Supporting Seed Sovereignty, One Packet at a Time

At Burgerville, we’ve been giving seeds to kids since 2001 to help kids understand the connection between our food and where it comes from.  There’s nothing like planting a seed, watering, waiting, then watching it sprout into something you can eat.  Also, do we really need more tiny plastic toys around the house?  Your instep is thanking us already.

We’ve recently partnered with the Culinary Breeding Network (CBN) to launch Seedlings. We give colorful packets of Northwest-grown and bred seeds to our younger customers, teach kids and grown-ups about growing plants, and inspire gardeners to grow locally adapted seeds at home.

With the help of CBN, we exclusively purchase non-GMO, organic, open-pollinated seeds developed by plant breeders we admire. Open-pollinated breeding is a way to seriously impact agriculture on a very big scale. More on that in a minute. But first, we want to introduce you to one of our favorite plant breeders: Frank Morton.

Frank has an organic farm called Wild Garden Seed in the Oregon where he grows seeds of salad greens, vegetables, herbs and flowers. But Frank isn’t only a farmer, he’s a plant breeder. Or, as we think of him, a seed superhero. Plant breeders like Frank actually create brand new varieties of plants. New varieties offer different tastes and colors, but they can also help make plants hardier and more resistant to insects, diseases or drought, which results in less chemical use.

One of Frank’s favorite creations is a kind of salad green called ‘Outredgeous’ lettuce.  In 2014, Outredgeous became the first lettuce grown in space aboard the International Space Station. Frank says “From the Wild Garden to space in 15 years. That’s what plant breeders call overnight success.” Not to be outdone by NASA, former First Lady Michelle Obama also grew this striking lettuce in the White House Kitchen Garden. Click below for videos and photos.

Organic Seeds in Space

A Seed Grows in Space

NASA’s Veg-03 Seeds Planted in First Lady’s White House Garden

White House Kitchen Garden (photos courtesy of Shawn Linehan)

Back to Open-Pollinated Breeding

Plant breeders breed for different traits – like color, flavor, size, beauty, and shape. This can be as simple as inspiring professional chefs on the hunt for new flavors and sensations or growing a tomato that tastes like a tomato. Each time a farmer or gardener (this can be you!) saves seed from a plant with traits they like, they are participating in plant breeding!

If you’ve tried a commercially grown tomato in cellophane packaging alongside a farm-stand tomato, you’ve probably wondered why the store-bought tomato has so little flavor. Current agricultural practices prioritize breeding for high yield, uniformity, shipping and shelf life over flavor and diversity.  They rely on pesticides to control weeds, insects and diseases and chemical fertilizers to feed the plants.

Open-pollinated (also called OP) seeds are never created in a lab. They are the result of pollination through natural occurrences like wind or insects. When you save seed from an OP plant to grow the next season, you get the same kind of plant. Lane Selman, director and founder of Culinary Breeding Network, says, “Open-pollinated seed allows for farmers and gardeners to save their own seed instead of always buying from a company.  We call this seed sovereignty – our right to save, breed and exchange seeds.”

Imperative to the survival of our own species, plant breeders can also select for strength and resilience, adaptation to our changing climate, ability to scavenge for water and nutrients, resistance to insects and diseases and ability to thrive in less-than-ideal soil conditions.

“Plant breeders are the decision-makers most people don’t know about. They make important choices that affect how our food grows and what it tastes and looks like. Through their choices we can create a healthier food system with less dependence on chemicals like pesticides and commercial fertilizers.” states Lane Selman.

We’re delighted to share in the mission of the Culinary Breeding Network in highlighting the importance of seeds and the impact they have on our food system. We look forward to sharing many more stories of local plant breeders like Frank Morton, and hopefully inspiring a new generation of seed superheroes to join in.