Where do your seeds come from? Are your seeds USDA certified organic? As we’ve explained elsewhere, being a certified organic farm or seed company isn’t easy, but it does matter.

GrowJourney’s seeds are sourced from some of the finest seedsmen (and women) in the world. We’ll be highlighting some of those people (and their farms) so you understand a bit more about who they are, what they do, and how their work helps you have a better organic garden.

Farmer Highlight: Frank Morton, Shoulder to Shoulder Farm

Frank Morton Lettuce Seeds

Pictured in the photo above is internationally renowned seedsman and organic farmer Frank Morton, who is inspecting the progress of some of his lettuce seeds.

We’ve been in love with Frank’s seeds for years, especially his lettuce varieties, which are always incredibly vigorous, producing large yields of delicious greens in a dizzying array of colors, sizes, textures, and shapes.

A gorgeous head of lettuce (from seeds bred by Frank Morton) harvested from our garden last spring.

Morton and his family operate Shoulder to Shoulder Farm, a certified organic farm in Philomath, Oregon. Their plant breeding efforts help reinvigorate classic, older heirloom seed varieties and also do the equally important task of breeding what we call “new heirloom” varieties: open-pollinated varieties bred from other heirlooms. (Agrobiodiversity = taking care of the genetic “books” already in the library while also writing new ones.)

Amaranth flowers on a variety we got from Shoulder to Shoulder Farm. We enjoy both the tasty young greens and the “grain” – the protein-rich, amaranth seeds the plant produces at maturity.

Open Source Seeds

There are two general lines of thought when it comes to seed breeding:

  1. The “inventor” owns exclusive rights to the seeds/life. On the most extreme side of this line of thinking are the massive biotech companies that spend an average of $136 million dollars per genetically engineered plant trait, the most common trait being creating plants that don’t die when sprayed with herbicides such as RoundUp. For those companies to recoup their investment requires that lots of their proprietary seeds are sold around the world in bundled technology packages which also include their proprietary poisons. This isn’t a new mindset. It was codified into law in the US by the 1930 Plant Patent Act, thanks largely to the efforts of Luther Burbank, a famous botanists and plant breeder.
  2. Nobody and everybody owns the seeds/life. The other line of thinking is that all human beings collectively “own” the genes of our food crops, e.g. our seeds belong to “The Commons.” After all, plants and their genes were here long before we were (they’re not a novel invention comparable to computer software). Plus, our ancestors bred these plants and passed them (and their genes) forward to us without any exclusive ownership claims. This line of thinking is perhaps best exemplified by the famed Quaker botanist Dr. Elwyn M. Meader who bred over 70 varieties that he gave away to the public “as payment for his space on the planet.”

This second line of thinking tends to be much more common amongst organic farmers and plant breeders, including Frank Morton. That’s why Frank has donated so many of his “new heirlooms” to the Open Source Seed Initiative, rather than claiming exclusive ownership of them.

That means you, Frank, and 7+ billion other human beings on the planet all collectively own the seeds bred on his farm. We all have a shared responsibility to preserve them, improve them, and perhaps even use them to breed new heirloom varieties if we’re interested and able to do so. That’s how regionally-adaptive, resilient, biodiverse farm/food systems are built, and you can be part of that process.

We enjoy saving and growing our own seeds from lettuce varieties we originally got from Shoulder to Shoulder Farm. Each generation of seeds we grow and save become better adapted to our specific soil, climate, pests, etc.

GrowJourney is proud to support amazing organic farmers and plant breeders like the Mortons, and your membership makes that possible. So thank you (GrowJourney members) and you (Frank, family, and Co) for doing what you do.

For you gardeners out there: we hope this info will help you further appreciate the “grow journey” your seeds have been on before they came into your care. Nurture them, share them, and pass them forward. After all, they belong to you. And to everyone else too.

P.S. Frank/Shoulder to Shoulder Farm has made national news due to the challenges they and their farming neighbors in the Willamete Valley faced when compatible, genetically engineered, wind-pollinated crops were planted in their area for testing without any notice given to the local farmers/seed breeders, putting their seed crops and livelihoods in peril. If you want to read more about the challenges Frank and other farmers have faced in dealing with this issue, read their own words

Just in case you’re not already a GrowJourney Seeds of the Month Club member, we’d love for you to give us a try (for free) to see if you’d like to start growing with us! And don’t forget: a GrowJourney Gift Membership also makes a unique and special gift.