Open Pollinated: Seeds of Value

August 8, 2013

NOTE: Images in this archived article have been removed.

An open pollinated (OP) seed is a seed of value as it can grow into a plant true to the plant it was saved from. OP seeds are fertilized naturally by insects, birds, wind or their structure. Many of our seeds are heirlooms that can trace their lineage back before 1951 when hybrid seeds and chemical sprays became widely adopted.

Open pollinated seeds are your seed freedom. Without the ability to save seed, your food sovereignty is lost. The right to grow your own safe and nutritious food is one of your primary rights as a citizen.

Seeds that can be saved by the home gardener or farmer are disappearing from reputable seed catalogs and are being replaced by hybrid (F1) seeds that cannot be saved and grown true-to-type. Some reputable seed catalogs are even hiding labeling of hybrids so you do not know if you can save seed until it’s too late.

Hybrid seeds are a combination of two parent lines extensively inbred to isolate desired traits. They can be more uniform because they lack the diverse genetics of open pollinated plants. Open pollinated plants are able to adapt to a variety of climates, and have more diversity of taste, texture, size, color and shape.

Image RemovedSaving hybrid seeds is like saving seeds from an apple, as you do not know what you are going to get. The genetics are just not there to be repeated true-to-type. The hybrid traits are only created when the male and female parents are combined. It takes a skilled plant breeder to untangle hybrid genetics to a stable new variety over several years. Shown at right is what you get when you save Red Knight Mizuna hybrid seeds. The purple plant in front is what you want, the green shaggy bolting plant in back left is what you get instead.

There exist many open pollinated varieties that are larger, and more vigorous and nutritious than anything found in your grocery store. Here is open pollinated Kalura lettuce with 14" heads or try Flashy Trout’s Back. We have open pollinated seeds for radishes that are bigger than bananas and beets as big as a football. With open pollinated plants like these, nobody is going to starve if we banned hybrids and GMOs tomorrow. It is a myth that hybrid seeds are more vigorous, they are just more profitable because they can’t be saved.

Image Removed

Protect Organics

The certified organic label is being diluted by large agricultural business. First, the national organic policy allows seed growers to label hybrid seeds as organic even though they cannot be saved. The label “organic” does not mean that you can save the seeds, it just means that the grower did not spray and that he followed the other organic certification rules.

The U.S. federal government has also eliminated the organic cost share subsidy that helped small farms pay their organic certification fees that cost $500 to $700 per year. Thousands of small farms overnight lost their ability to sell food or seeds as organic because of a reduction of just a few million dollars in the annual U.S. farm bill of nearly $100 billion in subsidies to large agricultural corporations. Now only medium and large agricultural companies can afford to obtain the certified organic label. 

Conserve Wild Species

Concerns are growing that hybrid and GMO seeds are now contaminating the wild analogs of the foundation of our food system. In a world of a changing environment, we need the pure diverse genetic diversity of the originators of our essential food crops. However, GMOs are now being crossed back into wild beets, carrots, corn and others. Sea beets along the British coast and corn in the cradle of corn diversity, the Mexican lowlands, are now being contaminated with GMOs.

Restore Nutrients

We need our nutrients back. Since 1950, some studies have shown that certain nutrients in some food crops have declined. Industrial agricultural is growing shallow calories. With organics and open pollinated crops we can restore healthy food. Support your local organic seed grower and breeder. Parents, insist that our children be fed exclusively nutritious organic meals in school everyday.

Theft of Native Food Genetics

All nine of the domesticated plant families that we rely on for food have been cultivated for 2000, or, in the case of corn, 5000 years. Maize geneticists believe that 90 percent of breeding work in corn had already been done by the time Columbus arrived to find large fields of corn being grown on the island of Hispaniola in 1492.

Native people did not walk into the prairie and find modern corn, they started with Teosinte which looks like a grass with large seeds. They then bred Teosinte with other subspecies for millennia to arrive at corn. 

In other words, modern agricultural companies have stolen 90 percent of the genetics in almost all food seeds. All seed companies may owe 90 percent of their historical revenue, or hundreds of billions of dollars, to native tribes world wide. As an alternative, they should tack 50 cents on to the price of a packet or a couple bucks per pound of seeds to go to native tribes.

Shown below are Teosinte, wild carrot, wild lettuce and wild chicory. To make gene patenting fair, industrial seed companies should have to start with these and breed them for two thousand years until they can come up with corn, carrots, lettuce and radicchio. In this light, current gene patenting is greedy and stupid. Millions spent on research by large ag companies is basically to find ways to apply more inputs, as we certainly do not need bigger plants.

Image Removed Image Removed 

Image Removed Image Removed

Legalized gene theft plus the fact that food was free for millions of years and now is only available by purchase, shows the failure of civilized economic and political systems. Our government is supposed to defend us. It is not. You will have to support your family and community by saving and exchanging open pollinated seeds. I get a kick out of the survival seed collections companies sell filled with hybrid seeds that cannot be saved.

Image RemovedFood Security

Open pollinated seeds favor decentralized food production in a wide variety of climates. Hybrid and GMO seeds require high-input high-mechanical production. But, when you consider our expanding mid-term food needs and rising fuel costs, decentralized lower-input food production will become more important to our nation’s food security.

We ship Caesar salads to Chicago and Fargo 12 months a year. Our modern food system is as much a transportation system as it is an agricultural system. In the mid-term, we will still need to grow a substantial amount of food centrally but as fuel costs rise, we will need to offset transportation losses with decentralized crop production. Eventually, as recent Russian and Cuban histories show, the more difficult the economy becomes, the more food will need to be grown even at the homestead level from locally adapted saved seeds.

Save Your Seeds!

Saving seeds is easy, every cell in your body knows how to recognize plants and gather mature seed. You would not be here if your forefathers did not know how to do this really well. There are many good books available on the subject. My favorite is The Organic Seed Grower by John Navazio.

Food is one of your inalienable rights. Stand up for it, grow food, save open pollinated seeds and share them. Restoration seeds is an open seed market to sell your true-to-type seeds with plenty of resources to get you started.

The best way to reinvigorate crop genetic diversity is to plant and save open pollinated seeds. Create a living seed bank. Seek out interesting and rare seeds, grow them, become a living seed curator today.


Chuck Burr
Restoration Seeds

Chuck Burr

Chuck Burr Is author of Culturequake: The Restoration Revolution.   He is founder of Restoration Seeds, the Southern Oregon Permaculture Institute (SOPI) the Southern Oregon Seed Growers Association(SOSGA). Chuck has been a vegetable plant breeder, organic seed farmer and permaculture teacher for 10 years. 

Tags: food security, GMOs, open-pollinated seeds, seed saving