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Ashlanders share seeds

The big Spring Seed Circus Sunday at the Ashland Historic Armory opened the door, not just for song, dance, aerial twirling and community connection, but for the increasingly valuable ritual of swapping organic, genetically pure heritage seeds, so you can plant and dine on real food for you and your family and neighbors. 

That’s the message of scores of gardeners and seed preservers, such as Catie Faryl, an organizer of the Chamber of Commons, Talent, who said 75 percent of the world’s seeds today are the patented “trans-species” property of agribusiness corporations — therefore underlining the importance of individuals preserving and trading heritage seed.

Doing a land-office business at the Seed Circus was Don Tipping, owner of Seven Seeds Farm and Siskiyou Seeds of Williams.

Tipping gave away fat seed catalogs and was selling, at $3 a packet, scores of organic veggie seeds — greens, peas, mesclun salad mix, you name it — and noting he has four employees in the seed factory and five on the farm and moves over 40,000 such packets a year. Many are available at Ashland’s Shop'n Kart and Ashland Food Cooperative.

The Circus staged a big seed trade-giveaway for three hours, but also offered vendors space to ply their goods in retail fashion. Tipping, a bit of a Luther Burbank of the Coast Range, said he offers many varieties of greens the chance to inbreed and bring forth self-hybridized seeds that are best adapted to the changing Southern Oregon climate. 

“This is the best and most salient response to climate change,” says Tipping. “For instance, I took seven varieties of kale and let them all cross-pollinate. I saved the seed of the ones with the best leaf color, taste and nutrition. Over time, they developed reliably without herbicides, pesticides and excess fertilizers. They’re resilient, and a more stable, delicious and nutritious food supply.” 

Tipping sees himself, not just as a defender of the best seeds, but as a re-educator of this mostly “agriculturally illiterate” generation, which came about beause of industrialized agriculture and because of the “dispacement of people from the land.” 

Buying many packets of his seeds, Timothy March of Talent said simply, “He’s the man. He’s got the seeds I’ve heard great stuff about. I buy them to help support the local community. I very much can taste the difference when I harvest and eat it.” 

Paige Magia, organizer of the event and member of Families for Food Freedom, said the Seed Circus aims to support the local food network, so as to get produce into backyards in such volume that everyone has self-sustainability in the event of natural or manmade disasters or personal-family disability. 

“Last year in the Rogue Valley, only 3 percent of our food was locally grown and now, only a year later, it’s more than twice that,” said Magia. 

Another event organizer and the director of Families for Food Freedom, Katie Oppenheimer, says its purpose is to bring focus on spring equinox on helping home gardeners with planting, sharing seed and bringing people together sustainably “with appreciation for the beauty and balance of this valley.”

She adds, “The seeds are getting corrupted by corporate interests and losing their viability.”

The patenting of seed genes, said Faryl, has resulted in the closing of many “seed libraries” and the “negating of people’s rights to grow their own food. It’s healthier to grow your own food with heritage seeds. You know what you’re putting in your body and it helps bees and other pollinators to survive.”

John Darling is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.