Northeast Organic Seed Conference

Held in unison with the 2021 NOFA-NY Winter Conference, we are proud to offer you the third iteration of a true “grassroots” event planned and brought to fruition by a host of excellent volunteers. Like the resilient seeds we cherish, we are of unique origins, sizes, shapes, and colors. 


A Resilient Seed Community
4:00 PM – 5:30 PM ET

Presenters: Bill Braun and Emily Rose Haga
Moderators: Hannah Traggis and Heron Breen

Historically, Northeast seed growing, distribution and use have gone hand in hand with crop adaptation. Commercialization over the last 100 years, however, has led to corporate consolidation called the “seed industry” where, today, 60% of our seed supply is controlled by four international companies. Many gardeners & farmers now rely on varieties originally bred for and seed produced in regions very different from the Northeast. Maybe rooted in a resilient seed ethos of the past, recent & steady growth in the number and scale of regional seed companies seems to underlay a social understanding that good seed choices yield successful harvest. While we have experienced substantial local loss of the knowledge and infrastructure to adapt, grow and steward our own seed supply, some individuals and communities have persevered in keeping seed traditions. And a revival of grain and vegetable seed skills is gaining traction.

In the face of this year’s global health crisis, and accelerating climate change, we find our Northeastern gardens, farms and overall food system vulnerable to disruptions in the seed supply chain. In this session, we aim to explore how we’ve reached this present point in time, as well as review and update how the Pandemic seed supply strains have affected all participants in our regional food & seed community. To each of us joining this session and the Seed Conference, we ask: What does a resilient food & seed community look like to you?

Seed Discussion Group: Holistic Botany
6:00 PM – 8:00 PM ET

Presenters: Ken Greene, Hannah Traggis, Banu Subramaniam, and Xan Chacko
Understanding the basics of how plants make seed is crucial for anyone that wishes to save seed to share within their community. For as long as humans have been cultivating crops and co-evolving with plants, language and understanding of these processes has developed to describe and communicate about them. The body of knowledge known by mainstream science today as “Botany”, is a relatively new framework within which to hold discussions about plant life cycles. While a useful tool, modern botany grew out of a specific cultural context and time period dominated by white, western European men. Botanical sciences often extracted from or ignored indigenous knowledge and spiritual relationships with plants, and attempted to fit plants into culturally and historically specific binary concepts of gender, sexuality, and reproduction under the guise of “objectivity”. But plants are no more binary than we know humans to be, and their diverse life cycle strategies and spiritual connections should be celebrated and honored.

In this session, we will review western plant science basics while also reconsidering that framework within a broader and deeper context presented through diverse lived experiences of seed keeping. We offer an opportunity for us all to take more responsibility for how we talk about and treat plants while deepening our relationships with seeds, seed saving, ourselves, and each other.

Seed Saving is an intergenerational skill that has its roots in many traditions with many peoples across the globe. As communities struggle with COVID-19, food apartheid, racism, and rising income inequality, seed saving and growing food is bringing people back to the land while strengthening cultural and community ties

Seed Saving 101, Session 1: A Historical and Human Perspective
10:00 AM – 11:30 AM ET

Presenter: Lex Barlowe
Moderators: Anna Gilbert-Muhammad and Jacqueline Pilati

Session 1 will explore seed through historical and cultural contexts as we listen and travel with seed keepers from BIPOC and/or LGBTQIA communities. Indigenous, Black, Brown, Immigrant, and Queer communities will share important stories, ancestral and cultural wisdom as it relates to seed cultivation, care, plant science, and history.

Seed Saving 101, Session 2: A Historic and Human Perspective
2:00 PM – 3:30 PM ET

Presenters: Jacqueline Pilati, Myra Manning, Zainab Muhammad, Roberta Cuyjet, and Glen Cuyjet
Moderator: Anna Gilbert-Muhammad
Session 2 will focus on the how-to’s of seed saving- crop planning, seed anatomy and life cycle, cleaning, and storage. This is an intergenerational workshop with presenters representing all communities and ages. Let’s learn from each other and the seeds we keep on our farm, in our gardens, and for our communities.

Northeast Seed Savers’ Evening Meet Up
6:00 PM – 8:00 PM ET

Please join those with Seed Saving passion for a virtual Evening Meet Up. Introduce yourself and meet like minds from across the Northeast. Learn who is facing & celebrating the same challenges, and let sharing deepen our seed work community.

Just as Organic Produce was a trailblazing commitment 40 years ago, today a cadre of Northeast farmers are building a viable organic seed supply. In these two workshops, we invite organic growers & farmers to consider growing seed as a crucial addition to their farm ethos & practice, to their unique market position, and to their profit margin.

Intro to Organic Seed Production, Session 1: Making the Case, and Making the Space for Seed Production
Live French Translation
10:00 AM – 11:30 AM ET

Presenters: Matthew Glenn, Chris Sanford, and Laurie McKenzie
Moderators: Crystal Stewart, Maggie Ericksen, and Heron Breen

Purchasing Seed is not just another farm “input”; seed is a well-considered choice for every successful crop plan. But seed itself is an agricultural crop, with all the same ethical and environmental foundation that our organic farm community has been championing for decades. Let us explore the historic and prescient relationship between Local Food and Local Seed. This session will highlight 3 Northeast organic farmers presenting how they have found field space and fiscal viability for seed production within their farm plan. Each farm approaches and benefits from seed in a distinct way, whether contract production or on-farm use for unique market produce. Hear the pitch, see the practice, and ask those challenging questions a good farmer always does!

Intro to Organic Seed Production, Session 2: Thinking from Seed to Seed – How a Market Crop and a Seed Crop Merge, Differ, and how to Consider what Seed Crop can Succeed within your Existing Farm Plan
Live French Translation
2:00 PM – 3:30 PM ET

Presenters: Kristen Loria, Roberta Bailey, Matthew Goldfarb, and Lia Babitch
Moderators: Crystal Stewart, Maggie Ericksen, and Heron Breen

Building from Part One, Seed Growers and Seed Company folks will walk thru the overlapping and diverging timelines for specific produce crops versus the correlating seed crops. We will discuss the first & best place of seed production economics is understanding how to choose the right seed crop(s) for your crop/market plan and time management. As we know, there is nothing like failure to make a smart farmer stay clear of even the best idea. Time allowing, seed production of Beans, Tomatoes & Peppers, Alliums, Brassicas and Cucurbits will all be followed, with Q&A throughout.

Meet Up with Your Northeast Seed Contract Folks!
5:00 PM – 6:00 PM ET

Moderators: Maggie Ericksen and Heron Breen
Growing Seed on contract for a seed company is one of the most direct ways that a farm can incorporate seed production into its bottom line. But knowing who to contact at a seed company, and how, can be a mystery. And, believe it or not, the seed contract managers feel the same way about meeting gardeners & farmers who want to grow seed! Please join us for an hour to meet the good folks from regional seed companies who are looking to meet potential seed growers.

Northeast Seed Growers’ Evening Meet Up: Meeting Each Other and Our Regional Needs, with a focus on Mentorship / Internship Collaborations 
6:00 PM – 8:00 PM ET

Moderators: Heron Breen, Laurie McKenzie, Matthew Goldfarb, and Cathleen McCluskey
Join us to enjoy and strengthen seed grower community in our region. Whether you are already an experienced seed grower, or someone who wants to learn about seed production from and with existing growers, we know active community insures against the loss of hard won seed knowledge. We’ll talk about our successes and assess our needs as Seed Growers in the Northeast, conduct a mapping exercise to discover what and where we farm, and hear firsthand about the value of seed internship collaborations from seed grower mentors and mentees who are working together now.

We’ll be joined by Organic Seed Alliance (OSA) who has been building a nation-wide organic seed internship program by matching prospective mentors and mentees via an online tool. This new program offers support in the forms of guidance for farmers, periodic check-ins throughout the season, and options for online seed education courses for mentees to compliment their on-farm learning.

Seed and Plant Pathology of Common Northeast Seed Crops
10:00 AM – 11:30 AM ET

Presenters: Alicyn Smart, Sue Scheufele, and Lindsey du Toit
Moderators: Emily Starck and Heron Breen

Growing good quality seed means a baseline of disease free seed. Just like growing good market crops means knowing when & how to assess disease impact, growing seed in the Northeast asks us to ensure that problems do not “travel” to the next season for ourselves or others. Our Northeast climates are diverse but are linked by a commonality of weather fluctuation within season and between years. Plant & Seed Disease Experts will help us understand seed-borne pathogens, their life cycles, and crop management solutions for common or emerging diseases affecting seed crops in the Northeast. Beans, Tomatoes & Peppers, Brassicas & Alliums will be the focus for this informative session.

Meet the Seed Activists and Not-For-Profits Serving the Northeast
2:00 PM – 3:30 PM ET

Presenters: Ken Greene, Lia Babitch, Bill Braun, Jacqueline Pilati, Cara Loriz, Emily Rose Haga, and Bonnetta Adeeb
There is crucial not-for-profit Seed Work being done in the Northeast, from training community seed savers & new seed growers, to collaborating on Seed Rematriation work, to linking seed and food sovereignty, to rooting seedwork in the hands of adults with special needs. You are invited to meet some of the people behind these efforts, to hear these leaders share what good work & projects are being done now, and what they see needed in our future.

The Ecotype Seed School

Sponsored by CT NOFA, the Ecotype Project, and NOFA Organic Land Care

Creating an Ecotypic Seed Network in the Northeast: A roundtable needs assessment on ecoregional seed amplification
6:00 PM – 8:00 PM ET

Panelists: Ed Toth, Sara Tangren, Heather McCargo, Hope Leeson, Dina Brewster, Polly Weigand, and Uli Lorimer
Moderator: Sefra Alexandra

As stewards of the land we all understand the importance of protecting, conserving & restoring our natural ecosystems. How can we, as seed producers, support the living seed banks of our shared ecological corridors with genetically local native seeds? There are many of us in the Northeast who are doing the important work of ecotype seed production- but what resources or skill sets are we missing to foster a fully functional ecoregional “seedshed?” Join us as we conduct a live needs assessment discussion with some of our regions leading pioneers & authorities to architect a way forward of amplifying Northeast ecotype seed for ecological restoration.

Plant Breeders Day, Session 1: So You Want to Be a Plant Breeder?
Live French Translation
10:00 AM – 11:30 AM ET

Presenters: Richard Favreau, Solveig Hanson, and Michael Glos
Moderators: Heron Breen, Kristen Loria, Adrienne Shelton, and Hugo Martorell
We kick off the Plant Breeding Day with “So You Want to Be a Plant Breeder”. In this 90-minute session, we will hear the stories behind the development of 3 recent plant varieties, with consideration for the diverse approaches required for different crops (e.g. annuals vs. biennials). Our speakers will present on a particular plant breeding project that they have completed, walk us through the variety development steps from beginning to end, and candidly answer questions from the audience. We hope these stories will be informative to our plant breeding community, act as inspiration for future projects, and set the stage for the remaining workshops in this track where we consider in detail the practical issues around plant breeding and ultimately seed distribution. Presenters from all 3 workshops of the Plant Breeding track will be available throughout the day to serve as a backup panel of experts.

Plant Breeders Day, Session 2: How to Source Germplasm
Live French Translation
2:00 PM – 3:30 PM ET

Presenters: Laurie McKenzie, Lindsay Wyatt, and Nate Kleinman
Moderators: Heron Breen, Kristen Loria, Adrienne Shelton, and Hugo Martorell
In the second session of the Plant Breeding Day, we tackle the question of “How to Source Germplasm” to begin a new breeding project. Our speakers will present on the resources available to find and access initial plant material, as well as the pros and cons of using these different sources. Heirloom varieties, gene banks, seed catalogs, public sector plant breeders, and more will be considered. Legal and ethical considerations around sourcing germplasm, such as utility patents and permission, will also be discussed. Presenters from all 3 workshops of the Plant Breeding track will be available throughout the day to serve as a backup panel of experts.

Plant Breeders’ Day, Session 3: Now You Have a New Variety!! What’s Next? Visions for Classic and Emergent Models
Live French Translation
4:00 PM – 6:00 PM ET

Presenters: Jason Cavatorta, Petra Page-Mann, and Craig LeHoullier
Moderators: Heron Breen, Kristen Loria, Adrienne Shelton, and Hugo Martorell
In the evening session of our Plant Breeding Day, we’ll share 90 minutes diving into what to do once you have a new variety to share. We’ll hear from plant breeders as well as seed companies exploring many opportunities and challenges; we’ll also hear stories of seeds & stewards approaching community & reciprocity outside such modern paradigms.

Womxn in Regional Seed, Plant & Farm Work Morning Meet-up
10:00 AM – 11:30 AM ET

Moderator: Petra Page-Mann
Calling all womxn+! All womxn & non-binary folx who love seed, who love food, who dare to believe different systems and a new world is possible: Let us gather together to celebrate, support and vision our steps forward, together.

In this session, we are all teachers and we are all students. Can we dehybridize patriarchy? We will laugh & we may cry! With abundant personal & collective reflection, we’ll explore how we got here and arrive where we are, naming what we can as we lean into frameworks of restorative justice, committing ourselves to courage and community wider than what we’ve been taught to believe possible.

Pushing Boundaries
2:00 PM – 3:30 PM ET

Presenters: Julia Aguilar, Sefra Alexandra, Jacqueline Pilati, Aaron Parker, and Namai Pandit
Moderator: Nate Kleinman

There is a common assumption made about which seeds can be grown in the rather amorphous realm known as the “Northeast”. This talk will showcase regional farmers, gardeners, families and researchers who are Pushing Boundaries by growing very unique vegetables, herbs and flowers for seed. For example, there is a current impetus on amplifying seed production of truly local native “ecotype” plants to conserve the wild genetic diversity relied upon by our hardworking pollinators. Individuals will share and discuss their motivations: preservation, plant passion, family and community relevance, plant breeding, or selling a niche crop/seed. As well as the tricks, tips, quirks and deep attention each plant practitioner has learned in order to encourage others to experiment and expand the biodiversity of seed produced in the Northeast.

Keynote Speaker: Banu Subramaniam
Keynote Address: Seeds for a Decolonial Botany
6:00 PM – 8:00 PM ET

Presenter: Banu Subramaniam
Moderators: Petra Page-Mann, Myra Manning, and Maddie Halpert

What does it mean to be a feminist botanist? Tracing the colonial roots of botany, I re-imagine a more inclusive and capacious field of botany untethered and decentered from its origins in histories of racism, slavery, and colonialism. Drawing on recent scholarship in the biological sciences, queer ecology, indigenous ecology, and postcolonial and feminist Science and Technology Studies (STS), I show how gender, race, class, sexuality, and nation shape the foundational language, terminology, and theories of modern botany, and how botany remains grounded in the violence of its colonial pasts. Decolonizing Botany is a project that reckons with these difficult origins and lays a roadmap to imagine a new feminist botany that harnesses the power of feminist thought to reimagine the practices of experimental biology.

Banu Subramaniam is Professor of Women, Gender, Sexuality Studies at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. Trained as a plant evolutionary biologist, Banu’s work engages the feminist studies of science in the practices of experimental biology. Author of Holy Science: The Biopolitics of Hindu Nationalism (University of Washington Press, 2019), Ghost Stories for Darwin: The Science of Variation and the Politics of Diversity (University of Illinois Press, 2014), and coeditor of Feminist Science Studies: A New Generation (Routledge, 2001) and Making Threats: Biofears and Environmental Anxieties (Rowman & Littlefield, 2005) and the forthcoming MEAT!: A Transnational Analysis (Duke University Press 2021), Banu’s current work focuses on decolonizing botany and the relationship of science and religious nationalism in India.

LGBTQ Roundtable
10:00 AM – 11:30 AM ET

Moderators: Jamie Levato, SonyaJoy Key, and Maggie Cheney
Circle for LGBTQ farmers and farm educators to take pride in our resilience, discuss challenges faced and creative solutions developed in the field and community, network, and share resources.

The Ecotype Seed School

Sponsored by CT NOFA, the Ecotype Project, and NOFA Organic Land Care

Ecotypes, Ecoregions & Ecological Restoration: a seed-school intensive for seed farmers interested in producing Northeast native plant materials for biodiversity & ecological restoration
1:00 PM – 2:15 PM ET

Presenters: Polly Weigand, Hope Leeson, Michael Butts, and Alexis Doshas
Moderator: Sefra Alexandra

Part 1: Theory
What are native ecotypes and how are ecoregions defined as it relates to native plant and seed production? Join us and learn what role amplifying these place-based genetic resources play in providing biologically diverse native plant materials that are in such high demand and such short supply in the Northeast. 

Polly Weigand (Central Pine Barrens Joint Planning and Policy Commission & Long Island Native Plant Initiative) & Hope Leeson (Rhode Island Natural History Survey) will discuss the theory and framework behind the importance of utilizing the right plants in the right place for supporting the restoration of wildlife habitat. 

2:15 PM – 2:30 PM ET


2:30 PM – 4:00 PM ET

Part 2: Practice
How as a seed producer can I establish “Founders Plots” on my farm to amplify an ecotypic seed crop? Join Michael Butts lead of native seed production at the Greenbelt Native Plant Center to learn what you need to know & consider when producing native plant seed. This intensive will demonstrate how to grow,  harvest & handle this specialty crop to make this much needed local resource available for ecological restoration market needs.

Friday Night Open Mic: Seed Stories & Poems
6:00 PM – 8:00 PM ET

Moderators: Heron Breen and Maddie Halpert
Please come to Share, Laugh, Cry, Listen & Enjoy: Epic farm & seed fails & successes, simple statements, dreams, visions, short stories, prose without category and, of course, poetry.

Indigenous Seed Stories Opportunities and Collaborations, Session 1: Indigenous Seed Stories and Opportunities
10:00 AM – 11:30 AM ET

Presenters: Keely Curliss, Angela Ferguson, and Terrylynn Brant
Moderator: Elizabeth Hoover

Local Native panelists discuss their successes, challenges, and quest for resources in their continued efforts to revitalize and preserve Native heirloom seeds. Whether seeds have remained in constant circulation within a community of tribal gardeners, or whether a community needs to work with institutions like seed banks, repositories or universities in order to rematriate indigenous seeds will be part of this discussion. Among the questions that will be asked: What kind of help has been available to aid in locating the heirloom seeds native to the community? How can we motivate community members to become involved in planting seeds? Is there help for teaching people how to plant with seed saving in mind? What kind of outreach has gone on within the community to find out who has heirloom seeds? Are they willing to share with others in the community? What kinds of successes have you had in sharing with other neighboring communities? What current needs have to be met in order to move the preservation of indigenous seeds forward?

Indigenous Seed Stories Opportunities and Collaborations, Session 2: Collaborations:
2:00 PM – 3:30 PM ET

Presenters: Ken Greene, Kenny Perkins, Janice Brant, Manuel Lizarralde
Moderator: Elizabeth Hoover

Whereas our first panel focused on Native presenters speaking to a mostly Native audience, “Collaborations” includes Native and non-Native panelists who will talk about how to be a good ally and a good collaborator. Following a discussion on “seed rematriation”, panelists will discuss how to approach institutions or non-Native collaborators to partner in bringing these indigenous seeds home. Brainstorming about how these collaborations can happen and when they’ve been most successful will be offered. Stories of tribal communities who have collaborated with non-Native farmers, seed keepers and plant breeders to help restore heirloom seeds to tribal communities will be exchanged.

Indigenous Evening Seed Meet Up
6:00 PM – 8:00 PM ET

Moderator: Elizabeth Hoover
As we do not have an option at this time to mingle in person before and after workshops because of the pandemic, join an evening of open discussion, more questions & answers, and networking. Participants are welcome to continue to explore the daytime workshop discussions with an emphasis on the future of seed keeping and its relationship to cultural preservation.

Post-Conference Event: Raising Seed and Community: A Day of Discussion and Needs Assessment

Session 1:
10:00 AM – 11:30 AM ET

Session 2:
2:00 PM – 3:30 PM ET

Session 3:
4:00 PM – 5:30 PM ET

A few might recall that the Northeast Organic Seed Conference was first given voice in 2015 at a Needs Assessment day hosted by Cornell in Saratoga Springs. With much luck and hard work, our regional seed community can be proud that we’ve offered to each other this 3rd iteration of the Seed Conference. Amazing, especially the group effort this 3rd culmination has resulted from. Group Work is truly the virtue of this 2021 virtual Seed Conference.

Let’s spend a day of Seed Discussion & Needs Assessment together! Likely, more questions than answers abound at first: Who are we, this gloriously varied Northeast seed community? How can we hear & help each other? What are our assumptions that need challenging? What are distinct goals that need collective effort to achieve? These and other conversations will be supported by UVM Professor of Community Development Dan Tobin, a team of skilled graduate students, and fellow UVM faculty. Indeed, this team is supporting our whole seed conference thru the week, taking notes & capturing the needs and goals expressed in many sessions, as well as conducting a post-conference survey to follow up on your priorities moving forward. With their help, a “rainbow” paper of Seed Community Needs Assessment will result, helping us found a starting point for our future work & evolution.

We will portion the work into 3 sessions. First, we will start the morning reviewing what we have expressed during the week, via the work of the UVM team. We will also capture our takeaways from the seed conference so far, as well as assumptions that we each need to challenge in our seed work.

With the morning session in mind, we will take 2 afternoon sessions to explore what a healthy and supportive seed community looks like and what we need to see those visions fulfilled. How do we sustain and build community? How do we sustain and expand capacity? What does Seed Equity look like, both as inherent fairness & balance but also as livelihood and income? What forms of education, training, networks, and mentorship need support?

Rather than tying a bow on a perfectly packaged resolution by the end of the day, let’s capture our starting points. An honest conversation is not fixated on solutions: admitting what we do not know & naming at least some needed work toward having a more full discussion is valuable. This is one conversation among many needed, and not all affected will be present. Let’s hope to leave the day knowing each other and ourselves better.

Seed Conference Translation Sponsor

The Ecotype Seed School Sponsors

Seed Conference Sponsors