Seeds of Strength: Native American Seed Sanctuary Sings a Song of Gratitude

By Tracy Frisch

Mainstream agriculture would have us believe that seeds are just another input — a commodity that farmers have to purchase in order to produce their crops. But there are other ways to think about seeds. For many Native Americans, seeds are cherished relatives with whom one has a reciprocal relationship. As they see it, seeds take care of them and they take care of the seeds.

Among the Haudenosaunee (pronounced how duh-noh-soh-nee and meaning “people of the longhouse”), singing seed songs restores the human connection with sacred seed. These songs are powerful enough to stir seeds from their slumber. Rowen White, founder of the Indigenous Seed Keepers Network, celebrates the revival of native seeds and the culture they support. “This land is again hearing the songs infused with gratitude,” she proclaimed.

Cleaning seeds from Buffalo Creek Squash by hand.
Cleaning seeds from Buffalo Creek Squash by hand.

But many factors have caused such relationships to fade away across indigenous communities. “Native American communities all over Turtle Island are in the same situation. Within a couple generations of people not planting their culture’s seeds and not singing the seed songs, these seeds can disappear,” White said.

White first became fascinated with indigenous crops as an 18-year-old student at Hampshire College from Akwesasne, the Mohawk nation in northern New York State. In the University of Massachusetts library, she found the book, Iroquois Foods and Food Preparation (1912-1915) written by an unconventional ethnographer who sat with women and listened to their stories about food. The book prompted her quest to look for these seeds in indigenous communities, introducing her to what would become her life’s work.

This is a story about how one group of people is renewing that special relationship with their ancestral seeds. It concerns the Haudenosaunee, the confederation of six tribes — the Mohawk, Onondaga, Oneida, Cayuga, Seneca and Tuscarora — that the French called the Iroquois. It reveals some of the things that indigenous people can teach those of us who have lost our instructions for relating to the natural world.

The Foundation of a Culture

The three sisters — corn, beans and squash — are central to the cultural and spiritual life of the Haudenosaunee, including their traditional song, dance and ceremony. Rowen White puts it succinctly. “Food and seed sovereignty are inextricable from the process of revitalizing our culture.”

“All the foods we eat and all the dances we do” revolve around corn and other treasured foods, declared Mary Arquette, a Haudenosaunee environmental activist, cultural educator and co-leader of the Native American Seed Sanctuary. As a long-time Akwesasne leader engaged in restoring traditional culture and food ways, she understands the importance of seed.

Arquette lives in Akwesasne (pronounced Ah-kwuh-sahs-nee), the Mohawk tribal territory in northern New York on the Canadian border. The place name, which means “land where the partridge drums,” refers to the region’s abundant wildlife.

Mary Arquette harvesting Six Nations Blue Corn in the sanctuary
Mary Arquette harvesting Six Nations Blue Corn in the sanctuary

Her emotional connection to native seeds goes back to her childhood. “I grew up in the garden, loving it,” she said. But beyond her individual experience, the seeds also underpin the collective identity of the Mohawk people.

“Keeping our language and our seeds alive is important, because without them we no longer exist as a people. Without them, we’re not able to communicate with the creator or with the other species on the planet. It’s the way we pick medicine. It’s the way we live,” she explained.

A Covenant With Corn

Arquette’s commitment to keep alive the seeds of her people is grounded in her culture. “We promised the corn that we would always take care of her babies if she would take care of ours.” But that promise was not always kept. “There were times when we forgot to be thankful,” she said.

Through their oral histories, the Haudenosaunee people are able to date their ancestors’ promise to the corn back to a precise historical moment more than two centuries ago, Arquette said.

In 1779, the Clinton-Sullivan campaign attacked the Seneca nation, one of the Mohawk’s sister tribes in the Haudenosaunee confederacy. The United States military expedition aimed to destroy the ability of the Six Nations to wage war on the new nation. Acting on orders of George Washington, General Sullivan burned one million bushels of native corn in western New York that the Seneca had put away until the next harvest. Sullivan’s troops also destroyed Seneca villages and hundreds of acres of their fruit orchards and cornfields. In attacking food supplies, agriculture and families’ homes, the military targeted women’s domain, Arquette said.

“With corn, we were supposed to be generous. Even when our cornfields burned, we rose up resiliently. We even learned to eat burnt corn,” Rowen White related.

Only 13 years before Sullivan devastated the Seneca, King George of England had issued the Proclamation of 1763, which prohibited colonists from establishing settlements west of a line drawn by England. That royal measure closed down westward expansion in order to mitigate conflict with the indigenous people of the continent. In one interpretation, this prohibition served as one of the motivations for the War of Independence. “George Washington was a big land speculator,” Arquette said.

She continued her narrative of that dark historic period. The winter that followed the Clinton-Sullivan campaign was unusually cold. With their villages decimated and their winter food stores wiped out, Seneca survivors sought refuge at Fort Niagara in Canada, where they were reduced to relying on rations for survival. Some people hid in caves. The profound dislocation of the Seneca prevented them from planting their crops again until 1799, and the tribe fell into despair.

As Arquette tells the story, the Seneca renewal began after one of their leaders, an older man named Handsome Lake, had a vision that led him to make a promise to the corn — that his people would always take care of her babies if she would care of theirs. The Haudenosaunee interpret this agreement to mean that they must plant corn every year.

Even while away at college as an undergraduate almost four decades ago, Arquette, a Cornell-educated veterinarian and toxicologist, said she managed to keep her ancestor’s promise by planting corn every year.

A Seed Sanctuary

For the past four years, the Native Seed Sanctuary has been multiplying the seed of endangered varieties of traditional Mohawk foods. The Seed Sanctuary is a collaboration between the Akwesasne Mohawk people, the nonprofit Seedshed and the Hudson Valley Farm Hub. The Seed Sanctuary grows crops on a 26-acre field at the Farm Hub, a nonprofit center for farmer training and research on 1,000 acres of good bottomland that was formerly a large sweet corn farm.

Growing out their seeds on ancestral Mohawk lands in New York’s Hudson Valley has agronomic benefits. That’s where the crops were selected, rather than in a colder, wetter climactic zone a five-hour drive to the north, where the tribe was relegated two centuries ago. The project has also been important for cultural renewal.

“When the land of the Haudenosaunee in the mid Hudson Valley was taken from the Mohawk people, they were forced to move much further north to their hunting grounds, which are on swampy land, where the St. Regis and St. Lawrence rivers come together along the U.S. border with Canada. The soil moisture and climate are different enough that their crops were not adapted to the conditions there,” explained Ken Greene, the visionary behind Seedshed and the Seed Sanctuary project.

A Powerful Vision

Greene is an organizational entrepreneur who finds inspiration in seeds. “Seeds are small and powerful, and every time we plant them involves a leap of faith,” he said.

Fifteen years ago, Greene founded the Hudson Valley Seed Library, which laid the groundwork for a similarly named heirloom seed company. More recently, he established Seedshed, a nonprofit that engages communities in seed stewardship practices that strengthen agricultural, cultural and biological diversity. Seedshed is unique in elevating culture at the same time as saving heritage seeds.

In Greene’s vision, seeds can serve as a vehicle for social change. He said he sees seeds “as time machines, part in the past and part in the present. With the act of planting, we are transforming the story in the future. We frame it as seed justice.”

Imagining possible directions for the organization, Greene came up with the concept of seed sanctuary. It would be a place where seeds can remain connected with their cultural roots.

“Some seeds are endangered and need a safe place to be cared for until they can return home,” he said. In other cases, he said the seeds are not coming from their home, so “we have to figure out where their home is.” Or maybe seeds from a particular culture or community are offered in a commercial seed catalogue and that culture or community would benefit from having more sovereignty over the fate of its seeds.

In another example, a single person may be hanging onto a variety that is important for a culture, whether for its ceremonial role or because it’s central for a food way. Circumstances like the aging of the seed keeper or the seed keeper being at risk of losing their land would jeopardize the variety’s future.

Seedshed does not swoop in and take control of a variety’s dwindling seed stock. Rather, it partners with the community or person in possession of the seed. They’re always the ones who get to make the decisions about how the seed is grown and what happens to it. The role of Seedshed would be to lend support and provide resources, such as skill sharing, access to land, and financial resources. “In each case, it may be different,” Greene said.

The Origins of the Seed Sanctuary

Greene was work-shopping his seed sanctuary idea when his friend Rowen White came for a visit. The Mohawk woman is a remarkable teacher and seed collector who besides founding the Indigenous Seed Keepers Network, also chairs the board of the Seed Savers Exchange and is the co-founder of a small seed company in northern California, where she lives.

Greene has called Rowen White his “seed fairy godmother.” Early in their acquaintanceship, he remembers telling her about Otto File corn from Italy, which is known for making amazing polenta. But from White, he learned that the Haudenosaunee had actually developed the origins of the variety.

During her visit with Greene, White entrusted her friend with some rare indigenous seeds that originated in the Hudson Valley. “These beans were jumping out of my bag,” she said. They were telling her that “they wanted to grow on this land,” Greene recalled. Before she handed over the seeds, the two friends made an agreement. “When I was producing more seeds, I would return them to the Indigenous Seed Keepers Network or we would work together to return them to their original community,” Greene related.

It was May when she left for the long drive across the country back to her home. “Corn was just sprouting in Kansas. I remember feeling exhilarated before my mind could kick in. They were probably GMOs doused with glyphosate, but they were still corn and they wanted to be sung to, too. My kids sang to them,” White said.

“The day that Rowen left, then director Bob Dandrew of the Hudson Valley Farm Hub called me,” Greene said. The director said that they recognized that the Farm Hub was on land that once belonged to indigenous people. He was asking what they could do to honor that history and shift the dynamics, Greene reported.

Ionawiienhaw and Karhatiron with Buffalo Creek squash
Ionawiienhaw and Karhatiron with Buffalo Creek squash

Contributing to the Farm Hub’s interest in incorporating Native Americans into the organization’s work was Bob’s discovery later in life that he had a Mohawk ancestor in his genealogy. “That was the call of seeds,” said White.

The phone call from the Farm Hub served as a perfect opening for Greene to present his seed sanctuary idea and mention that his friend Rowen White had just given him those indigenous seeds. The Farm Hub director replied, “What if we partnered with Seedshed?” With that overture, everything started coming together.

Greene phoned White, who was on the road, and they talked over their next steps. “Rowen said what would make it feel right is if we partnered with the nearest Mohawk community, Akwesasne,” which is also her home community, Greene recounted. “She told us the people she would like us to approach about it, to see if they were open.”

After Dandrew and Greene met with folks in Akwesasne, a group came forward that would become the core leadership for the Seed Sanctuary. By then it was really late in the spring of 2016. With all the partners contributing different skills, they managed to get their first Three Sisters garden planted. “We had to move super quickly,” he recalled.

Last year was their fourth season. “Every year we grow one indigenous corn variety. The first two years we grew Mohawk red bread corn. The third year it was he’gowa corn and in 2019 Six Nations Blue Corn.” In 2019 they grew 16 bean varieties of semi bush, runner beans and pole beans. Each year they also grow one sunflower variety, and different squash varieties of each species, or sometimes only one variety.

“Climatic challenges make some crops more successful than others,” Greene said. As far as squash goes, they mostly focus on large winter squash, such as Buffalo Creek squash, which ranges in size from 20 to 40 pounds each. “They’re very susceptible to pests and disease, especially when there is a lot of moisture,” Greene said. “We’ve also grown Canada Crookneck, which is similar to Butternut in flavor and texture. This winter squash has a bulb, which encloses the seed cavity, and a neck that can curve back on itself.”

Historic Trauma

In creating a sanctuary for endangered native seed varieties, Seedshed also works to create a safe space for cultural restoration and intercultural understanding. Along side reproducing seeds, the work has to involve cultivating trust.

At its inception, Akwesasne seed savers didn’t immediately embrace the Native Seed Sanctuary, according to Kenny Perkins, who leads the project in partnership with Seedshed and is now also a Seedshed employee. And he himself was “kind of suspicious,” he said. “We don’t allow non-natives into our ceremonies.” But over time, he said he got to know Greene and the others from Seedshed really well and he saw “that they got it — that understanding of the relationship between human beings and the earth.” And he was very impressed with the people from the Hudson Valley Farm Hub and how respectful they were.

Greene said that the Native Seed Sanctuary has experienced cultural tensions because there is “so much historical trauma around everything that happened.” Even in their cooperative seed work, where they have set as their intention to learn from each other and heal, issues sometimes arise. “Four years in, it doesn’t mean people won’t be triggered.”

Greene stresses the need for awareness. The seed partnership must grapple with questions like, “Where is the leadership centered and who is doing the support work? How can we deepen our relationships?” Working through these concerns has deepened the relationships in the seed collaboration and made it more special. “I wouldn’t feel like I’m doing the work if we shy away from those conflicts,” he added.

“This relationship with Akwesasne is ground-truthing our concept — that we are working in an ethical and culturally appropriate way,” Greene said. “The challenge we just talked about is also the big success — that we continue to build trust and deepen and expand the program. That trust has allowed this cultural restoration work as well as the revival of seed and food ways.”

In her work bringing endangered native seed varieties back from the brink, Rowen White has sometimes worked with unconventional partners, including the descendants of past adversaries. She hasn’t been afraid to forge unlikely relationships toward the goal of re-matriating lost seeds to their communities of origin.

The Annual Harvest

In early November, when the corn and beans have dried in the field, a small contingent of elders and young people make the five-hour drive from Akwesasne for the harvest. By then, the squash in their Three Sisters gardens has already been collected prior to the autumn frosts.

Beyond reproducing the seed of traditional native staple crops, the seed sanctuary also produces a significant amount of food for Akwesasne. “Our partners from Akwesasne lead the harvest ceremony and show how to harvest the crops and make selections. Some of corn is braided; some is loose. It all goes up to Akwesasne in a trailer in November,” said Greene.

Onondaga Sunflower with netting to protect seeds from the birds.
Onondaga Sunflower with netting to protect seeds from the birds.

One of the people who comes down to lead ceremonies is Kenny Perkins, who is involved in much of the ongoing cultural restoration work at Akwesasne. Like Mary Arquette, Perkins has fond early memories of hanging out in his family’s garden. As a boy, Perkins was also drawn to the longhouse and its ceremonial life. “At a very young age, I took to the songs. As a kid, I’d go the longhouse and only a dozen people would be there. In the 1970s and 1980s not many people went there. Today there’s been a revitalization of food and culture.”

The harvest ceremony is open to everyone who has helped in the growing cycle. It is trilingual — in English, Mohawk and Spanish. The Farm Hub has a language justice program to provide a safe space for all. The Akwesasne Mohawk translate their own words into English while a bilingual interpreter translates English and Spanish.

Raul Carreon is a farmworker at the Farm Hub, who was part of the crew tending 30 acres of mixed vegetables in 2015. He was invited into the Native Seed Sanctuary as an interpreter in 2017. At a panel discussion held about the project last January, Carreon described his involvement with the seed sanctuary as a life-changing experience. “When I first heard the language. I froze. It was the original language of this land,” he said.

As he waited for his first ceremony to begin, someone from Akwesasne offered some thoughts that penetrated deeply into Raul’s consciousness. They said that the seeds had chosen to be here and that everyone here was chosen to be here. And they spoke of the seed garden as a safe zone from anything negative. They said that one should only enter the garden with good intention and heart.

 The Wider Community

Each year after the harvest, Seedshed and the Hudson Valley Farm Hub hold an afternoon of harvest activities open to the public. In 2019, about 75 people gathered in and around a hoophouse to select and braid seed corn, thresh sunflowers, winnow beans, and enjoy samples of cooked Buffalo Creek squash and generous helpings of blue corn mush with maple, which was as close to ambrosia as many of us had ever tasted.

At the harvest event, youth from Akwesasne taught non-native participants how to select corn for seed. This year the Seed Sanctuary grew Six Nations Blue Corn. Only the long, non-brittle ears with straight rows and uniform kernels with no mold or insect damage made the cut. Braiding is used to conserve the best ears of corn for seed stock. Hung from rafters, it is protected from pesky rodents. In demonstrating the art of corn braiding, which requires that some of the cornhusks be retained, Mary Arquette made the craft look easy. Corn that wasn’t good enough to plant as seed would later be shelled and stored in secure metal garbage cans for food. The Mohawk use wood ash to process their corn for eating, as limestone is not common in their traditional territory. A very small fraction of the harvest was only fit for composting.

At another station, Kenny Perkins coordinated bean threshing and winnowing, with each variety being threshed and cleaned in turn. There were potato beans, skunk beans and many other distinctly colorful varieties. The black and white skunk beans resembled the starry sky.

First, people stomped on beans on a clean tarp to separate the beans from their pods. After the beans were shelled, everyone was able to try their hand at winnowing the beans. This entailed flipping them up in a specially designed winnowing basket to remove the chaff. The motion required was surprisingly difficult to master.

The gathering opened and closed with everyone standing in a large circle around a display of the harvest bounty. About eight Akwesasne Mohawk adults were present. They were leaders in traditional culture, who are the partners at the Seed Sanctuary, as well as young people who are learning to lead. They introduced themselves in their indigenous language and then translated their words into English.

In closing, we were asked to share one word that summed up our experience that day. The word ‘thankful’ captures the most commonly expressed sentiment.

Several of the Mohawk people made final comments. Kenny Perkins said he appreciated the camaraderie and laughter that comes from working together in community.

Levi Herne, a young man from Akwesasne, expressed gratitude to the Seed Sanctuary for “keeping the seeds strong.” He said, “It’s good to have a backup plan,” in case the crop in Akwesasne fails.

Ionawiienhawi Sargent is a young woman who completed the Rites of Passage program two years earlier. She said that, while fasting for her rite of passage, she had dreamt that the seeds were slipping away. Since then, she has been having more hopeful dreams of unity, love and trust — which are needed to sustain the food system.

Decolonizing the Diet 

“A good part of the seed and food that we receive goes back to the Akwesasne Freedom School,” where “students give thanks before they say hello,” Tina Square explained at a presentation about the Seed Sanctuary at a winter conference of the Northeast Organic Farming Association of New York. Square was formerly a cultural educator for the Native North American Travelling College.

Founded in 1979, the Akwesasne Freedom School has played a central role in Mohawk cultural resurgence, including the revitalization of the Mohawk language. Only the indigenous language is spoken at the school, and the curriculum follows the cycle of ceremonies. Students are taught mindfulness and reciprocity.

The school strives to provide traditional foods of the Mohawk culture to nourish the students. They are taught how to plant and grow traditional crops themselves. For fundraisers, parents make traditional foods such as squash pie.

Other initiatives in Akwesasne also promote indigenous culture. The Akwesasne Boys and Girls Club employs a traditional food garden for hands-on education. Elders make seed packets for the club’s children, who write about what seeds mean to them.

But Akwesasne is still far from self-sufficient in traditional foods, such as indigenous corns, beans and squash, and it has not been able to keep up with its residents’ growing demand for native foods. Without a grocery store on the reservation, almost all of the people’s food dollars get spent off the reservation, often at Walmart and other big box stores. On the other hand, there are a number of traditional food initiatives on this and other reservations, from growing native foods to cooking them.

Kenny Perkins, one of the indigenous co-leaders at the Native Seed Sanctuary, has the job of getting families back into gardening again at home at Akwesasne.

For many years the chemical contamination of the land at Akwesasne and waterways from industrial pollution discharged into the nearby St. Lawrence Seaway discouraged the Mohawk people in Akwesasne from growing their own food, and from hunting and fishing. It was so bad that turtles, a ceremonial food, met the criteria for hazardous waste due to high levels of PCBs.

For Perkins, the fact that the Native Seed Sanctuary is located on uncontaminated land in the Hudson Valley heightens its importance to the Mohawk nation. Fortunately, Akwesasne’s toxic load has been declining.

“Alcoa did their cleanup and in the last five or ten years, there has been a resurgence of families growing,” he explained. “My goal as a grower in the last 10 years has been showing people how we plant, how to save seed, when we plant, and about the moon cycle.”

Perkins was formerly the lead uncle for the “Under the husk” rite of passage program that’s offered to Akwesasne young people ages 14 to 18. They mentor the initiates and try to introduce the young people to traditional foods in place of highly processed foods and Dunkin Donuts.

There has been widespread confusion about what foods are indigenous. “Fry bread and lard are celebrated as native foods, but that was never part of our culture. It makes me mad when I see t-shirts with ‘Fry Bread Power’ written on them. We have broomcorn, calico corn, white corn,” Perkins said.

Canada Crookneck Squash.
Canada Crookneck Squash.

“Once a week we eat lunch together,” Perkins said. Every family brings some food, but with the amount of good that they’re able to grow at the Seed Sanctuary he said, “We are able to use the food as a teaching tool. We make corn mush, corn soup, and corn bread. We are able to incorporate it into our programming.”

“It’s so hard to change people’s palates away from processed food,” he said. They target people that are involved in sports, from runners to lacrosse players. They start eating corn and beans and squash and venison. Then they start to garden. They can tomatoes and freeze green beans and put aside corn, beans and squash.

Perkins has seen the impact of eating traditional foods on his people. “One of the kids told me that he started eating good food and noticed he felt stronger. Then he went away and stopped eating good food. He said his body started craving all that good fresh food.”

Sacred Seeds

Several of the people in this story spoke of corn and the other seeds in ways that would be alien to mainstream farmers. As Kenny Perkins said, “We’re having a relationship with those seeds. We talk to them and sing to them. That’s a good mind and an enduring body.”

Rowen White values red corn as her “treasured teacher.” She said that she has been growing her relationship with this corn since she was 17 years old. “Sometimes I’m thinking I am growing this corn, but the corn is growing me,” she declared.

Without any rites of passage to take her into adulthood, White said, “the corn and beans became my aunties and uncles, righting my path when I was in school and teaching me to be a generous mother.”

Scientists would agree with White when she asserts that, “all these heirloom seeds came into being because our ancestors were breeders,” and that “selecting corn from teosinte was a breeding achievement of our ancestors.”

But they would probably snicker at her statement that “the plants were asked permission” and again when she invokes the idea of “right relationship” as a prerequisite for success in plant breeding.

Akwesasne seed keepers acknowledge the wisdom and foresight of those who kept seeds alive in past generations, despite the harsh times they experienced. Perkins said that the heirloom seeds that he grows and saves derive some of their power and meaning from having been passed along through so many generations.

 A Temporary Measure

The Native Seed Sanctuary is intended as a temporary intervention for reproducing the Mohawk’s seedstock. “The goal isn’t for us at Seedshed to continue to grow seeds and foods to be sent up to Akwesasne,” Greene said. He believes that it’s important to talk about capacity in Akwesasne, in terms of skills and infrastructure.

At some point, he hopes that the seed sanctuary will be able to offer the same opportunity for another community in need.

Recently, Greene was invited to Japan to teach. “We went to visit the Hiroshima Seed Bank, which is being closed. It’s the last publicly accessible seed bank in Japan. We had discussions about how to get out as many varieties as possible.”

He is currently exploring whether it would make sense for the Seed Sanctuary to grow seed from Hiroshima. “We consider the U.S. impact on Hiroshima, which includes health, farming, and growing food. That has some synchronicity.”

The Power of Seed

Readers may be puzzled or confused by the cultural significance that the Haudenosaunee ascribe to the seed of their important food plants. But Rowen White believes that it would be a mistake to dismiss this seed work as only relevant to indigenous people.

She urges us to pay heed. “We all are living in diaspora, flung out to new places for countless reasons. Not one of us is untouched by that. As indigenous people who are closer to a sense of intactness, we can be a catalyst,” she said.

This article originally appeared in the January 2020 issue of Acres U.S.A. magazine

Rediscovering the Lost Art of Saving Seeds


Whether growing corn for the cows, grains for the bin or veggies for the table and market, farmer’s use a lot of seed. Yet, when it comes to mapping out the annual farm plan each season, too few farmers pencil in a plan to grow seed for their own use even though saving seed is one of the simplest and most cost-effective tools in the barn. Not only can growing your own seed can save you a bundle of money, it could possibly make you a lot of money to add to your bottom line.

History Repeats Itself

It wasn’t that long ago that the majority of American farmers saved seed from the annual crops they grew most often. They learned early on to appreciate the nuances of breeding their crops to have certain traits like higher yield, cold and heat tolerance, disease and pest resistance and adaptability to local growing conditions. These days, few farmers save seed. This trend began after the introduction of genetically modified seeds and the heavy-handed control over patents by the companies that produced them. Farmers and independent seed cleaners were slowly bullied out of breeding and cleaning their own seed. Today, the market is saturated with GMO and hybrid agricultural seeds that are easy to obtain in bulk locally and come with a much simpler bag-tag legal contract. However, if you are an independent farmer looking for a different variety that is open-pollinated or organic and non-GMO, then adding seed saving to your to-do list makes sense.

Additionally, growing your own seed can negate at least some of a farmer’s dependence on outside sources and provide a plentiful supply of high-quality, locally adapted, genetically diverse seeds that cost next to nothing to produce. And with all the uncertainty surrounding climate change and the pervasive genetic modification and patenting of seed stock, anyone who grows anything for a living should seriously consider adding growing seed to their routine.

Simple seed screens help clean and sort seeds of all types.

A Growing Business

All of the seed that farmers, gardeners and market producers buy each year is grown on a farm by someone — and that someone is usually not the seed company. They may grow a portion of the seed they sell, but most is produced by independent farmers and growers. There are many ways to get into the seed growing business and whether you have a big farm or a small one, you can either save money, make money, or both, by growing seed.

The first way to start growing seed for profit is by saving your own seed for on-farm use. Even if you don’t sell the seed, you are saving money in the long run. This is a no-brainer for those already growing crops that are naturally harvested for their seed. Wheat, corn, sunflowers, beans, rice, oats, buckwheat and many others fall into this category. You are already bringing a crop to seed for the mill or for livestock feed, so why not save some of it for sowing the next crop, too?

As for market gardeners, taking a certain crops from the market stage to the seed stage often requires very little extra room and effort. For example, you can save two or three year’s worth of lettuce seed in one season using less than four feet of garden row and still harvest all the fresh lettuce you need from those plants before they bolt to seed. To top that off, lettuce seed will germinate immediately after being harvested, so you not only get spring seed and a crop, but fall seed and a crop, too. What’s not to like about that? And while growers should never sell seed to anyone without going through the proper legal channels, most states allow the barter and trade of seed without restriction. In fact, the two biggest hurdles in saving seed for personal use are learning to protect variety purity, avoiding patent-protected seed stock, and providing adequate storage conditions.

In addition to growing seed for your own use, farmers can grow seed as a contract wholesale producer, as a stand-alone retail business, or as a part of a market garden enterprise. Contracting your growing services to a seed company is probably the most straightforward of the three and anyone with a basic understanding of seed saving and a willingness to learn can do it. Seed companies are always looking for new, motivated growers and are often willing to work with growers of all experience levels.

Growing seed can be a profitable business. A rough estimate of income for a dedicated contract seed grower can range from $10,000 to $80,000 per acre, depending on the amount and type of crops grown. Just one-tenth of an acre could theoretically fetch $4,000 under contract, or approximately $27,000 as part of a retail seed business. For example, a contract seed grower might earn $170/lb for jalapeño seed and a small contract along these lines might call for 15 lbs. of seed, which adds up to $2,550 for the grower. Of course, it doesn’t take hundreds of acres to grow 15 lbs of jalapeño seed. That quantity and then some can be grown on roughly 900 row feet depending on the variety. This makes single-variety contracts very doable even for small operations. The nice thing about growing seed on contract is that you only have to worry about bringing in and processing a quality crop of seed. The seed companies do the rest.

Another way farmers can make growing seed a profitable enterprise is by starting a retail seed business in which you are both the grower and the retailer. Keep in mind that seed companies have additional overhead and risks that contract growers do not, including testing, certification, packaging, labor, distribution, advertising and sales. Additionally, retailers rarely sell 100% of their seed stock each year, so there is always a certain level of loss. But like any business, a projected annual income based on production should always include potential losses. Likewise, there can be beneficial tax deductions for seed companies that choose to donate last season’s seed to charities and other good causes, so no seed need go to waste. For those who like the retail potential of growing seed, the best advice is to start small. If you have a market stall or farm store, either physical or online, these are perfect places to learn the trade by selling just a few of your favorite varieties each season and building up selection and scope as your seed saving skills and retail experience are honed. On a more conventional farming scale, producers can specialize in seed for specialty grains like buckwheat, landrace wheat or rye, cover crop and specialty grazing mixtures.

When it comes to growing seed of fruits and vegetables, keep in mind that buyers only want the seed. This means that you have an added opportunity to either use the flesh of those fruits for animal feed or process and market it as a human food product. For example, when extracting the seeds of tomatoes, tomato juice or sauce could be produced and sold as a prepared food item. Again, saving money and making money are the benefits of growing seed.

Another example of layering income producing aspects of seed growing might include the production of seedlings, which many seed growers need to get a jump on the season. This scenario naturally leads to another income producing opportunity. Growers can pick out the best of the best seedling from mother flats for seed or vegetable production and sell the rest as retail starts at the market or farm stand. If you want to make a real business out of it, you can ramp up your operation and sell starts through your local grocery or feed stores or through an online or mail order catalog. When it comes to growing seed, the sky is the limit.

Cucumbers have wet seeds that need special attention when processing.

Commercial Seed Contracts

Before becoming a contract grower, it is important to consider the economic and agronomic risks of your venture. Do your homework before you start. Learn how to grow and save seed so that no cross-pollination between similar varieties occurs. The good news on this front is that most farms have fields separated by distance and often bordered by windbreaks, which provide excellent natural isolation barriers that help prevent cross-pollination. For first-time seed growers, start with crops that you grow or use on your farm, as well as those that are naturally suited to your climate and skill level. This means that you should select crops that have low or manageable levels of pest and disease risks and those that don’t require inputs that you don’t normally need to use for other crops. Also, beginners should start with annual crops that have perfect self-pollinating flowers such as lettuce, endive, sunflower, carrots, melons, cucumber and legumes as well as field crops such as clover, oats, millet, barley, oats, rice, rye, sorghum, wheat, corn and hundreds of forage grasses. Simply move up the difficulty scale as your experience grows.

To begin a contract seed growing enterprise, start by building relationships with buyers. Keep in mind that certified organic seed fetches much higher prices than non-organic seed of any kind. So, while organic certification might add initial costs to your operation, it might be worth it if you are committed to growing seed. Call around to several seed companies and introduce yourself. Find out what types of seeds they need and what they expect of you as a grower and eventually, it will lead to a contract. Be sure to read any contract offer carefully before signing. It might be a good idea to have a lawyer take a look at it, too, just to make sure you understand all the nuances. Once you know what to expect from a seed contract, you probably won’t need to take this precaution again.

Whatever you do, never grow a seed crop on your own without a signed contract expecting to find a buyer later. That rarely works out to the grower’s advantage. Once you’ve gained experience and have developed a solid relationship with a company, cold call seed sales for popular and favored varieties are not only possible, but often welcomed by buyers who may have come up short for the season. Just remember that when the seed finally hits the dirt, it’s usually up to the grower to start enough plants or sow enough seed to produce the amount of seed the contract calls for. The good news is that buyers are usually more than willing to help new growers work out these types of details and supply the grower with more than enough seed to fulfill the contract. Just be sure to get all the details before you sign on.

Buyer Expectations

With that in mind, know that you are not the only one who loses if a contract goes awry, which is why buyers favor growers they have worked with before and have proven that they can deliver on time, every time. But above all, buyers insist that seeds be of the highest quality, which means they are pure to the traits of that variety and have a high germination rate. Customer’s don’t like to be surprised by “mystery” plants in their gardens and seed companies are required to test germination rates before the seeds can be sold to the public. This is why experienced and proven seed growers always get the biggest and most valuable contracts.

Some of the highest paying contracts are for biennial seed production, which requires more time and skill to bring to market, but that seed also fetches more per pound. Grow-outs are another example of a profitable venture for growers. Sometimes grow outs are needed to evaluate a new variety, but most often are used to “clean up” a variety that has become genetically corrupted in one way or another. Grow outs like this require more time and higher standards to achieve varietal improvements and overall seed quality and therefore, the grower is paid more.

Additional Considerations

When considering adding growing seed to your farm business, start by learning a few things about how seeds are saved. There are a number of excellent books that can teach you the fundamentals and I highly recommend Seed to Seed by Susan Ashworth and The Seed Garden: The Art and Practice of Seed Saving published by Seed Savers Exchange.

One of the first mistakes that most start-up businesses make is over-capitalization. The equipment needed by seed growers varies and is determined by the size and type of the operation, what crops they are growing, and what they are going to do with it once it is harvested. Just keep in mind that you may need to purchase equipment or install irrigation or fencing. You will also likely need to buy or hobble together tools for extracting, cleaning, sorting, and drying seeds.

It’s one thing to thresh a dry seed crop like wheat with a combine that you already have and another thing entirely to extract wet seeds from fleshy fruits like tomatoes and squash or harvest and winnow tiny dry seeds like lettuce and carrots. Do your homework, find out what types of equipment you will need for the crops you want to grow. Ask yourself if you can rig up your own equipment or if you need to make a new purchase or two. If you’re heading into the retail seed space, items like measuring tools, seed packaging and retail display racks are on the table. Just keep it simple and upgrade to more sophisticated equipment as the operation grows.

Whether you want to grow a few seed varieties for your market garden, or start a full-blown retail operation, seed is a growing business that farmers of any size can profit from in terms of diversity, sustainability, security and added income. Start with the basics, learn as you go, and above all, have fun. Growing seed will take your farm to a whole new level.

Saving Your Own Tomato Seeds

By Stephen Scott

Saving your own tomato seeds from homegrown heirloom tomatoes will give a better tasting and producing tomato as it adapts to your location in just a couple of years. You only need a few fruits and some simple tools to get started.

A few considerations on saving your own tomato seeds: select fruit that are fully ripe or even just slightly overripe to get mature seeds; choose fruit with the characteristics that you are looking for — best-looking, best-tasting, earliest, latest or perhaps, largest. This will help you achieve more of the same qualities next year.

Finally, make sure that you are choosing open-pollinated or heirloom tomatoes, as hybrids from the store won’t grow true to what you started with. Saving some of your own seeds helps carry on an ancient gardening tradition many generations old.

The fermentation method duplicates what happens naturally when a tomato falls off the vine, ferments and then rots, leaving the seeds ready to germinate next spring.

During the fermentation process, microorganisms such as bacteria and yeast destroy many seedborne pathogens that can affect the next generation, while removing the gel coat around the seeds that contains germination inhibitors. The fermentation method provides the added benefit of removing bad or low-quality seeds.

Saving Tomato Seeds: The Process

To get started, you will need a clear container such as a pint canning jar or plastic container, a metal mesh strainer fine enough so that the seeds can’t slip through, paper or cloth towels for drying, a sharp knife and a good sampling of your best heirloom tomatoes.

Cut the tomatoes in half widthwise or at the “equator” of the blossom end and vine end, exposing the seed cavity. Using your finger, a small spoon or butter knife, scoop out the seeds into a jar. With smaller tomatoes, cutting an X in the end and squeezing the seeds out works well. If there isn’t much liquid, add some water (no more than ½ cup non-chlorinated water to 1 cup pulp and seeds). Chlorinated water will inhibit the fermentation greatly.

Set the jar or jars in a warm but not hot location where they can ferment and be undisturbed for three to five days. They will have a very strong odor, so inside might not be the best place. After a day or two, a layer of white mold will form on the top. This is what you want, don’t disturb it! The fermentation is finished when the gelatinous seed coats float and the white mold covers the surface. Add water and stir vigorously, letting the mature and viable seeds sink to the bottom. The gel coats and poor quality seeds will be at the top.

Gently pour the pulpy mixture off the top, adding water and repeating until only the mature seeds are at the bottom. Pour the seeds into a strainer and give a final rinse to remove any clinging gel coats, gently rubbing the seeds on the strainer under running water. Dry the bottom of the strainer and pour the seeds into a glass, ceramic or plastic dish to dry.

Separate the seeds from touching to ensure complete drying and stir twice a day. Dry the seeds in a warm place, not over 95°F. Do not dry the seeds on paper towels, cloth or flexible plastic as they will stick and be difficult to remove. The seeds should be dry after two to three days. Make entirely sure that the seeds are completely dry, or they will mold and not be viable for next year. Store them in a labeled container in a cool, dry location for next year.

This article appeared in the January 2014 issue of Acres U.S.A.

Stephen Scott is an heirloom seedsman, educator, speaker, soil building advocate, locavore, amateur chef, artist and co-owner of Terroir Seeds with his wife Cindy. They believe in a world of healthy soil, seed, food and people.

Restoring the Seed Commons: Call for Clarity on Intellectual Property Rights

By CR Lawn

The seed industry has been changing rapidly. After recent mergers (Bayer/Monsanto, ChemChina/Syngenta, Dow/DuPont), just three companies dominate the global seed trade. Increasingly, giant multinationals are using Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) to reinforce corporate power. As gardeners and farmers, we are losing the right to work with our seeds, and most seed companies aren’t telling us.

Our ability to save seeds, even of some heirloom varieties that have been passed down for generations, is threatened. Now, when you shop for that favorite seed variety in your preferred seed catalog or on a website, you need to ask if you are buying the seed or merely renting it for a one-time use. Are you getting full rights to use the seed as you may wish, or are you renting permission to use the seed only for a single purpose and for a single season?

Organic spinach
‘Abundant Bloomsdale’ spinach. Bred by Organic Seed Alliance and cooperating organic farmers. Thick, broad, succulent, sweet dark-green leaves. Highly savoyed. Upright plant form keeps leaves out of the mud.

The Open Source Seed Initiative (OSSI) has identified four seed freedoms:

  1. The freedom to save and grow seed for replanting or for any other purpose.
  2. The freedom to share, trade and sell seed to others.
  3. The freedom to trial and study seeds and to share and publish information about them.
  4. The freedom to select or to adapt seeds, to make crosses, or to use them to breed new lines and varieties.

These traditional freedoms that farmers have exercised since the dawn of agriculture are now being stripped from us, for the most part without our knowledge or conscious authorization.

A contract with one of Fedco’s suppliers tipped me off that many varieties now come with use restrictions that nullify those four freedoms. Subsequently, I researched Fedco’s 1,000-plus selections and found more than 120 varieties burdened with IPR. Though most of the restricted varieties were F-1 hybrids, a minority were open-pollinated cultivars, even including some heirlooms.

black corn
‘Dakota Black Pop’ popcorn. Bred by David Podoll, Prairie Road Organic Seed. Relatively early for a popcorn, in spite of having bigger ears and being more productive than most popcorns. Plants are 4-6 feet high.

IPR manifest in various forms: through Plant Variety Protection (PVP), utility patents, in contracts from the wholesaler to the retailer, and through language on bag tags (tags on seed bags that contain restrictive language that comes into force when they are opened) and invoices.

The total number of use-restricted varieties in the seed market is large and growing. Many medium- and large-sized retailers routinely buy patented and other IPR-restricted varieties from the same nine wholesalers as Fedco, as well as from others.

At the request of its customers, Fedco phased out Seminis varieties when Monsanto bought out Seminis in 2006, and more recently Fedco has refused to offer utility-patented varieties from any source.

Most good seed catalogs identify the PVP varieties, and somewhere in small print, address the limitations PVP mandates. PVP does not restrict growers from saving seeds for their own use, or amateur and professional breeders from conducting breeding research with them.

Utility-patented varieties are relatively new to garden seed and are much more restrictive than PVPs. Johnny’s Selected Seeds has set a good example by identifying these varieties among their offerings, but many other retailers have not yet followed suit. Signposting utility patents is crucial because they convey comprehensive limitations on the use of the seed, prohibiting all seed saving — even for home use, breeding, or researching and publishing on the variety — without permission of the patent holder.

To farmers and gardeners, the least-known incursion on seed rights comes through contracts and bag tags whose provisions apply to retailers but may or may not carry through to end users. This is a new level of IPR that is now invading even varieties for gardeners; it is invisible to those who plant the seeds. Nothing in the variety descriptions warns you that you are not buying full rights to the seed. The seed company never tells you on its website or in its catalog that it does not own the seed, that it purchased only a license to sell its use, subject to certain conditions and limitations, and that as a grower you are purchasing only a limited license to rent the seed one-time. You are not buying unlimited use.

Open Source Seed Initiative

The Open Source Seed Initiative (OSSI) seeks to maintain fair and open access to plant genetic resources worldwide by creating a pool of varieties that are completely free of intellectual property restrictions. The primary mechanism for achieving these goals is the dissemination and propagation of the OSSI Pledge and of OSSI-Pledged varieties. Participating breeders OSSI-Pledge their chosen varieties.

The OSSI Pledge is passed along with all seed of OSSI-Pledged varieties and their derivatives. The OSSI Pledge: You have the freedom to use these OSSI-Pledged seeds in any way you choose. In return, you pledge not to restrict others’ use of these seeds or their derivatives by patents or other means, and to include this Pledge with any transfer of these seeds or their derivatives.

The Pledge preserves the rights of farmers, gardeners and breeders to freely use, save, replant and improve seed of OSSI-Pledged varieties and their derivatives now and for future generations. To date, OSSI has 415 Pledged varieties from 38 participating breeders offered by 61 seed company partners, each of which sells at least one OSSI-Pledged variety that comes with full rights as enumerated in OSSI’s four seed freedoms.
For descriptions and photos of all OSSI-Pledged varieties with links to the seed companies that sell each variety, visit the the Seeds page.

Common language on bag tags and in contracts limits permission to a single planting and strictly forbids using the seeds and any plant material from them for repeated propagation. Typical wording is, “All Intellectual Property Rights remain with x. The customer shall not use the seeds for reproduction in any manner …” Wholesalers who use bag tags to convey restrictions usually bag tag all their varieties — not just F-1 hybrids, but also OP varieties and even heirlooms in the public domain. Even small seed companies that purchase from larger retailers may unwittingly be getting use-restricted seeds, never even seeing the limitation-conveying bag tags.

As a further source of ambiguity, the wholesalers who offer IPR varieties are not consistent about whether these limitations on their direct customers carry through to third-party end users. When I posed that question to six different suppliers I got mixed results. While one answered “no,” another responded that growers and home gardeners were not restricted and only large-scale commercial propagation was prohibited. Three others said “yes,” one of whom went on to ask, “If you are repackaging the seed, do you have any restrictive language on your packaging?” One of the larger suppliers was the only one to include an affirmative duty clause in its contract with Fedco to convey these restrictions to third-party users and a companion clause making Fedco potentially liable if a third-party user failed to comply.

Issues Affecting End Users

These ambiguities can trouble end users in at least three ways. First, IPR may inhibit new would-be seed savers. To be sure, many users may not care. Only a minority of home gardeners save seeds for replanting, and then only for certain crops. Even fewer select to try to improve varieties or use them as breeding material. Then too, most of the restricted varieties are F-1 hybrids that would not come true in the next generation and would require a number of seasons of selection to stabilize into a desired cultivar.

Second, for commercial growers, IPR limitations present more serious issues. They may prevent growers who wish to save seed from doing so, as well as from adapting, selecting and improving these varieties. A majority of growers who responded to the latest Organic Seed Alliance survey saved at least some of their own seeds and on average fulfilled at least 20 percent of their own seed needs. They are among the heaviest seed users. Many said that they would like to learn the seed arts and would consider becoming commercial seed growers.

Lastly, growers could unknowingly be violating IPR and, in the worst-case scenario, find themselves in legal trouble, as did those who allegedly violated Monsanto’s bag-tag restrictions on farm seed.

The lack of clarity about whether each IPR agreement extends to third-party users may be even more troubling to retail seed houses. Furthermore, acting on an affirmative obligation to convey the restrictions to end users might not only add to overhead expenses but could also depress retail sales on the restricted varieties.

Rows of squash
‘Bigger Better’ butternut squash. Bred by Carol Deppe, Fertile Valley Seeds. Early 5-12 pound butternut with long thick necks. Matures reliably in Willamette Valley Oregon in spite of its large size.

Retailers lack the inclination and the resources to police their customers and may be at risk if their obligation to wholesalers explicitly or implicitly conveys such responsibilities. Wholesalers’ use of overly broad language on their documents may have a chilling effect on seed savers who are aware of the issues challenging the seed trade. Even when they have no intentions of enforcing IPR on small-scale-seed savers, wholesalers may be trying to have the best of both worlds — using excessively broad language to discourage seed saving while at the same time not wishing to risk consumer backlash.

Why have so many seed retailers accepted use-restricted varieties? Because they could not otherwise obtain permission to sell these varieties, which are often considered indispensable by market growers. Trialing for alternatives is lengthy, costly and carries no guarantee of success, and refusing to sell varieties essential to growers risks heavy loss of sales.

Retailers are caught in a real bind, from which only those small, more ideologically driven companies who rely solely on their own seed production/growers and eschew wholesalers have been able to escape. Nor is the organic industry immune from IPR, as three large-scale international wholesalers — Bejo, Sakata and Enza Zaden (doing business as Vitalis) — prominently feature restricted varieties.

Increasing Transparency

I learned early in my career that my best customers were my most knowledgeable ones. They appreciated knowing exactly what they were getting from their seed company. They wanted clear variety descriptions, including honest acknowledgments of weaknesses. Many wished to know more about the sources of their seed. Is it local or international? Is it a large multinational corporation or small-scale farmer? As the Fedco catalog included more of this type of information, our business grew. I call this transparency: providing clarity about exactly what is being offered and why.

The lack of transparency about seed-use restrictions is a huge issue. I understand why the seed industry might prefer to ignore it and pretend there is no problem. But given the growing intrusiveness of IPR and the sad history of farmers who fought Monsanto, this would be very shortsighted. Greater transparency, between wholesalers and retailers and retailers and their customers, could enhance good will all across the trade. People have a right to know whether they are buying or simply renting seed and the obligations they are incurring.

If you are a wholesaler, what can you do? Use clear language on your bag tags and contracts. Do they restrict all third-party users, some third-party users or no third-party users? Say what you mean, mean what you say, and don’t ask for restrictions that you don’t need.

If you are a retailer, attempt to negotiate away unreasonable contract provisions. Don’t sign agreements asking you to perform what you are not capable of or inclined to. Identify the restricted varieties on your website and in your catalog and the nature of those restrictions that apply to third-party users.

Surely sharing any license or bag-tag restrictions on seed use is as important in a variety description as agronomic strengths and weaknesses. This should be easy and a major selling point for those who offer few or no use-restricted varieties. It will be harder for those companies who offer this service and will require the support of their customer service representatives — but I can’t think of a better way to build loyal customers than to educate them.

If you are a grower for whom the four seed freedoms matter, ask your retailers whether you are buying full rights to the seeds or are only renting them for restricted one-time use. If they can’t or won’t answer, look elsewhere and support those who are more transparent.

If you want to exercise any of the seed freedoms — not just rent seeds for one-time use — spend your dollars accordingly. If a supplier is offering a variety with restricted use, perhaps you can find the same variety offered unrestricted elsewhere or a nearly equivalent unrestricted variety.

Since the dawn of agriculture, we farmers have controlled our seeds. Each generation has stood on the shoulders of our forebears, observing, selecting and enhancing seed varieties in a shared commons of freely circulated knowledge and seeds. The loss of seed rights in our lifetime is the great closure of these commons. Our seed privileges, rights and responsibilities are in jeopardy of being utterly destroyed. It is up to us to fight back — to expand a supply of seeds that we can control and to restore our fundamental age-old rights.



For descriptions and photos of OSSI-pledged varieties with links to the companies that sell each variety, visit the Seed page.


Deppe, Carol. Breed Your Own Vegetable Varieties: The Gardener’s and Farmer’s Guide to Plant Breeding and Seed Saving 2nd ed. (Chelsea Green, 2000).

Deppe, Carol. The Resilient Gardener: Food Production and Self-Reliance in Uncertain Times (Chelsea Green, 2010). (Includes breeding for a number of corn, bean and squash varieties.)

Deppe, Carol. The Tao of Vegetable Gardening: Cultivating Tomatoes, Greens, Peas, Beans, Squash, Joy, and Serenity (Chelsea Green, 2015). (Includes breeding for organic systems, rejuvenating heirloom varieties, dehybridizing hybrids and tomato genetics and breeding.)

Kloppenburg, Jack. First the Seed: The Political Economy of Plant Biotechnology, 1492-2000 (2nd ed.), (University of Wisconsin Press, 2005). (The definitive book on control of seed in U.S.A. by Jack Kloppenburg, Professor Emeritus of Community and Environmental Sociology, University of Wisconsin-Madison. Jack is one of the founders of OSSI and a member of the board of directors.)


Open Source Success: Grow Varieties for Organic Systems by Carol Deppe, Acres U.S.A., January 2017. Join the Open Source Seed Movement: Growing, Breeding & Sharing Crop Varieties by Carol Deppe, Acres U.S.A., January 2016.


Open Source Seed Initiative.; Carol Deppe.

Sources of Intellectual Property Rights (IPR)

Plant Variety Protection (PVP) restricts propagation for sales. Brown bag exemption permits seed saving for personal use but prohibits donating or selling of those seeds. Breeders’ rights exemption permits variety to be used for selection and breeding.

Sources of Intellectual Property Rights (IPR)

Plant Variety Protection (PVP) restricts propagation for sales. Brown bag exemption permits seed saving for personal use but prohibits donating or selling of those seeds. Breeders’ rights exemption permits variety to be used for selection and breeding.

IPR Mechanisms & Policies, By Supplier 

Bejo: Contract contains clear language with comprehensive IPR prohibiting seed saving, propagating and using for breeding, also an explicit responsibility on the part of retailer to take affirmative action to ensure that third-party end-users adhere to these terms.

Cornell University: License allows retailer licensee to contract with its own seed growers to multiply and produce seed for these crops in exchange for a 10 percent royalty on retail sales. The license also establishes that the varieties are Cornell’s intellectual property and restricts retailers from doing further selection or breeding work on them.

Crookham: Contract restricts purchaser to growing a single crop from the seeds. It does not allow the purchaser or any third-party user to produce additional seed from the Crookham varieties.

Floranova: Bag tag prohibits customers from using seeds for reproduction in any manner without the prior written consent of Floranova. Floranova holds its customers to these terms, but does not restrict third-party users from saving the seeds from their planting.

Sakata: Bag tag restricts customer use to the production of a single crop. Prohibition against propagation for seed saving applies to third-party users.

Syngenta: Bag tag limits permissible use of the seed to the production of a single commercial crop. I infer that this limitation applies to all third-party users. (see below).

Syngenta Flowers: Bag tag limits permissible use of the seed to the production of a single commercial crop. Confirmed by email that the restriction applies to whomever opens and plants (or otherwise uses) the seed. It is only to be used for a single commercial crop and may not be saved. Restrictions apply to all third-party end-users.

HM.Clause/Tezier: Reverse side of invoices as well as bag tags contain IPR restrictions against saving and propagating seed and using it for breeding purposes.

Genesis: Bag tag grants permission to use the seeds only for a single planting. Follow-up with Genesis indicated the restriction is limited to commercial large-scale propagation and does not apply to growers and home users saving seeds for personal usage.

IPR Varieties by Crop & Supplier 

The list below represents only the tip of the iceberg of IPR varieties offered to the trade by these and other suppliers. Varieties are indicated as either F-1 hybrids or open-pollinated (OP) varieties. OP varieties are often available from multiple suppliers, some of whom likely do not restrict them. OP heirlooms are in italics.

Imperial Star, open-pollinated, Genesis
Basil, sweet
Round Midnight Basil, F-1 hybrid, HM.Clause/Tezier
Sweet Basil conventional, open-pollinated, Sakata
Sweet Basil organic, open-pollinated, Sakata
Sweet Dani Lemon Basil, open-pollinated, PVP
Masai, open-pollinated, Syngenta
Boldor, open-pollinated, Bejo
Bull’s Blood conventional, open-pollinated heirloom, Sakata
Bull’s Blood OG, open-pollinated heirloom, Sakata
Chioggia, open-pollinated heirloom, Sakata
Red Ace, F-1 hybrid, Sakata
Robin, F-1 hybrid, Sakata
Touchstone, open-pollinated, Sakata
Arcadia, F-1 hybrid, Sakata
Bay Meadows, F-1 hybrid, Syngenta
Fiesta, F-1 hybrid, Bejo
Green Valiant, F-1 hybrid, Sakata
Gypsy, F-1 hybrid, Sakata
Broccoli, Romanesco
Veronica, F-1 hybrid, Bejo
Brussels Sprouts
Diablo, F-1 hybrid, Bejo
Gustus, F-1 hybrid, Syngenta
Hestia, F-1 hybrid, Bejo
Bartolo, F-1 hybrid, Bejo
Deadon, F-1 hybrid, Bejo
Gonzales, F-1 hybrid
Gunma, F-1 hybrid, Bejo
Melissa savoy, F-1 hybrid
Super Red 80, F-1 hybrid, Sakata
Wirosa, F-1 hybrid, Bejo
Maya Orange, open-pollinated, Genesis
Mokum, F-1 hybrid, Bejo
Napoli, F-1 hybrid, Bejo
Over the Rainbow has elements of Bejo’s Rainbow Mix in it, a mix with F-1 hybrids
Purple Haze, F-1 hybrid, Bejo
White Satin, F-1 hybrid, Bejo
Yaya, F-1 hybrid, Bejo
Yellowstone, open-pollinated, Bejo
Candid Charm, F-1 hybrid, Sakata
Graffiti, F-1 hybrid, Syngenta
Snow Bowl, F-1 hybrid, Sakata
Symphony, F-1 hybrid, Syngenta
Tango celery, open-pollinated, Bejo
Celery, cutting
Afina, open-pollinated, Bejo
Caribe, open-pollinated, Bejo
Ambrosia sweet corn, F-1 hybrid, Crookham
Bodacious R/M sweet corn, F-1 hybrid, Crookham
Honey Select sweet corn, F-1 hybrid, Syngenta
Incredible R/M sweet corn, F-1 hybrid, Crookham
Kandy Korn sweet corn, F-1 hybrid, Syngenta
Robust 98114W popcorn, F-1 hybrid, Crookham
Serendipity sweet corn, F-1 hybrid, Syngenta
Silver Queen sweet corn, F-1 hybrid, Syngenta
Sugar Buns sweet corn, F-1 hybrid, Crookham
Cranberries Double Click, open-pollinated, HM.Clause/Tezier
Double Click Mix, open-pollinated, HM.Clause/Tezier
Double Click Rose Bonbon, open-pollinated, HM.Clause/Tezier
Ministro, F-1 hybrid, Sakata
Silver Slicer, open-pollinated, Cornell University
Harlequin Mix, open-pollinated, Syngenta Flowers
Olesh Tres Fine Maraichere, open-pollinated, Genesis
Darkibor kale, F-1 hybrid, Bejo
Redbor kale, F-1 hybrid, Bejo
Winterbor kale, F-1 hybrid, Bejo
Kolibri, F-1 hybrid, Bejo
Lancelot, open-pollinated, Bejo
Lincoln, open-pollinated, Bejo
Inca II, open-pollinated, Syngenta Flowers
Arava melon, F-1 hybrid, Genesis
Athena muskmelon, F-1 hybrid, Syngenta
Osaka Purple, open-pollinated, Genesis
Ailsa Craig, open-pollinated heirloom, Bejo
Expression, F-1 hybrid, Bejo
Patterson, F-1 hybrid, Bejo
Prince, F-1 hybrid, Bejo
Red Bull, F-1 hybrid, Bejo
Red Marble, F-1 hybrid, Bejo
Redwing, F-1 hybrid, Bejo
Talon, F-1 hybrid, Bejo
White Wing, F-1 hybrid, Bejo
Zaatar, open-pollinated, Genesis
Pac Choi
Joi Choi, F-1 hybrid, Sakata
Krausa, open-pollinated, Bejo
Plain Leaf, open-pollinated, Sakata
Root parsley
Arat, open-pollinated, Bejo
Peas, Sugarsnap
Sugar Heart, open-pollinated, Syngenta
Super Sugarsnap, open-pollinated, also PVP, Syngenta
Flavorburst, F-1 hybrid, Bejo
Gilboa, F-1 hybrid, Genesis
Peacework, open-pollinated, Cornell University
Tiburon, F-1 hybrid, Sakata
Diablo, F-1 hybrid, Sakata
Wee-B-Little, open-pollinated, also PVP
Fiero, F-1 hybrid, Bejo
Indigo, F-1 hybrid, Bejo
Cheriette, F-1 hybrid, Sakata
Cherry Belle, open-pollinated, Sakata
Easter Egg, open-pollinated, Sakata
French Breakfast, open-pollinated heirloom, Sakata
Gloriette radish, F-1 hybrid, Sakata
White Icicle, open-pollinated, Sakata
Camelot shallot, F-1 hybrid, Bejo
Royale Mix, open-pollinated, Floranova
Seascape Mix, F-1 hybrid, Floranova and Syngenta Flowers
Sea Oats, open-pollinated, Genesis
Avon, F-1 hybrid, Sakata
Olympia, F-1 hybrid, Sakata
Space, F-1 hybrid, Bejo
Summer Squash and Zucchini
Gentry summer squash, F-1 hybrid, Syngenta
Raven zucchini, F-1 hybrid, Syngenta
Spineless Beauty zucchini, F-1 hybrid, Syngenta
Sunburst Patty Pan, F-1 hybrid, Syngenta
Y-Star Summer squash, F-1 hybrid, Genesis
Swiss Chard
Fordhook Giant, open-pollinated, Sakata
Rhubarb conventional, open-pollinated heirloom, Sakata
Rhubarb OG, open-pollinated heirloom, Sakata
Bobcat, F-1 hybrid, Syngenta
Esterina cherry tomato, F-1 hybrid, Genesis
Magic Mountain, F-1 hybrid, Bejo
Super Sweet 100, F-1 hybrid, Syngenta
Sweet Treats cherry tomato, F-1 hybrid, Sakata
Quetzali, open-pollinated, also PVP, Syngenta
Sangria, F-1 hybrid, Syngenta
Sweet Favorite, F-1 hybrid, Sakata

This article appeared in the January 2019 issue of Acres U.S.A. magazine.

CR Lawn founded the Fedco Seeds Co-operative in 1978 and served on its management team for 40 years. Until his retirement in June 2018, he wrote most of the variety descriptions in the Fedco catalog. He currently serves on the Board of Directors of the Open Source Seed Initiative (OSSI).