John Navazio manages the plant breeding program at Johnny’s Selected Seeds in Albion, Maine.
John takes us on a seedy tour of the early days of organic and local vegetable production, and his journey into the world of variety selection, horizontal disease resistance, participatory plant breeding, and why quality seed and quality varietal maintenance matters for every farmer.
We dig into the modern history of hybrids, why open-pollinated crops can be a competitive alternative, and why some of your favorite hybrid varieties just up and disappear – as well as why some of your favorite open-pollinated varieties devolve over time, while others just get better.
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Quotes from the Show
One of the growers from California called this the "hybrid churn." It's not because it's a hybrid. It's just because they're essentially, having to come up with new versions all the time to meet this [pathogen] race race. It is the race race. You're racing to get the new resistance to the new race of the pathogen into all of your material all of the time.
When you've got 80% of your spinach being grown in 6 counties, those are the ones that are really going to be driving the production priorities for spinach seed.
There are 3,005 counties and parishes in the United States alone. And so to gear the whole [spinach] breeding program for those six is fine for some people. I'm gearing my spinach breeding for the other 2,995 plus counties and parishes in the United States that don't have the constant [downy mildew disease] pressure.
Once you grow seed, you are a plant breeder whether you like it or not. [attributed to Bill Tracy]
There's nothing inherently evil about hybrids.
I think as people get closer to the customers - as all of us find out that in-variation is, in fact, life, and is beauty and is adaptive-ness in genetic variation that's meaningful as far as resiliency and the environment - I think when all of those thing are put together, people are starting to see that as a value again.
Sutton Seeds for overwintering in maritime climate.
The Organic Seed Alliance website has a massive free collection of resources for organic seed breeding and seed production.
It’s also worth checking out the OSA story about Dark Star Zucchini.
And John mentioned Frank Morton’s work at Wild Garden Seed.