Alfred Reed Bishop and Doris William Butler
The picture above is the very tap root of Bishop's Homegrown/Face Of The Earth Seed. My grandparents shortly after moving to Pekin Indiana from Greensburg KY in 1947 where they purchased the farm that is now Bishop's Homegrown. This picture was taken in Pekin in front of the old co-op next to the old railroad depot, neither of which exist today.
Tuesday, November 4, 2008
Independent plant breeders and their importance in the 21'st century
I was responding to a post about our little blog over at Patrick's blog (http://www.patnsteph.net) when I realized that my response might make for an interesting blog of my own, so as follows is my copy and paste blog entry (with minor corrections):
I think we are on the verge of some great things in the sphere of agriculture and plant breeding on an independent and self-sustainable level considering the number of breeders showing up recently on our message boards (http://alanbishop.proboards60.com). It was only a couple of years ago that the majority of all conversations held on gardening web-sites based on organic/eco-logically grown practices were based on only open pollinated/heirloom seeds and their conservation and it seemed like any talk of breeding work using these varieties or commonly available hybrids was heresy condemned by forum arguments and the general shunning of plant breeders, little did people realize that the seed planted by folks like Alan Kapuler, Ken Etlinger, Frank Moreton and Tom Wagner had already began to sprout and take root and suddenly experienced heirloom gardeners were becoming interested in plant genetics and alternatives to the available heirlooms.
Looking back I suppose it was only a matter of time as the general problem within the heirloom seed movement was that there was a growing contingency of what I call “seed snobs”, that is to say completists whom thought they could grow any heirloom seed anywhere and it would be better than anything on the market, OP or not, that was considered new and possibly trendy.
The problem with that line of thinking is as we all know Heirlooms are adapted to specific climatic and micro-climatic conditions and have been adapted to those conditions for generations, this is something that can not be changed with only a year or two of work regardless of experience, this of course led to any number of disasters with both experienced gardeners trying heirlooms for the first time and new gardeners giving them a go in their earliest attempts at food production and this is not to mentioned the experienced heirloom gardener who thinks he can pull of that miracle of growing a crop from the high dessert in the humid Ohio Valley (lesson learned), something that just can’t be done with much measured success from my experiences.
I think this more than anything has opened gardeners up to looking for local heirloom seeds and regional ones and then looking to independent plant breeders for segregating and unstable genetic material and the direction to make selections from this material that is young enough in the Filial chain for them to make educated decisions in selection criteria in creating their own variety or strain adapted to their area. In this way gardeners can fill in the gaps in their locally sourced heirloom seeds, create an alternative to what’s available, and generally create the “Wow” factor in not only their neighbors but even in experienced heirloom gardeners.
Of course this isn’t discounting the work being done with alternative crops such as Quinoa, Amaranth, Yacon, and Oca by new up and coming independent plant breeders, it is often us who first find an interest in these crops (by way of the previous generation of independent plant breeders/seed savers) and then introduce them to the wider heirloom growing audiences. We set very good examples I think.
In the near future I look for this to be the next big gardening movement, thanks in part to Carol Deppes book, "breed your own vegetable varieties", which changed the perceptions of heirloom gardeners in response to plant breeders, I think we will see many more backyard plant breeders coming up with unique innovations, a very good example of this is Ken Allen and his Tetra Baby watermelon which Michel Lachaume (Canada Mike) turned me on to this previous season, be sure to look it up as it is a very interesting work of “art”.
A few years down the line I don't see it as impossible to find listings of one variety of seed followed by their "strain" identification including various selection criteria and what region that the source material was selected in and from whence the original mixed genetics came from. A database of varieties and their various alternative strains if you will, this will give gardeners a better grasp on selecting new material that is adapted to their location already. I foresee how this can open many doors for the independent plant breeder.
All in all the new wave and old wave of independent plant breeders are responsible for some very terrific things in regards to plant breeding, we are the future of gardening really, particularly when it comes to “Functional Foods” or as I call them “Value Added” seeds and their continued adaptations to local climates.
-Alan Reed Bishop