The Power of People and Plant BReeding

Session III: 3:30pm - 5:00 pm

What if you could have crop varieties that were made just for your farm, your processing line or your restaurant menu? Participatory plant breeding is a powerful tool to leverage the unique strengths of farmers, plant breeders, chefs, processors, and others to develop new plant varieties. In this workshop, panelists will share inspiring stories of crowd-sourced varieties and participants will gain resources and learn the basics — from expectation setting to intellectual property management — of the best practices of participatory plant breeding.

Speakers: Michael Mazourek, Cornell University; Edmund Frost; Aaron Varadi, Organic Farm School; Don Tipping, Siskiyou Seeds; Jared Zystro, Organic Seed Alliance

Speaker Bios

Edmund Frost has been growing certified organic vegetable seeds in Louisa, Virginia since 2008. He also does research and plant breeding work, especially focused on disease resistant cucumber, winter squash and melon varieties. Edmund manages Common Wealth Seed Growers, a small seed company dedicated to raising awareness about regional and organic seed issues, and to serving the needs of produce farmers in the Southeast and mid-Atlantic regions. 

Michael Mazourek is an Associate Professor of Vegetable Breeding at Cornell University and co-founder Row 7 Seeds.  Michael’s vegetable breeding program is focused on developing new cultivars of pea, squash, melon, cucumber, bean and pepper crop for organic farming systems.  This process of breeding new varieties through traditional methods of cross-pollination is informed by surveys of natural diversity and studies into the underlying genetic mechanisms.  His grower-driven traits focus on fungal and insect resistances in regionally adapted backgrounds to provide a reliable, productive harvest and reduce the need for pesticide applications.  His consumer-driven traits focus on color, quality, flavor and novelty to drive the consumption of naturally nutritious food. 

Aaron Varadi is the Program Manager and Lead Instructor at the Organic Farm School (OFS) on Whidbey Island in northwest Washington, where he and a yearly class of farm managers-in-training produce vegetables for farmers market, CSA, and direct-to-retail sales.  In addition, he and the OFS crew grow a wide variety of vegetable seed crops on contract for seed companies, and participate in and conduct their own vegetable breeding projects.  He's been growing commercial vegetable seed for the past ten years.

Don Tipping has been farming and offering hands on, practical workshops at Seven Seeds Farm since 1997.  He is active in the Seed Stewardship movement and educates regionally on seed saving through the Biannual Seed Academy, the Student Organic Seed Symposium, Seed Schools and numerous conferences.  He sits on the board of the Rocky Mountain Seed Alliance and contributes to the Open Source Seed Initiative.  While raising a family and managing a diverse seed farm and distribution business occupy much of his time, Don is keenly aware of the eroding Agrarian landscape and believes in rekindling a thriving culture of cottage industries that inspire Earth Care, People Care and Fair Share and is wholeheartedly devoted to seeing this emergent regenerative economy and culture increase and thrive.

Jared Zystro is Organic Seed Alliance’s research and education assistant director. He has a master’s degree in plant breeding and plant genetics from the University of Wisconsin - Madison. Jared has worked in the organic seed industry for over 15 years, managing seed production at two farms and conducting research and education projects with OSA. He currently manages OSA’s regional development in California, conducts participatory breeding projects and variety trials, and teaches farmers about seed production and plant breeding at workshops, conferences, and field days. Jared is also a PhD candidate in the University of Wisconsin - Madison's Plant Breeding and Plant Genetics program, where he is studying efficient methods of developing new organic sweet corn varieties. He lives in the coastal town of Arcata, CA, with his wife and son.