THE SEED COLLECTION EXPERIENCE

By Dylan Bruce

7 minute read

Please note: Seed Collections is a fun way to join a community of growers in search of exciting new seed options. This program does not replace our existing trialing programs.

Ever wish you had a little more support when choosing new varieties to grow in your garden or vegetable operation? How about more opportunities for learning, connection, and interaction with others during COVID? Our new Seed Collection Experience is just the ticket to learning while finding both connection and fun new seed options this year!  

What’s a Seed Collection Experience, anyway?

We’re always trying to figure out new ways of connecting the seed supply chain, from plant breeder, to seed company, to grower, to eater, and back again. Frankly we can’t say it enough – with the right tools, ANYONE can be a valuable collaborator in breeding, trialing, growing and building networks of regionally adapted seed!  

The Seed Collections Experience was born from our desire to offer a themed growing experience with guidance from curator experts while also making collaborative trialing more accessible and fun. Seed Collections participants join a growing experience that includes seed, support throughout the growing season from their collection’s curator expert, and the opportunity to connect with growers to trial and experience a crop in community all while growing new varieties in the comfort of a home garden or farm.

To make the experience even more fun, we’ve teamed up with some amazing food systems changemakers who have chosen the varieties in each collection based on their wide-ranging experience and preference. Many of the varieties in the Seed Collections have a personal connection to our curators – some of them long time favorites – or have particularly interesting traits and performance that our curators really wanted to share with participants. As a part of each Collection Experience, our partner curators will be offering their expertise to participants through live check-ins throughout the growing season. They’ll also be interacting with participants through our platform during the growing season so anyone can ask questions and hopefully learn a thing or two along the way.  

Lane Selman of the Culinary Breeding Network, is curating two of the Seed Collections this year: an Italian sweet roasting (Corno di Toro) pepper collection, and a leaf or cutting celery collection. She chose these offerings both for their delicious flavors and high performance, but also for the significance they have had to the community and early work of the Culinary Breeding Network. Corno di Toro peppers were the focus of one of the first variety trials Lane organized, and the varieties included in her collection also outshone the pack in her taste tests with professional chefs. The cutting celery collection began with Portland-area Thai chefs asking for local sources of the cutting celery so key to flavoring some of their dishes. By partnering with these chefs and an array of farmers, Lane identified some winning varieties showcasing the diversity of this underappreciated herb. And now, through Seed Collections, she wants to share these awesome varieties with you!

taste test of sweet roasting peppers
Tasting sweet roasting peppers with curator Lane Selman’s Culinary Breeding Project

When you purchase a seed collection, you aren’t just buying seed for your garden – you are getting a shared experience. Regardless of where you are in the country, or your personal level of growing expertise – this is a way to weave the story of your farm or garden into that of the bigger food and seed system. As a participant, you’ll join hundreds – possibly thousands – of others across the country in a learning experience that also gives back to the broader seed community by providing valuable performance data through your participation and variety reviews. Using your SeedLinked account you’ll track your progress from planting to harvest, rate the different varieties along the way, and share results as you go. 

SeedLinked’s platform is also launching a social feed for growers beginning in 2021, so participants can easily interact and communicate with each other, share updates, ask questions, chat with their curator, SeedLinked team members, and other growers – and perhaps even brag about who is able to grow the biggest tomato along the way! All participants will also get to take part in three live garden check-ins hosted by the Collection’s curator throughout the growing season. While every Collection will be slightly different, you can expect to have a live check-in starting with planting tips and tricks for your Collection’s varieties, a midseason check-in to talk crop care, and a harvest time check in to talk about culinary use and storage tips (and in the case of our beginning seed saver collections, seed cleaning demos!).

One thing that you may find different about the Seed Collection Experience is that seed won’t be shipped right away like you’d expect when ordering seed. Collection participants will receive their seeds and invitations to the SeedLinked trial communities in February, just in time to get early crops started indoors for growing seasons in North America. 

What’s so special about this Seed Collection Experience, really?

There’s so much to learn from growing and sharing our real results, not just the successes. When people grow the exact same varieties across a large area, we get incredible insight into regional performance variation and grower preferences. Through the SeedLinked platform this collective insight gets shared back to all platform users, so everyone learns and has better information to make informed seed decisions next season. The data generated by participant reviews also helps to inform seed company and plant breeder seed choices, as they are now able to see clearly what growers love and what they struggle with in various parts of the country. Take for instance the the beginning seed saving collections curated by the Organic Seed Alliance. There is almost no public information about the results of seed growing in different regions of the country, to help small and medium seed companies understand where growers can successfully produce quality seed from different crops. While you might learn a new seed saving skill with this collection, a regional seed company may unlock a whole new region of potential seed producers.  

The Seed Collections Experience is an opportunity to receive seed of some unique and exciting varieties, and learn from a community of growers who together with the “right tool” are collecting, tracking, and sharing their results while easily communicating with other growers and their curator experts throughout the process. Best of all, everyone can feel good about participation because we’re helping each other and contributing to something bigger than our own farm or garden – a regionally resilient seed system. We are firm believers that we all do better when we all do better. A rising tide lifts all boats!  

Partnering with people who make a difference

Partnership and collaboration are at the heart of SeedLinked’s mission, and we are committed to meeting the needs of our curator food systems changemakers and supporting the work that they do. Your purchase of a Seed Collection Experience will help SeedLinked cover our cost to buy seed, handle logistics, and provide the platform, but it will also provide support for our curator changemakers. They do so much work to educate growers, and we want to be sure their work in the garden and efforts to improve our seed systems are fully appreciated. Some of our curators have also chosen to support other important initiatives happening in our food system by donating ten percent of their Collections profits to these causes. Check out the individual Collection pages to learn more about these projects!  

We’ve got an awesome lineup of partner curators with varied roles in the food system. We encourage you to view all the Collections to get more details HERE. If you don’t have time to check them out individually right now, here’s a sneak peek:  

Craig LeHoullier

Craig LeHoullier, all-around tomato-extraordinaire and leading collaborator with the Dwarf Tomato Breeding Project, curated collections of his favorite Slicing Tomatoes, Paste Tomatoes, and Cherry Tomatoes, highlighting some of the varieties bred by the volunteers of the Dwarf Tomato Breeding Project alongside old favorite heirlooms, and some interesting finds from his own garden.

Meg Cowden

Meg Cowden, Minnesota gardener and blogger at Seed to Fork, took two different angles – curating a collection of top varieties of cabbage for any season, and a companion planting seed collection featuring marigolds alongside culinary spice peppers meant not just for fresh eating, but also for spices like paprika or sauces.  

Nate Kleinman from the Experimental Farm Network

Nate Kleinman, of the Experimental Farm Network, is highlighting the crop diversity of the future with a collection that explores diverse and underappreciated perennial vegetables, as well as a second collection focused specifically on highlighting some of the exciting kale diversity available to growers – including a perennial kale! 

Organic Seed Alliance

The good folks at the Organic Seed Alliance chose three different crops to offer beginning seed saver experiences: sunflower, dry beans, and cherry tomatoes. Not only will participants get to experience the beauty and deliciousness of those crops, they’ll also be empowered to learn new skills to save their own seeds for friends, family, and future seasons. 

Bjorn Bergman

Bjorn Bergman, an avid gardener and long-time participant in Seed Saver’s Exchange’s Citizen Science Corps and Yearbook Seed Exchange programs is bringing his love of fresh garden salads to the table with a garden lettuce collection.