- Grow and disseminate open-pollinated, Northwest-grown organic seed
- Have established a network of local seed growers
- Conducting numerous trials to improve familiar varieties and create new ones
“The future of diversity lies in the hands of small-scale gardeners, homestead farmers and small organic farmers that save seed.” Andrew Still, Founder of Adaptive Seeds
Adaptive Seeds is an independent seed company established in 2009 by Sarah Kleeger and Andrew Still. They specialise in growing and disseminating rare open-pollinated varieties, which have been adapted to their local climate in the Pacific Northwest.
The seed company grew out of an earlier project called The Seed Ambassadors, created by Sarah and Andrew in response to the need for a greater diversity of locally adapted varieties in their region. In 2007, they travelled across Europe seeking out varieties that were unavailable or little-known in the US and returned home with a collection of over 800 varieties. Subsequent trips to Europe and Asia introduced even more varieties to this unique collection.
Back home in Oregon they began their work as seed stewards; growing and distributing the seeds that fared the best in their climate. Initially they used seed swaps and informal networks as a means of distribution however the project evolved in to a company as a means to reach more people. The company has been going from strength to strength ever since and they now offer over 400 varieties including numerous cultivars of their own creation.
Drying cobs: part of Adaptive Seed’s Saskatoon Flint Corn breeding project
How it works
Seed stewardship is the process of saving seed with the purpose of maintaining or improving that seed’s health and resilience, From the Seed Ambassadors Zine 4th Edition
Sarah and Andrew take their role as seed stewards seriously and it shows in everything they do. All of their crops are under careful observation for desirable traits or uncharacteristic performance. Plants that produce too few fruit, mature too late, or aren’t the right shape are simply removed. Seed crops are then split in to 3 categories: the very best are saved for future breeding; second best are sold in the catalogue; and third best are fed to the chickens. This constant process of removing the weakest and then selecting the best means that the health and vigour of the variety will improve each time they grow it. In fact, Andrew said he had noticed the health and vigour of some varieties improve after just two generations when the seeds were collected correctly.
Sarah and Andrew are also involved in numerous projects to select and create new varieties. Only a proportion of what they are growing at the farm actually makes it to the catalogue; the rest are works in progress. When I visited in September 2015, Andrew was particularly excited about an ongoing experiment to de-hybridise a popular pepper hybrid in to two distinct varieties of different shapes. Over four generations, they have managed to produce two fairly uniform new varieties – one with blunt tip and the other with a pointy tip. They are also working to create new varieties of salad kale, amaranth and early-maturing melon to name just a few.
An ongoing experiment to de-hybridise the popular Gypsy F1 pepper
All of the new varieties that make it to the catalogue are accompanied by lively descriptions that explain exactly how the variety has been selected and any irregularities that are still occurring. These witty and honest descriptions are no doubt another of the key factors that have seen the company’s sales increase year after year.
In addition to all of the effort in the field in ensure their seed is high quality, Andrew and Sarah also regularly send seeds for germination testing at an independent seed laboratory. All of their seeds exceed industry germination standards and the current germination text results are printed on each seed pack.
Andrew and Sarah have gone from being seed saving novices to experts in their field in less than 10 years. They provide an inspirational example for seed savers of all abilities by their commitment and enthusiasm for seed saving as a means of restoring and increasing biodiversity in our food system. Their experimentation with open pollination, and the excellent results they have found, reminds us that varieties are not static entities but living organisms that will naturally improve and adapt with each generation if allowed to do so.
Andrew and Sarah are pioneers in their field however they would not be able to do the work alone. They rely on individuals across the world, many of whom have already been saving seeds for decades, to provide them with new varieties and to bring greater genetic diversity to familiar crops they are already growing. The gene-pool of every variety is increased the more individuals grow and save seed in their own local climate. They are part of an international community of seed savers which includes seed farmers, organic growers and backyard gardeners. Some of their most useful feedback comes from backyard gardeners, demonstrating that no contribution to this mission is too small.
More info – https://www.adaptiveseeds.com/