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Greenbank seeds organic future

Nathaniel Talbot, field assistant for the Agriculture Training Center at the Greenbank Farm, shows some of the plants he hopes to use for organically grown seeds that would someday be available to farmers on Whidbey Island. - Nathan Whalen
Nathaniel Talbot, field assistant for the Agriculture Training Center at the Greenbank Farm, shows some of the plants he hopes to use for organically grown seeds that would someday be available to farmers on Whidbey Island.
— image credit: Nathan Whalen

Amid the work training farmers for a life in agriculture is a project that could be a boon to organic farmers on Whidbey Island.

The Greenbank Farm is home to an Agriculture Training Center that teaches farmers how to establish and operate a successful farm.

As part of their studies, several students and teachers are developing varieties of organic seeds catered to thrive on Whidbey Island.

Sebastian Aguilar, training director, said there is a huge need for organic seeds in many varieties and in large quantities.

“In the organic farming, seeds are one of the last frontiers in the industry,” Aguilar said. Often organic farmers are left to use conventional seeds when organic counterparts aren’t available in the marketplace.

Those varieties may not be as resistant to pests or the conditions of an organic farm.

Students are now going through a project that will take years to complete, examining varieties of produce that work on Whidbey and under organic farming conditions. Trainees during the growing season planted varieties of zucchini, cucumbers and other vegetables.

Aguilar highlighted the efforts of Nathanial Talbot in getting the seed program off the ground.

Talbot, a Portland native who was a student at the training center last year and is a current assistant, had become interested in organic seed production as he learned about farming. He hopes to someday lease a farm on Whidbey Island.

He outlined the work necessary to gather the seeds from the crops. The seeds are threshed carefully from the plant to make sure they don’t shatter.He then removes any additional non-seed material before it is stored in a dark, dry, cool place. Aguilar said a dehumidifier is brought in to help combat the damp conditions that are common at the Greenbank Farm.

The Greenbank Farm Agriculture Training Center is rounding up financial support to continue the research, with a $15,000 grant from Sustainable Path in Seattle.

That award will fund workshops that will teach area farmers about such topics as plant breeding for organic seeds and seed saving. Aguilar also mentioned that the center is being considered for a United States Department of Agriculture grant administrated through the state. If awarded, the grant will provide $150,000 in funding.

The grant will help the center develop a regional seed system that will develop a network of “seedspeople” who will share knowledge and experiences, according to information provided by the training center.

The center hopes to share information with the Whidbey Island community.

In addition to the workshops, Aguilar said the data collected will be posted on the center’s website, greenbankfarm.biz.

Next year he hopes to continue the research on a larger scale. Students will also continue talking with local farmers about their needs.

“We’re interesting in finding other growers on the island interested in seed production,” Aguilar said.

 

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