Taking Seedlings into the Future
Burgerville takes great pride in where our ingredients come from. We buy from local farmers using the types of practices that benefit people and planet. Our Seedlings program celebrates seed as a vital foundation for good food and farming. The Pacific Northwest is one of Earth’s best places to grow seed, and there is an incredibly vibrant community of small seed companies, plant breeders, and seed farms across the region. For the last 10 years, the Culinary Breeding Network (CBN) and director Lane Selman have been a driving force to elevate these seed heroes and connect them to local communities. Lane and colleague Patrick Merscher are two stellar plant nerds who are helping us take Seedlings into the future. We’ve asked them to introduce this remarkable program to you!
It Started with Peppers
If you’ve eaten a Burgerville kids’ meal, then you probably know they don’t come with a toy. Instead, Burgerville gives out seed packets, so they can inspire young people to learn about and grow their own food. So, what if those seeds were grown and bred developed locally too? Done! Thanks to a new partnership with Portland’s Culinary Breeding Network.
With a background in farming and research, Lane created CBN in 2011 when she convened a group of local chefs and farmers to taste different sweet roasting peppers being developed by Oregon plant breeder and owner of Wild Garden Seeds, Frank Morton. Previously, Frank was growing the same pepper as most other local farmers, but the seed company was about to drop the variety. So, Frank took matters into his own hands by saving seed and crossing pepper plants on his organic farm in Philomath. By breeding on his own farm, he trusted the variety would grow well for farmers and gardeners nearby, and by focusing on open-pollinated varieties, other people would be able to save the seed too.
Lane’s initial tasting created an opportunity for chefs to be involved in the plant breeding process, which up until this point had been rare. Most of these chefs were blown away by the diversity of the peppers: the shapes, colors, and of course, the flavors. It was as if a veil had been lifted on a normally invisible process and allowed breeders like Frank to get feedback on taste and flavor.
Lane and CBN have become known for hosting community events like their annual Variety Showcase, featuring new and old varieties with exceptional quality both in farmer’s fields and on our plates. She partners plant breeders and chefs who create innovative dishes for attendees, bringing everyday people like Burgerville customers, into the incredible world of plant breeding through their taste buds.
Rebooting the Seedlings Program
We love giving away seed packets and hearing your stories! We hope you’ll follow along as we work with Lane and CBN to achieve the following:
-Sharing 100% Organic seed in our seed packets
-Offering only open-pollinated varieties
-Contracting directly with local farmers to produce the seed in our packets
-Prioritizing varieties with “local roots” (i.e. locally bred varieties and heirlooms)
Confused by some of the terms in this post? That’s okay – most of us at Burgerville are still learning too. Check on our blog regularly for updates, articles, and seed-related activities as we learn more. You can start with our Seed Basics for Kids.