It is time for the seed industry in the U.S. to be transparent, accessible and respectful to People of Color, disadvantaged people, discriminated people, beginner-level seed growers, immigrants, cultures, history, and individual stories.
A simple analysis of the Organic Seed Alliance’s self-identified seed producer list as of October 2019 publicly available here shows that 86% of these producers are White and 8% of them are POC (listers are commercial seed growers so Indigenous growers usually don’t list their names in such lists).
Please keep in mind that this data is geographically-biased, and there are some great companies in this country who actively work with a diverse group of growers. However, please also think for one second and ask yourself: Why does only 8% of the whole list associate themselves with one of the flagship non-profit organizations in the U.S. that claims “to advance ethical seed production solutions to meet food and farming needs in a changing world?” Why? Is it because POC lack skills and/or intelligence to grow seeds like white people or is it because there is a privileged group of people and companies who decide what seeds to grow, how those seeds are grown, and who grows those seeds? Is it about who favors who, is it about personal connections? Or is it simply because of neglecting socioeconomic parameters, ignorance, or being too comfortable to the extent that doesn’t require thinking of others’ circumstances, hence being selfish? Sounds complicated, isn’t it?
In 2018, when we first decided to contract growers to help us produce seed stock for our seed catalog, we realized that while there is technical information and data available online, there wasn’t a single document that summarizes how the whole process of commercial seed growing, from taking over seed assignments to how successful completion of an assignment works to contract prices. Hence, we prepared our Seed Grower’s Manual (v1.0) in Fall 2018, based on a compilation of various technical documents (many thanks to their authors), a very limited amount of almost hidden data that we had to squeeze out from a few books and manuals, our experiences and field data, as well as based on the way we do things as a small seed company. This is how we do it now, but we continuously learn from our mistakes and successes so our manual will change as well. You also have the right to know who actually owns the seed companies that you buy your seeds from. You will also find a chance to get to know us briefly in this document.
You can download the current version of the manual here. Expect new chapters such as ethical seed stewardship added to the manual. Oh and we will for sure add a chapter on how seeds can be grown in West Virginia, too. After all, we have to be considerate of where we live and where we farm while respecting the People who live here so stay tuned for Version 2.0!
You may also be surprised why this kind of a document was written by a small seed company that specializes in Turkish seeds, an odd specialty indeed, that was founded by a Turkish immigrant. Answer is obvious but not: I am a hard-working immigrant, ‘who always needed to find creative and practical ways to adapt and was able to relate with “others”‘ as my wonderful partner, Amy Thompson, once said.
Reflecting on all of these issues is refreshing and healthy, and it will probably make you uncomfortable but feeling uncomfortable for other people every once a while is good. Enjoy this document, laugh at it, learn from it, criticize it, yell at it if you want. If you are not white or if you feel that you were/are discriminated in any way by the seed industry, and would like to grow seeds for us, contact us at our email address. Please keep in mind that we are a very small seed company that really doesn’t have a ton of seed sales but as much as our budget allows, we will do our best to contract you for growing seeds for us. All of our growers are white right now, and we want to change that. As long as we have your consent, we will feature you on our website as well.
This is not a manifest but it is. It is subject to change because I proofread all the time and re-visit my own thoughts.
Mehmet Öztan, Ph.D.
Co-owner, Seed Saver and Grower
Two Seeds in a Pod Heirloom Seed Co