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  • Penn Parmenter

Open Source Seeds Take Root

By Penn Parmenter

When I close my eyes, I see seeds on the backs of my eyelids. This is useful, as it reminds me to constantly be on the hunt for new seed opportunities.

Open Source Seeds Take Root

I am especially interested in seed companies that grow their own seed – even just some of it. This allows growers to watch crops with care while also allowing natural selection and adaptation to take place. It is the way the seed teaches the grower. Much is learned about plant form, earliness, production, disease resistance, yield - you name it. Farmers and gardeners who grow seed are deeply connected to the circle of life, as they are witnesses to it in real time.

I often write about choosing seed grown in our own or similar climates and that is always a good idea, but there is other good seed out there that will work well for us too. Seed grown with care by a seed farmer who grows out varieties every year will yield better seed for us, no matter where we live. The farmer’s care from seed to seed gives us the assurance it will be fresh and vigorous, and will do better than traditional commercial seed. Besides seed companies, there are also active breeders selling their seeds directly to the public.

If you have not yet seen the Open Source Seed Initiative (OSSI) Pledge it is really exciting. When you purchase OSSI seed it comes with this statement:


You have the freedom to use these OSSI-Pledged seeds in any way you choose. In return, you pledge not to restrict others’ use of these seeds or their derivatives by patents or other means, and to include this Pledge with any transfer of these seeds or their derivatives.

The OSSI Pledge ensures the Four Open Source Seed Freedoms for this and future generations:

  • The freedom to save or grow seed for replanting or for any other purpose

  • The freedom to share, trade, or sell seed to others

  • The freedom to trial and study seed, and to share or publish information about it

  • The freedom to select or adapt the seed, make crosses with it, or use it to breed new lines and varieties

When I got my first seed marked OSSI I felt a thrill ripple through me. I get to be a part of this, I thought. Holy Tomato!

Whether or not you ever decide to save seeds or breed, these growers are doing such exciting work that you will feel compelled to try something new. Just reading about their varieties and their methods helps us all lift each other up to new levels of understanding and practice in the gardens we love so much.

Here are four of my heroes, in no particular order…

Carol Deppe - Oregon

Although I have never met Carol, her books make me feel as though I have. Carol holds a PhD in Genetics from Harvard. Her first book, Breed Your Own Vegetable Varieties, opened our eyes to the possibilities of learning to breed as home gardeners. She makes it seem possible for anyone to get started. Discovering that she sells the seed she writes about was an added bonus. She is a Board Member of the OSSI and offers seed on her website. She has many new offerings including Candystick Dessert Delicata Squash, Magic Manna Flour Corn, and White Candle Gaucho Dry Bean. She encourages everyone to sing seed songs.

Joseph Lofthouse - Utah

I met Joseph at the Mountain West Seed Summit in Santa Fe last year. The moment I laid eyes on him I new he was a seed rock star. He is a character – a lot of these players are - with a grin to make your heart leap. I told my husband, “I just fell in love with Joseph Lofthouse, wanna meet him?” This led to a 2-hour long ‘secret’ seed swap in the vendors’ room, where we were set up. We traded joyfully. I was offering my stabilized varieties to a wild plant breeder who is all about the dance. His seeds are ‘promiscously pollinated’ or ‘PP’. In the end he thanked me for tending to the preservation of these varieties so he could play. I was star struck holding his precious seed in my hands!

Casey O’Leary - Idaho

Among other things, Casey O’Leary is a poet. She makes me yearn for the ability to make words soar and flow and break and toss as she does. Casey grows seed in Boise, Idaho and runs the Snake River Seed Cooperative, a group of 29 small-scale family farmers offering hundreds of varieties of seed all grown in the intermountain west. Casey inspires me to get up earlier and work harder, to smile more and laugh a lot. Her seed offerings are strong and true. I plan to be her stalker – I already told Cord.

Dan Hobbs - Colorado

Dan’s certified organic farm in Avondale, Colorado offers both culinary and seed garlic, fresh vegetables, vegetable seeds, cover crops, grains, and hay in a six-year rotation. They are founding and active members of the Family Farmer’s Seed Cooperative, another excellent resource.

Besides growing here in Colorado, Dan is just a hell’a nice guy. These seed co-ops support many smaller seed farmers in our area. Avondale is a great climate for growing seed. Dan and his family have been growing seeds there since 1996.

For more fun…

Wild Boar Farms – Brad Gates Tomatoes,

Frank Morton,

And don’t forget…

Seed Saver’s Exchange – thousands of seed-to-seed growers like you!

These growers are doing the magical work for you. Growing out a new variety is a hoot. Whether you ever plan to dabble in breeding or not, growing the absolute cutting edge varieties, including some that are not even stable yet, will add a kick in the pants to your garden this season.

Go forth and sow boldly.

Penn & Cord Parmenter garden and grow food and seed near Westcliffe. Both are regional high-altitude gardening instructors and the founders of Smart Greenhouses LLC, a sustainable greenhouse design company, and Miss Penn’s Mountain Seeds. Visit

Books by Carol Deppe:

  • Breed Your Own Vegetable Varieties: The Gardener’s and Farmer’s Guide to Plant Breeding and Seed Saving

  • The Resilient Gardener: Food Production and Self-Reliance in Uncertain Times

  • The Tao of Vegetable Gardening: Cultivating Tomatoes, Greens, Peas, Beans, Squash, Joy, and Serenity



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