Thursday, January 19, 2012

protecting our heirloom seeds

L and D,

Thanks L for the information from the Makah potato. Carolyn and I will talk about contacting Pure Potato. I read the Presidium is teaching Makah youth to farm their own potato not exploiting their culture. I found on the newly working Wikipedia that a 'presidium' preserves. This makes sense. Do they have a legal framework to protect the genes against patenting and exploitation? Maybe they just use social pressure?

I talked with Crystine at Uprising Organics by phone. While talking, I primarily focused on developing my stance towards Oaxacan heirloom radish seeds in light of the negative email I received. Which as W. Berry says 'You got to appreciate these people because they get you thinking'. I posted that email chain below your email.

D, can you reply with your personal reaction to my heirloom seed manifesto:
  • Hiding heirloom seed will not protect it from corporate criminals; get reproducible heirloom seeds into the hands of farmers who can propagate it correctly
  • Mexico/Oaxaca has cultural treasure laws that would disallow a patent on a purely indigenous Oaxacan strain in America. Encourage this.
  • Don't believe in patenting life; it is something to put a life work and fight against, to violate any heirloom seed patenting laws as necessary
  • Corporations are focusing on patenting hybrid and gmo seeds, not currently on heirloom

Take good care this day, shabbat shalom,

On Wed, Jan 18, 2012 at 9:12 PM, L wrote:
Hi Aaron,

D forwarded me a email you posted on the Whatcom Farmers listserv about the Oaxacan radish seeds. We have not heard of anyone being troubled by your postings through Live Market. I can certainly give you more background about the Maka Ozette potato from my tenure in Slow Food leadership. I was very involved with biodiversity projects.

I know the Makah Ozette potato preservation efforts included conversations- through a series of stakeholder meetings led by Slow Food Seattle- with the Makah tribe. The historical connection is represented in the potato name- even though most farmers who grow ozettes leave off the ever important Makah descriptor when marketing it. The Makah tribe's involvement with saving this potato from extinction is an important part of the story.

The best source of information about the Makah Ozette seed availability is at Slow Food Seattle's website. It was Slow Food Seattle Ark of taste/presidia project that brought the potato back from the brink of extinction. Here's a rather old list of seed potato resources. I sent a note to Gerry Warren who is the mastermind behind Slow Food's Makah Ozette potato project-availability changes every year but this source list from 2010 is a good place to start. There is also a PDF you can download about the potato history if you are interested.

Here is Gerry's very quick reply- please feel free to share:

The Makah Ozette seed source Pure Potato will be planting pre nuclear mini tubers this spring. There will be no affordable seed available in 2012 from them.
They expect to have Generation seed available in the spring of 2013 at $2.00 per pound.

It would be very important to have farmers let Marlys Bedlingham know what they estimate the amount of seed they would be interested in getting in 2013 so she can anticipate how much to try and grow out. If you can get them to do that it would be a great help. (

The only other source that might still have any quantity of seed is Potato Garden in Colorado. Irish Eyes Seed in Oregon is selling some at $4.00/pound in 4 pound quantities if they just want to try some this year.

I hope this helps.


From: A
Sent: Wednesday, January 11, 2012 11:52 AM

To: Nancy
Subject: Re: Farmers Market talk and Potatoes/seed sharing

I checked his website AFTER I wrote you this message and it appears his contacts in Mexico are with the locals, who freely gave him the radishes- but that person may not realize what they are doing to themselves because of their trust in Aaron. Also, I am amazed he put the story on his website! I am very interested in the heritage justice issue re the third world and patenting of seed. I haven't quite understood the resurgence of heirloom seed and how that counters the patenting folks, if there are any protections - an international law should be passed where something labelled heirloom cannot be patented but then you have to get it labelled to be afforded the protection. Someone with more legal knowlege than me is likely working to figure that out. The heritage of the folks in the southern hemisphere is being stolen. I noted the Makah potatoes have similar issues. I think they have been protected to the Makah people but not sure.

On Wed, Jan 11, 2012 at 11:42 AM, Nans wrote:
very interesting perspective, I will ask! Nancy

You know, a very long time ago I heard from a botanist friend of mine who was working on the issue of seedpatenting how Mexican corn was stolen across the border by a farmer in Texas, then he patented the seed and put out of business the Mexicans who were bringing the corn across the border to sell in spanish markets to those mexicans and mexican americans here - he actually sued these folks to prevent them from selling. We really have to be conscious of what we are doing. I am not sure the approach to heirloom, but I think we need to be careful about stealing the last of the bounty these third world countries have- their genetic diversity. I am very much into justice and do not think it correct to take seed that then you can sell without compensating those you got it from. Perhaps he was given this seed or the radishes as a gift, I don't know.

I don't know what kind of ethics are established in the heirloom movement, but I think racial/ethnic justice is an important thing to be sensitive about . I know that nature gives us these things but i really worry about companies getting ahold of this radish seed and deciding to patent or to mine its genes and then preventing the Oaxacans from getting their value from it. That is a very ignorant thing in my view. Well intentioned and with an open heart, but ignorant. I don't know Aaron or if he knows what he is doing. do you think he does and do you know what I am talking about?


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