction did you move in?

KAPULER. I got out of academia and went first to British Columbia and then to Oregon. Then I moved into a commune and lived with a bunch of people. Everyone was having a good time, and they were doing the same thing; they were taking a lot of psychedelics and going through circles and rituals where all of a sudden you get in touch with a higher consciousness. When I was 31 years old I walked into the field with a bunch of potatoes and onion starts. I knew nothing about gardening, but I had raised orchids as a kid and had been in greenhouses so I knew a little about plants. I started growing my first garden at the LASER (Latin American Studies of Esoteric Religions) Farm on Thompson Creek Road in the Applegate Valley in Southern Oregon in 1972.

ACRES U.S.A. How did you get to the Applegate Valley?

KAPULER. I left the East Coast in a van with two friends and a dog. I was on the way to British Columbia, and I drove down to Baja, California, and came back from Baja and drove up and stopped at this farm in Oregon. I stopped there overnight and met a few people I liked a lot, but then I was on my way. I had already arranged to go to British Columbia to meet up with my friends David Suzuki and his girlfriend at the time, Julia Gerwing. They were both on the facility of UBC in zoology, botany and microbiology. Six of us bought 35 acres on Sonora Island. It was all set up; we were going to live communally. I got to the border and they said to me, “Do you smoke pot?” I said yes. They said, “We won’t let you into Canada.” I went back to the farm where I’d just been and said “Can I hang out here? Can I help?” I started to garden because we had no money and we had no food. I figured out how to grow food and all of a sudden I knew that life was what mattered. I gave up my position as Assistant Professor of Virology at U. Conn and ended up being an organic farmer, and I knew enough genetics so I could start to grow gardens and eventually breed new, original cultivars for the public domain. The farm broke up after 11 months, and I ended up moving to Jacksonville, and six of us rented a communal household for $90 a month. We had a house and a backyard, so I started a garden in the backyard.

ACRES U.S.A. When was this happening?

KAPULER. This was in 1975. We went out and pulled gladiolas in February in the cold for $1.91 an hour. So here I am with a Ph.D. in molecular biology from Rockefeller University and I’m working for $1.91 an hour because I really believe in social justice, and I believe that a revolution had to take place at the same time. You can only move your own pawn, so I moved my pawn into the field. I realized, ‘you’re going to spend $1.91, you work an hour and that’s going to give you one pack of seeds.’ So I’m at the kitchen there cleaning out a buttercup squash that we had grown in the backyard, taking the seeds and throwing them in the compost, and looking at myself and saying, ‘in two and a half months you’re going to go buy those seeds.’ So that got me into seed saving. I took garlic, chopped off the bottom and threw it in the compost and realized the bottom I just threw away is the thing that grows. We eat the top, but the bottom is what grows, usually – and then I remembered carrots, cut the top off and throw it away. Parsnips, radishes, all the pieces that grow you throw them in the compost. I started planting them all. For three years I ate the same garlic. I could plant it, grow it, eat it, plant it, grow it, eat it, again and again. You take a melon, you save the seeds, you eat the melon; you don’t kill anything. I thought, ‘wow, this is a major change in the paradigm; this is how you change the world.’ In those years I did that religiously and at the same time I started collecting and saving the seeds of everything that people gardened. At one time we were growing 120 kinds of tomatoes. Pretty soon I got yellow-orange-pink striped, pleated, hollow, long, thin — every kind of different morphology — plants with all different kinds of characteristics. Very soon we had a seed company because we had no resources or income. I thought if we’re going to have seeds, why not start selling a few seeds and make enough back to cover our gardening costs. We called that seed business Stonebroke Hippie Seeds. The nickname was Saint Hip Seeds. That led to Peace Seeds. Myself and two partners, one was Lina Sylvester who became my wife, and Alan Venet, because he got a farm in Williams and his father put up the money, we agreed that once the seed company decided to go out of state and publicize itself and offer seeds nationally, I wouldn’t use Stonebroke Hippie Seeds, I would change the name. I changed it to Peace Seeds, which he liked even less than Stonebroke Hippie Seeds. So that was a thread that eventually led to Seeds of Change.

ACRES U.S.A. Could you describe the culture of the early days of organic farming as you perceived them?

KAPULER. Organic farming really in some ways directly came out of the 1960s in the Haight where the psychedelic revolution moved many middle class kids out of the cities and suburbs and into the countryside, mostly on the West Coast. Years later I talked to Howard Shapiro and asked him what he thought of organic farming. He said for him it started in the Civil Rights movement in the South when he went down into Alabama, Georgia and Mississippi, and he was living with black folks who liked to eat collards. He saw that they saved their own seeds because there were no seeds you could buy for collards. The white Caucasian society did not grow seeds for the black people in the South; they grew what they did for their commercial industry. For me it was really coming to Oregon in the early ’70s and gardening because we needed to grow food and I didn’t want chemicals and poisons, and I wanted to be involved in life.

ACRES U.S.A. What were the key underlying philosophical reasons you continued in organic farming?

KAPULER. People might know about tomatoes and peppers, but they don’t know about the solanaceous genera. They don’t know that there are 94 genera in the solanaceae — the potato, eggplant, tobacco, tomato family. And then you go look at the USDA collection, and they’ve got 50 of the genera. The USDA collection is one of the great collections of seeds in the world so how come half of the genera in a major food crop plant family are not in the USDA collection?” What are we doing? At the same time, we are destroying ecosystems, and we are eliminating diversity as if diversity doesn’t matter, as if diversity isn’t the staff of life. Diversity is what got us all here — diversity of foods, diversity of medicines, diversity of ecologies, diversity of environments, the combination of all that has supported the growth of this fantastically wonderful, biologically rich world, and we’re in the process of knocking it down with the hubris of the human usefulness doctrine, which is that if we don’t use it, we eliminate it. This is how we view almost everything in the biosphere. The ones we use are the only ones that count. And as the forces keep manifesting at one point we, as an evolving species were on the upswing, the world was so dense, the forest was so endless, the trees were so huge. Well the trees are real sticks now in most places, the big trees are almost all gone. We’re logging and ending some of the most diverse forests left. Those of us who are organic growers, we’re part of a congregation of people who are sensitive enough and believe that we should do something else, and organics has made it possible to do something else, to make a living, support a family and work to the betterment of everybody’s cause. Organics is the hope for the whole world.

Plant Breeding Icons

ACRES U.S.A. Who were some of your early sustainable agriculture role models?

KAPULER. I thought very highly of Luther Burbank. I later read some of his original books and it took me a while to figure out that he was prejudiced against interbreeding of different human races. The potato story inspired me for years. Burbank saw one mature fruit on a potato plant in 17 acres of White Rose potatoes, and he watched during the whole season. When he went out to get it, he couldn’t find it to harvest. He went back the next week and still couldn’t find it. Finally he searched the whole area and the dog had gone through the field and knocked the potato ball off under a leaf on a neighboring plant. He found that it had 23 fertile seeds and he planted the 23 fertile seeds. Two of them came up with this new brown russet potato that became Burbank’s Russet potato. That story inspired me about why it’s worth doing genetics and being interested in growing crops. I wrote a 100-year anniversary catalog in commemoration of Burbank, a Peace Seeds catalog with Burbank on the cover. It was 1993 because 1893 is when he published his first catalog. Mendel, the monk who did the breeding of peas, was an inspiration because here was a guy who worked for 30 years as the abbot of a monastery and he published a couple of papers which were ridiculed in the European establishment, and after he was dead for 20 years, they rediscovered it, and the laws of genetics came out of the work that he did. In some ways I would say that the one who really inspired me to get into organic, sustainable agriculture and has been my most profound teacher is John Sundquist of Rivers Turn Farm in Coburg, just north of Eugene. He taught me a lot about going from a gardener to a farmer. He would plant LSB – lettuce, spinach and broccoli. He would put the same seeds in the same sower and would plant these lines of mixed lines of vegetables. You pull out one, then the next, then the next. We got into seeds together. I became friends with him after he was introduced to me by Kathy Ging, who is also a good friend of mine from Southern Oregon. In terms of right now my inspiration is my wife Linda and my daughters, Kusra, Serena and Dylana and my friends who do organic agriculture. In terms of the star-studded crew of known agronomists and agriculturalists, I find that the most brilliant is Bill Mollison. When you listen to him you realize he isn’t making it up and he isn’t reciting it out of a book. He knows about it because he has done it.

ACRES U.S.A. Are there any books that you think are particularly on the mark for organic growers?

KAPULER. One book I find really useful on organic agriculture is Vilmorin-Andrieux’s The Vegetable Garden from 1885; written by the wife of the great agriculturalist in France, Vilmorin, who began the seed company of the same name. To me this is the prime manual for the Eurocentric heirlooms. Somebody else who inspired me in agriculture, not organics per se, but in biodiversity, was David Theodoropolous known in the trade as J. L. Hudson. Hudson when he bought Harry Saier’s business in 1973, I must have gotten a catalog very quickly after that and started ordering seeds. I remember the first time I ordered seeds I had no idea what I was doing. I bought 50 kinds of seeds; I mixed them in a pile and I planted them in a flat. I threw away the labels, and when they grew up and flowered I had to identify them.

ACRES U.S.A. How did you apply your educational background to growing vegetables?

KAPULER. I had molecular training so I started squeezing the juices, and looking for free amino acids. I knew that proteins were made out of amino acids. I got some sheets of glass and did some thin layer chromatography. I went to the dump, got some glass windows, cleaned off the windows, got some cellulose powder from Sigma chemical company and some rubbing alcohol and then ninhydrin which develops a color reaction with the amino acids. You spray the cellulose after you’ve spotted the juice of the tomatoes on the bottom and run the solvent up so it moves and separates the different amino acids. I found out that tomatoes are loaded with free amino acids, and free amino acids make proteins. I thought, how is it that Rockefeller University graduate school, which is supposed to be the best graduate school in the country if not the world in molecular biology and biochemistry, never said tomatoes had free amino acids; they only talk about proteins. Everybody is hung up on proteins, and our digestive systems break down proteins and give you free amino acids. When you eat a protein you don’t turn that into another protein until you break it into amino acids and rebuild it from amino acids. I had a friend who was still in academia and I sent him five samples. He did HPLC, high pressure liquid chromatography and said “Oh, there’s 17 out of 20. Seventeen of the amino acids used for proteins are in tomato juice.” Unbelievable. And so you make a sauce, you add a few onions and you add a few other vegetables, and you have all 20 amino acids. In fact that was when it occurred to me that minestrone is amino acid soup. And then I understood this other thing at the time when Shurtlieff and Aoyagi’s books on tofu, tempeh and miso came out. Miso is made when you ferment soybeans and they break down from fermentation into amino acids, and when you drink miso soup you’re drinking amino acid soup. A lot of things fit together. We have people eating too much protein, not enough amino acids, because you don’t need the proteins, you need the amino acids. You could retool the whole diet for humanity, reduce the need for proteins, increase the amount of vegetables, and you could make a healthier society, right?

ACRES U.S.A. How has the organic farming movement changed our society?

KAPULER. It’s the feedback loop between people recognizing that poisoning the Earth with chemicals, pesticides and herbicides poisons the water, the soil and our food, and you get diseases. We do not need to introduce more pain and suffering in a world awash in violence. Agriculture has its problems: weeds, timing, fertility maintenance, cover crops, rotations, understanding legumes and their part in the whole cycle and the microbia. We have a larger population on the Earth, and we need to grow food more effectively, but we need to grow it with enough abundance and nutritional quality. The biotech people say we need these new techniques to be able to feed the world. It’s an outright lie. It’s just like war is peace. You know Huxley’s Brave New World or Orwell’s 1984 — it’s the same level of systematic lies. There’s always a war going on, there’s always some thing that you have to be frightened about, keep the fear level up so you can’t pay attention to what is really happening. Organic agriculture is just a young development in the world in terms of feeding a lot of people, and we haven’t figured out the population issue in any real way, but again, we could. The population issue is a little bit subverted by the fact that the military gets so much support for so many things that it poisons the society in that it takes the money away from education, and it’s clear that as you increase your educational level and awareness, you are more interested in making sure your children are well taken care so you do better with having the time and the circumstances for three kids, rather than 13. Education has a way of increasing your sensitivity toward the larger circumstances, and I don’t think it means that peasants aren’t educated, or that people living on land aren’t aware, but in a very complicated society, education helps us get out of the muck, out of the mire of all the limited views that come from growing up in small neighborhoods with a lot of prejudices. Now the military gets the money rather than it going to the people. There’s a misuse of the resources, and some people have inordinate amounts of money and some people have absolutely nothing. Some people have no vision of a future, and other people think that the world belongs to them.

ACRES U.S.A. As a community, how would you describe the organic farming movement?

KAPULER. Diverse. Committed. Becoming increasingly corrupted. This whole development now of national certification and manipulation of the conditions of what it means to grow food means we are replacing essentially one monoculture system with another monoculture system. Really what we need is more people in the field. We need land reform; we need social reform; these are major issues. If you don’t like machines, and I don’t, you need more people. You have more fun when there are more people. Being out in a field alone with a tractor is no fun. Being out in a field with 20 people who love one another is a great time. Agriculture is a communal and collective experience, and we’ve reduced it to a solitary, demeaning experience. The farmer is working for the banks, and he is working for the chemical companies. Organic people don’t want to do that, but they’re still stuck with the fact that land is too expensive, and you don’t have enough of a workforce, so you’re between a rock and a hard place. I say that organics, up until now, has been basically developed by very highly motivated people and I think it still is, but the big corporations and the big collectives who do the food processing are getting into the action and there are very adept scoundrels very active in wanting to corrupt the movement. The transgenetic stuff, the new genetics coming out of molecular biology, is their current tool for manipulating the view in the population that this stuff is the next savior. It’s pure tech optimism; it’s a compendium of lies. It could be worse than radioactivity; it already has some dangerous signs, and we’re tinkering in life’s toolbox with no appreciation of the sophistication and depth that the genetic apparatus has from being developed over billions of years of uninterrupted growth.

ACRES U.S.A. You were describing the community of organic farmers. Did you have any further characteristics that you wanted to relate?

KAPULER. They’re enthusiastic; they buy good food; they love their kids; they don’t want war, they want peace on Earth. This is a common thread through most of us. We want to make beautiful ecosystems; we love to be in gardens; we appreciate beauty and flowers, and fragrance, and I can tell you when you walk into an ag store and it smells like chemicals, it’s nothing like walking into a greenhouse with fragrant orchids and beautiful roses. The chemicals are not what we want. We want holistic organisms working together; we need to figure out how good combinations of organisms make good healthy ecosystems. And right now we need to build back ecosystems because we are destroying them, and our resources for rebuilding ecosystems are organisms, and as we eliminate the organisms, we eliminate our tools and our future.

Organic Farming: Evolving Movement

ACRES U.S.A. As a social movement then, from your view over the past 30 years, how would you describe its evolution?

KAPULER. The organic movement has provided an economic force for opposing the wanton destruction of the biosphere by greed-driven and limited view individuals and groups. It’s a force for good, and a force for light in the world, a force for peace and well-being. The organic movement is probably the best hope we’ve got. I see that most of the publishing industry is incredibly corrupt, manipulated and limited. I see the media is captivated and denied in most times from expressing a lot of stuff. There’s a lot of repression, suppression of important issues like pollution. We still don’t have consensus because most people don’t want to recognize what’s going on. The organic movement socially, politically, economically has been growing. It’s successful. That’s why it’s running into strong opposition from the conventional society of poison agriculture, because we are economically successful. The USDA spends a lot of money supporting and subsidizing conventional agriculture — every dollar for conventional, you need a dollar for organics. It’s about time we explored it and developed it. It is underfunded, unrecognized and denied by most of the power structure, from the UN to the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank — these are all criminals. The United Nations is not a united nations; it is a discouraged, destroyed, demoralized attempt to make a one-world forum. It doesn’t take a genius to walk it into a supermarket and look at the redundancy of needless products. The economic system that we have is in the attempt to make wealth or an attempt to make products to sell as materialism. What are we doing? Some cats and dogs have better food than people. There are laws that say since you’re going to feed your cat and dog the same bag of food for its whole life, it’s got to have all the vitamins and all of the essential minerals. People don’t get that. The meat industry is a travesty from the time way back when the muckrakers and Ledyard Stebbins wrote those things about the slaughterhouse industry. It’s the same slaughterhouse industry today, but it’s well-disguised. We are immersed in absurdity.

ACRES U.S.A. How do you view the organic farming movement and issues of scale?

KAPULER. I think that to the degree that U.S. agriculture has been subsidized, if the government decided to subsidize organic farming, we could change the scale entirely. Food should not be shipped far away. You need to eat locally grown, in-season. That’s the best, healthiest stuff. There are some exceptions to that, but they are not big relative to the scale we are talking about. In addition there are the food systems of native peoples that have been superseded by our industrial ones. And also we need to change the density of population in the cities; we need to reinvest in humanity. We need to give land access and meaningful work to our citizens. So many people work jobs they can’t stand. Let’s put them in the fields. There’s a basic level in which agriculture is good for everybody. I don’t say everybody needs to do it all their lives, but there’s a certain kind of work service to the community — if you eat, you should do some growing, do some farming. We don’t really recognize that.

ACRES U.S.A. Do you think there’s a real danger that the organic farming movement can or has already become a victim of its own success?

KAPULER. It’s a victim in the sense that the national government has started to be involved in it, and starts to regulate it because after all, they want you to prove that what you do is organic. But you can use all the poisons and chemicals you want in conventional agriculture and you’re not going to have to prove anything. I think it’s a status quo society trying to marginalize the organic movement.

ACRES U.S.A. How do you view the farm labor issue?

KAPULER. We need people on the land. We need more respect for all those who grow food. We need more people involved in backyard gardening. Get rid of all the lawns and turn them into diverse food gardens. In every urban community all we have to do is take advantage of the humans and the resources. For example, if we decided that everybody who grows an organic garden gets a tax rebate, you watch what would happen. And the if you had certain other kinds of subsidies, everybody who grows a couple of “useless species” that are in their local ecosystem and maintains them would be conservators of local diversity. And so instead of sitting in the house watching television you could actually be working with your neighborhood and you could help foster a sense of community. You know what happens then? Crime goes down, and less young kids in jail busted for drugs and for weapons and all this stuff. You would change the ethic about what it is to be respected.

ACRES U.S.A. What’s your vision for the organic movement?

KAPULER. All agriculture must become organic. Poisoning the water, poisoning the air, polluting the soil, are crimes against the biosphere. This is everybody’s well-being. This is the seventh generation consequence; you can’t keep destroying life as if it’s endless because it’s not endless. We have “private” land owned by individuals or groups of people, and then there’s public land, public parks, public domains. But it turns out that in reality all the public land is private. If I go to the beach and I’m a peaceful person and I want to camp out on the beach, I can’t because the sign says you can’t camp out after 10 o’clock. I’m a citizen of this country. How come I can’t go camp on the beach? So what I’m saying is all the public land is held in private. So the vision, partly, is to redistribute the population into the “public” lands, which then become used to grow food and diversity, oxygen, water and health, and we rebuild the ecosystems and get people out of these tight urban circumstances into more naturally beautiful circumstances where they can work and live together and feel better. We have a lot of land co-opted in huge monocultures.

ACRES U.S.A. What criticisms do you have of the organic farming movement today?

KAPULER. There aren’t enough people involved in it and not enough subsidies to help fund developments of what we need to know. For example, we don’t know very much about the mycorrhiza; we don’t know very much about bacteria in the soil. We don’t know much about the sustainable community of the invisibles that make it possible to grow the plants that we use. We need to have more work done on developing organic agriculture to be more productive and to be more able to feed all of us. The microbia in soil and our digestive systems have common features and need further exploration and development.

ACRES U.S.A. Can you describe the work you have been doing in last decade or so?

KAPULER. I’ve been interested in such things as the amino acids in organically grown vegetables; the amino acids used for protein synthesis; and I’ve been interested in biodiversity and the structure of biodiversity. I began exploring biodiversity and began to use a system of mapping that allows us to track anything we are interested in the world of flora and to be able to see any individual plant in terms of its perspective of all the plants in the world. That level of being interested in the individual reflected through the whole has been an active part of my last 15-20 years, and in that sense we’ve developed kinship gardening — we’re laying out gardens based on phylogeny because more and more organisms are disappearing and I wanted to find some way to be able to encourage people to grow more diversity. To do that they have to have an idea about why that’s interesting and where it fits into a larger context. During the last 20 years every two or three of four years, myself and several of my friends, write articles for a journal called the Peace Seeds Resource Journal, and those journals then give the ongoing account of the issues that we are working on — kinship layouts for the world flora, kinship layouts for the families like the agaves — the maguay for example of Mexico and the Americas, one of the primary food plants of the Mexican people before corn, beans and squash were domesticated. We moved into a half-acre lot in Corvallis with a small house that was actually an old garage, and during the years we’ve added more rooms to be able to have room for my daughters, and we built a greenhouse in the back. When I was a kid I liked orchids so I figured my kids might like orchids. I’ve got maybe a thousand orchids in the greenhouse. I don’t have the resources or the wherewithal to travel around the world and look at all the plants; it’s easy to get seeds and grow them yourself and to look at what grows all around the world. So we have thousands of different kinds of plants that are representative of most of the ecosystems on the Earth, and that has given me some direct experience and knowledge about what they are, and how they grow, and what they look like, and how their flowers are and how they smell, and whether they’re foods. I’ve also been interested in the food system because being in organic agriculture and being a seedsman meant that the more I could explore what people use as food, for herbs, for medicine, for fiber, the more I really understand what goes on in terms of people handling these and making products out of them. Nothing replaces direct experience. Like having tomatoes and potatoes, it was nice to grow hundreds of kinds of tomatoes and potatoes, just to see that not all potatoes are Russet Burbank potatoes or big red slicing tomatoes. That has all been part of the process of developing a broader base of understanding about what humanity does and what we have as resources for respecting the diversity and seeing how essential it is for the long-term health and well-being of everybody and wanting to work out ways to support and increase the respect and caretaking of our natural resources.

ACRES U.S.A. Are you optimistic about the state of the organic farming movement? And if so, what are some of the sign posts that you see that give you greater optimism?

KAPULER. I am optimistic about the movement, in the way that I am optimistic about the future. I see that a whole bunch of the kids from the hippies are getting the message that peace on Earth and goodness and love, kindness, cooperation and sharing are the basic modalities, and the rest of the stuff is just shucks. I see a lot of people have gotten it from the ones who were courageous enough to step out in the ’60s — their children, they got the message that a larger workforce of kids who are committed to it is needed. I think that’s the future. And as to the sign posts of what’s going on, I think as the biotech industry continues to make catastrophe after catastrophe with their stupidity and hubris, their arrogance and their power, that more people will recognize that we have to change the structure that is going on in the way all these industries and all these governments are controlling the lives of the people rather than serving the lives of the world’s peoples.

For more information about Alan Kapuler, visit PeaceSeedsLive.

Originally published in the May 2018 issue of Acres U.S.A. magazine

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