170: Don Tipping on Seeds and Plant Breeding

Cultivating the future through seed saving and education.

Don has been offering hands-on, practical workshops at Seven Seeds Farm since 1997.  His farm is a small, organic family farm in the Siskiyou Mountains of SW Oregon; situated at 2,000 feet elevation on a 7,000 foot tall-forested mountain with rushing spring fed creeks flowing through the land and nestled among old growth forests.
Don helped to found the Siskiyou Sustainable Cooperative, which manages a 300 share CSA, a commercial seed growing operation, and an equipment co-op and internship curriculum among e 12 cooperating farms.  He also co-founded the Family Farmers Seed Cooperative, a seed growing, marketing and distribution cooperative comprised of 10 western organic farms. 
He sits on the board of the Rocky Mountain Seed Alliance and is a regular contributor to the Oregon State University Small Farms educational program.  Don is also a charter member of the Open Source Seed Initiative (OSSI) as a plant breeder and a seed company advocate.  Don is regularly sought out as a teacher, collaborator and consultant in the Pacific Northwest.

In this podcast:

Greg chats with an organic seed farmer and educator Don Tipping who shares his story about how he started growing seeds. Don also explains how and why a couple cooperatives got started including the Open Source Seed Initiative. He has been able to open his farm to host intensive seed academy classes and he guides Greg through the topics that are covered.

Listen in and learn about:

  • His opportunity to run a small seed school in Boulder Colorado
  • Meeting Carl Hoven who taught biodynamic agriculture
  • How a farm system can express its individuality
  • Meeting people who grew organic seeds and how he started seed saving
  • What he means when he says “Farm System”
  • Why he thinks seed saving is iconic to agriculture
  • What the difference is between growing seeds and growing food
  • Why it is important to be able to grow a good crop before trying to grow seeds
  • The life cycle of plants and why plants grown for seeds look so differently
  • Agroecology and how that improves the earth
  • Seven Seeds Farm and what they do with the 12 of 40 acres of that they work
  • Siskiyou Sustainable Cooperative CSA and how that helps develop relationships between customers and farms
  • The cooperative communication that develops between the growers and the customers through one farm that administers the program
  • The collaboration offshoot of the CSA co-op that became an Equipment Sharing co-op
  • Family Farmers Seed co-op that banded together from CO, NM, WA, ND, ID, OR and CA to offer organic seeds and support through marketing and expertise
  • How he is working on certain areas of self-sufficiency and working with others who can do other areas
  • Determining the absolute essentials of human life and his goal to articulate that to others
  • What air, water, and seeds have in common
  • Open Source Seed Initiative (OSSI) and how it tries to put the seeds into the public domain or the commons
  • Why this open source initiative is based on a good faith momentum and what the hope is for the future
  • What limitations are present to help protect the legitimacy of the seeds in the initiative
  • Biopiracy and how there is an attempt to respect the indigenous wealth of growing experience in seed traits
  • What he learned about farming and romancing failure
  • His experience with growing onions for seeds
  • His attempt to work directly with a local organic grower and how the farmer did not recognize the variety they were growing and almost cross pollinated two crops that should not have been

As well as:

  • His success – How he is cultivating new farmers and seed growers through his classes and how people are being motivated to have a difference. Additionally, seeing others light up as they experience seed harvests and make connections
  • His drive – Feeling like a small part of a symphony in the systems on the farm.
  • His advice – “Start small and harvest small mistakes.”

Don’s Book recommendations:       

Where Our Food Comes From: Retracing Nikolay Vavilov’s Quest to End Famine by Gary Paul Nabhan

Return to Resistance (1995-01-15) by Raoul Robinson

The Courses Don Offers:       

  • The five-day intensive Seed Academy on the Seven Seeds Farm taking place in Spring and Fall which explores botany, reproductive biology, plant breeding, selection, seed cleaning, which is a permaculture course on seeds. 
  • Editor’s Note: Check out Don’s Facebook page for details on upcoming workshops

How to reach Don:    

Website:  sevenseedsfarm.com

Seeds: Siskiyoucoop.com

Facebook: @SevenSeedsPermaculture


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1 Comment

  1. I knew about the breeding of animals, but I didn’t know that the same thing was done for seeds! That means that better seeds are constantly being developed. I’m going to see if I can get some better grass seeds for my lawn when I move!

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