Posts Tagged With: Fruition Seeds

Seed, Story & Citizen: an Interview with Scott Chaskey

Scott Chaskey has been well described as a working farmer, poet, and spiritual father of the community farming movement.  Twenty five years ago he began Quail Hill Farm, one of the original CSAs in the country, as an innovative stewardship project with the Peconic Land Trust on Long Island.  Currently serving 250 CSA members, local restaurants, food pantries and farmers markets, Scott has also nourished the world through the thoughtful training of well over one hundred apprentices over the years.

Scott Chaskey, at home on Quail Hill Farm.

Scott Chaskey, at home on Quail Hill Farm.

I first heard Scott speak as NOFA-NY’s Farmer of the Year at the 2013 Winter Conference.  The room was silent and electric, all attention rapt as the farmer-poet-sage brought us on a journey of soil and spirit, simultaneously grounding and uplifting us, renewing our passion for the good work and good world we call home.

As a seed farmer, breeder and founder of Fruition Seeds,  I am particularly inspired by Scott’s rich, articulate commitment to sharing the significance of the seeds that form the foundation of our food system.

Scott’s recent book Seedtime celebrates the story of a seed through story and scholarship, calling us to “renew our role as citizens of nature,” as Aldo Leopold implored, “not as conquerors of it.”  We shared a conversation this fall and here are a few highlights.

Seedtime-Cover (2)

Petra: Scott, what is a seed?

Scott:  Each seed is a story, a story held in a state of rest.  To grasp the whole story, we will have to look at the structure of a flower, how plants have evolved to attract pollinators, and how a flowering plant produces seed.  Our entire food supply is a gift of the angiosperm revolution – the magnificent event that introduced flowering plants to the world 140 million years ago –  and our health and food futures are entwined with the way in which we choose to nurture or manipulate the seeds of that natural revolution.

Petra:  How has our relationship with seed developed over time?

Scott:  Throughout most of the history of agriculture, each farmer was by definition a seedsman.  In the fields,  the strongest plants were selected, collected and saved the seeds to ensure another harvest.  Seed companies eventually replaced farmers in the field as the keepers and  purveyors of seed. As seed production became more centralized, on-farm breeding and seed selection diminished, and the indigenous wisdom of generations began to fade.  How many of us can name the difference between an open-pollinated plant and a hybrid, let alone understand the implications of our present industrial systems for our food supply?  If we retrace the story of seeds to the waters and soil of origin we will glimpse a shared identity.  We are, after all, fellow travelers on this earth and dependent on each other.

'Dukat' Dill

‘Dukat’ Dill

Petra: How has your relationship with seed developed over time?

Scott:  I was first welcomed to the world of plants by a garden in England in my late 20s, studying plants and poetry.  I learned to turn the earth and to cultivate crops in the dark, fertile soil of the cliff meadows perched just above Merlin’s rock, where the interconnection between mineral, flowering plants and man – far from abstraction – could be immediately felt.  Twenty five years ago we began Quail Hill Farm on Long Island, planting many thousands of seeds each year.  Fifteen years ago we began to save seed from our fields and immediately noticed the signature of farmer-saved seed: better performance.  Finally, I was inspired to write Seedtime in reverence to the miracle of creation as well as the need to communicate the story of seed with more people.

Petra:  It’s a beautiful book Scott, thank you for writing it.  What specific qualities do you see changing in the seed you’ve saved on your farm?

Scott:  The first seeds we saved at Quail Hill were tomatoes.  Increased productivity and earliness were notable, but perhaps the most significant experience came in 2009, the first year we experienced Late Blight.  Though we eventually lost our entire crop, four varieties specifically stood out as resilient, producing fruit weeks after the rest.  These four were each crops we had been saving seed of, adapting them to our conditions, to our needs.  Some were varieties widely known for this resistance, such as Matt’s Wild Cherry.  Others had no known resistance, such as Jaune Flammee.  This resilience defies characterization and we continue to value seed selected on our farm as a result.

Fruition Seeds' Gold Medal tomatoes (and Kim!) are remarkably resistant to Late Blight, as well.

Fruition Seeds’ Gold Medal tomatoes (and Kim!) are remarkably resistant to Late Blight, as well.

Petra:  How does the term ‘citizen’ relate to seeds and seed saving?

Scott:  Functional societies cultivate citizens who find themselves and find their place, learn throughout their lives and contribute to the health of the whole.  Of course, this is how seeds function.  For us often ‘thinking’ gets in the way.  I love a statement about the effectiveness of plants by Zen teacher Robert Aitken.  It goes something like this: “Clover does not think about responsibility…its response to altered circumstances is to give nourishment.”  When I first learned about the Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) model I thought, “now here is a way contribute to our culture in a way that deepens my relationship with the Earth and serves needs greater than my own.”

Petra:  So true!  Scott, where do you find hope these days?

Scott:  In the passion of young people!  The change of age and interest in farming is dramatic and invigorating.  The NOFA-NY Winter Conference used to be about 200 people, many in their 40s and 50s; now it’s about 1500 people, 75%  are in their 20s. Quail Hill was one of the first CSAs in the country; now there are more than 6000.  We are ready to get back to our roots!

'Caribe' Cilantro

‘Caribe’ Cilantro

Petra:  And what would you like us all to remember?

Scott:  The health of our fields, the health of our plant communities and the future of our food supply will depend on whether, as a global culture, we can learn to respect the whole of the biological community and to accept our role as citizens of it.  Our culture, our habitation in this time on Earth, is in need of transformation, some say in the shape of a new story.  Transformation comes from within, and seeds have mastered the art.

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Keeping the Snap in Sugar Snap Pea

Peas are the harbinger of two seasons: the Spring comes when peas are pushed into the cold, untenable earth and then Summer arrives with the first fresh snap pea so sweet, so succulent and so long awaited.  The sweetness of peas is so much more than sugar on your tongue!

Oregon Giant Snow Pea is delightfully sweet & prolific!

Oregon Giant Snow Pea is succulent, sweet & prolific!

Have you noticed how commonly the peas growing in your garden are mixed company?  You’ll often find snows in snaps and snaps in snow, shell peas with whomever (but rarely by themselves)!

As gardeners, we love finding the huge, luscious snow pea among the sea of snap peas.  As seed savers, we smile and get to work.

To ensure the next generation of pea seed is more true to type, we simply remove the plants we don’t want to save seed of.  It’s a simple as that!

Sugar Ann Snap Peas are early, prolific & delicious!

Snap Peas at their finest: Fruition Seeds’ Sugar Snap Select!

Removing (‘roguing ‘) the unwanted plants is easy, fun and delicious: we do most of our roguing when the pods are still tender and sweet.   If it’s snap peas we’ve planted and there are a few snows, we pull the entire snow pea plant, eating as we go.  If it’s snow peas we want and we see shells, we pull the entire shell pea plant and enjoy every pod.

We prefer to rogue when the pods are in their edible prime, but we also rogue when the pods are brown and dry.  Shell pea pods will be straight and smooth while snap pea pods are curved and tend to tuck in around each seed, snow pea pods are wide and flat comparatively and bulge around each seed quite dramatically.

Shell Peas (on the left) are straight; snap peas (on the right) are curved.

Shell Peas (on the left) are straight; snap peas (on the right) are curved.

As seed has become commodity,  the international industry currently surrounding agriculture has focused ultimately on economic profit rather than seed quality.  This results in two key factors mixing up our peas: seed cleaning equipment not being fully clean and little, if any roguing to then maintain varietal purity.

Sugar Ann Snap peas have been rogued in the field and on the drying rack!

Sugar Ann Snap peas have been rogued in the field and on the drying rack!

With all their nooks and crannies, seed cleaning equipment is challenging to clean.  To get every single seed is almost impossible!  Also, the roguing has become increasingly difficult to manage and economically justify when farmers grow acres upon acres of a single seed crop .

Sugar Ann Snap pea is a dwarf plant; we trellis but you don't have to!

Sugar Ann Snap pea is a dwarf plant; we trellis but you don’t have to!

At Fruition Seeds, we revel in the process of providing high quality, regionally-adapted seed that is certified organic and non-GMO.  Every time each of us eat, plant or save a seed we are selecting seeds for all generations to come:  eat well, rogue often and sow your seeds wide!


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Potato Planting Tips

I am as I have always been:  in love with potatoes.

Mashed or roasted, baked or fried, add just the right amount of butter and there will never be leftovers!

As with all things that I now steward the seeds of, I dearly love to eat them.  The multitudes of colors and shapes, their versatility in our kitchen, their unceasing ability to satisfy, on many levels, is without end.   We love to plant, harvest, eat and plant more potatoes…and the circles go round!

There are thousands of potato varieties, all different colors, shapes, sizes and maturity dates!

There are thousands of potato varieties, all different colors, shapes, sizes and maturity dates!

Of all the marvelous things in my Father’s gardens, potatoes were particularly beloved.  After planting a humble, sprouted chunk in an old wine barrel the gorgeous, deep blue foliage would rise and the pale, delicate flowers would appear as shooting stars.  We’d pour more soil with fresh grass clippings on top, making the plant rise and flourish all the more until finally the time came to tip over the barrel!  Beside my sister Greta, pushing with all our might we’d spill the contents of the barrel and scurry to find those gems of gold, ruby and sapphire among the soil.  With so much anticipation, harvesting potatoes was more elating than an Easter Egg Hunt!  To this day, harvesting potatoes is still one of my favorite pleasures of gardening.

Potatoes are one of the easiest plants to grow and here are a few keys to ensure abundance!


Start with the best certified organic, disease-free seed potatoes you can find.  Although it’s tempting, store-bought potatoes have been treated with chemicals that inhibit sprouting and are inappropriate for planting.  There are hundreds of potato varieties, so try something new alongside your old stand-bys!  Fruition Seeds offers seven different potatoes for seed, each one with unique color, shape, maturity and level of disease resistance, each one regionally adapted to thrive in the Northeast.

Leave potatoes in the warm sun and you'll soon have sprouting potatoes!

Leave potatoes in the warm sun and you’ll soon have sprouting potatoes!

Once you have your seed potatoes, set them in a warm, bright place for a few days until they just begin sprout.  All potatoes larger than a chicken egg can be cut into pieces with at least three sprouts called ‘eyes’.  Let the cut potatoes heal over  in a warm, dry place for several days before planting.

Potatoes prefer to grow in cool weather, so plan on planting them 2-4 weeks before the last frost.  Plant them in the ground or in containers, but here is a secret:  potatoes only grow above the seed potato!  There are many ways to increase potato production and here are a few:

-plant potatoes in a 10” deep trench and cover with  4″ of soil,  ‘hilling’ them with additional soil or mulch once they’re 10″ tall and again every 2 to 3 weeks as they grow

-plant potatoes in a 4” trench and ‘hill’ them with additional soil or mulch once they’re 10” tall and again every 2 to 3 weeks as they grow

-plant potatoes in a container at either of these depths and hill accordingly

Potatoes are heavy feeders and production will reflect the quality of soil (and good compost) they are offered, so don’t hold back!  Also, always plant them with their eyes up about 8” to 12” apart in the trench, leaving 2’ to 3’ between trenches.  Hilling potatoes can be accomplished by hoeing soil onto each plants’ stems as well as by tucking weed-free mulch (grass clippings, straw, leaves) underneath each plant.  Hilling allows for greater production and also ensures that each potato will not be exposed to sun, causing them to blush green and become bitter.  Leave at least 6″-8″ of the foliage above the hillling soil or mulch.

Each cut piece of potato to plant needs at least two sprouts, called 'eyes'!   Let them heal 2-3 days before planting.

Each cut piece of potato to plant needs at least two sprouts, called ‘eyes’! Let them heal 2-3 days before planting.

Be patient: sprouts will emerge two to four weeks after planting.  Potatoes thrive with consistent water throughout the season; mulching helps maintain even soil moisture.

As your potatoes grow, be aware of any pests and diseases that may arrive.  Colorado potato beetles must be picked off at every life stage (egg-larvae-adult) before they defoliate your crop.  Most potatoes are susceptible to both Early and Late Blight (though you can select disease-resistant varieties) and the best way to protect your crop is to water the soil rather than the foliage.  Also, allowing plenty of space between plants ensures good air-flow, decreasing the cool, moist pockets that allow Blight to thrive.

Be vigilant!  Potato beetles need to be  hand-picked at every stage in their life-cycle.

Be vigilant! Potato beetles need to be hand-picked at every stage in their life-cycle.

Expect to eat about ten times of what you plant:  if you plant one pound of potatoes, you’ll harvest about ten pounds. Potatoes are one of the most productive foods you can grow in your garden, not to mention fascinating and fun.

Every Spring I look so forward to planting our potatoes.

 I hope you’ll enjoy their beautiful abundance as well, tucking them into your soil for many years to come!

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Cornell Alum, Faculty and Staff: Sustainable Agriculture & Regional Seed

One of the most essential (and least talked about) cornerstones of sustainable agriculture is seed.  As demand for local food continues to expand as well climate, pest and disease pressures, the significance of the seed sowing this movement is increasingly important.  Cornell is central to many of these conversations.

spinach, just going to seed!

spinach, just going to seed!

Each spring, seeds germinate in agricultural fields across the Northeast, growing as best they can and adapting to the innumerable pressures of each season.  If allowed to mature seed, the best of that generation may return again to the soil, more resilient than the last.  Through the generations, diverse adaptation becomes encoded in each seed’s genetics, expanding always the species’ capacity to adapt.  The extraordinary resilience of our planet is the result of this genetic diversity.

Most crops in the Northeast are not grown for seed:  each season we forfeit the potential resilience of our crops.

“With domesticated seed it is sometimes true that seed developed in one location will be broadly successful,” says Dr. Michael Mazourek of Cornell Plant Breeding and Genetics. “However, it is more often the case that a seed adapted to the environment in which it was grown will be more robust.  This seed is an essential aspect of a sustainable system.”

Did you know?

 Three chemical corporations own over 50% of the global seed supply and most seed sown globally is commercially produced in just a few relatively arid bioregions.   Additionally, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Department we have lost 75% of our food crop diversity in the last century.  The diverse, resilient genetics at the foundation of our ten millennial agricultural has never been more imperative to cultivate.

“Don’t Oppose Forces, Use Them”

“Eliot Coleman introduced me to the Buckminster Fuller quote, ‘Don’t oppose forces, use them,’ continues Mazourek, “and this seems a critical benchmark of sustainability.”   In terms of seed, ‘using forces’ has broad relevance:  climate, geography, politics, market and technology.  In the Northeast, transforming our liabilities into regionally adapted, resilient seed is burgeoning.  Collaborations between farmers, academics and passionate individuals have already made

significant progress, the momentum is building and Cornell is right at the forefront.

Regional Seed in the Finger Lakes

Nathaniel and Petra introduce their collaborative lettuce seed crop!

Nathaniel and Petra introduce their collaborative lettuce seed crop!

Nathaniel Thompson, CALS class of ’98, biodynamically manages 100 acres in Trumansburg, New York and has experienced the potential of regional genetics.  “My interest is practical,” says Thompson, “seed is place-driven, a response to unique conditions.”   Thompson has experimented extensively with on-farm seed production to minimize expenses, close loops and develop crops specifically for his farm and market.  He has found that even a single season of selection has yielded crops with more uniformity and vigor, especially in his New York Early onions.

Thompson is collaborating Fruition Seeds this season to produce a half-acre of seed, including kale, arugula and lettuce.  A market grower, Thompson plants and cultivates the seed crops while Fruition selects, harvests and cleans the seed.

Fruition Seeds

Fruition Seeds provides certified organic seed grown in and for the Northeast.  Raised in New York and Connecticut, co-founders Petra Page-Mann studied at CALS and Matthew Goldfarb worked for the Cornell Small Farms Program.   They have worked in agriculture for over thirty collective years.  With knowledge of local production, local markets and operating on a relatively small scale, they offer seed grown on their farm in the Finger Lakes of Upstate New York as well as seed from other certified organic growers throughout the Northeast.  “Each season we have the opportunity to improve the quality and productivity in our seeds,” explains Petra.  “It is a pleasure to have so many great collaborators from Cornell and around the region as we develop seed specifically for our farmers and gardeners in the Finger Lakes.”

Fruition Seeds grows and processes seed in Naples, leasing land owned by Mark Adams, class of ’68 and life-long farmer in the Finger Lakes.  “Plants evolve, bacteria evolve and change is constant,” he observes, “to compete in the market

Matthew and freshly harvested tatsoi seed!

Matthew and freshly harvested tatsoi seed!

farms continue to cut quality.”  This focus on short-term returns without thought of long-term resilience concerns Adams, who appreciates the complexity of our systemic food crisis.  He is interested to see the work of Fruition continue to adapt to soil, climate and market conditions and is hopeful for the future of agriculture in the Northeast.

If you’re interested in growing Fruition’s seed, consider joining their Kickstarter campaign through July 15 at to revitalize regional seed in the Northeast.   Their website will be up by the end of June as well, with over sixty varieties of certified organic, regionally grown seeds perfect for summer/fall plantings.

Seed is essential to every living system.  We are surrounded by plants brilliantly adapting to their environment, constantly encoding resilience in their genetic diversity.  Sustainable agriculture depends on our crops having the same opportunity.

This was written for the Sustainability Newsletter of Cornell University June, 2013.

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