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Seed Matters: The Clif Family Foundation puts its money behind organic plant breeding  

to make a difference in the seed that brings food from farm to table.

is their motto.

Frank Morton

The Clif Family Foundation, powered by the popularity of Clif Bars (as you might imagine), spends a lot of money investing in making a better world. The founders of the company, Gary Erickson and Kit Crawford, are an ever-aspiring couple of game changers who believe in investing in the future of organic agriculture by investing in organic seed. Their family foundation has begun a program called Seed Matters that has been educating seed communities and underwriting the education of the next generation of organic plant breeders at Land Grant Universities since 2010. In crops from corn to quinoa, barley, carrots, and more, some of the most notable public breeders in the country have a sense of renewal as a new wave of passionate graduate students are empowered to dedicate themselves to breeding for organic systems, thanks to grants from Seed Matters. Clif Family Foundation has donated more than $1.5 million in Graduate Fellowships to help 14 graduate level students pursue degrees at the University of Wisconsin, Washington, Oregon, and North Carolina State, Texas Tech, UC Davis, and Cornell. Clif Bar Company itself has committed $10 million to endow 5 professorships in organic breeding at Land Grants to ensure a multi-generational commitment to organic research at these universities. The Seed Matters goal is to expand the presence of organic research and education at Land Grant schools.

On a broader scale, the Seed Matters program has been educating across age groups and at the local level through ongoing support of seed-related non-profit organizations, farmer training as seed innovators and stewards, school programs, and by distributing “community seed toolkits” that support local seed saving and education. I encourage interested readers to visit the Seed Matters website at www.seedmatters.org.

While there, you may find the news that Seed Matters has selected me (your editor) as its first independent breeder to receive a grant for my ongoing work in the public interest. Citing my history of releasing varieties bred within organic systems for organic farmers and without PVP or patent protection, the Clif Family Foundation has awarded us a 5 year grant to work in 4 different crop species of our own choosing. This is so different from any other grant proposal I’ve ever been involved with, both for its duration and for the breadth of ambition that it allows. Five years will be enough to finish ongoing projects in lettuce and kale, and to carry forth two new projects in quinoa and parsley. Yes, parsley.

This funding will help create new varieties and advanced breeding materials in 4 crops:

LettuceGoal: Create new geographically adaptable cultivars of several types of lettuce with striking appearance, distinctive tastes, resistance to disease and abiotic stress, and elevated levels of phytonutrients. This is a continuation of projects initiated in recent years that is now offered in this year’s New Lettuce and Mixes section of the catalog. ‘Manoa x Leopard’ is now in the F5 generation with some uniformity in various head shapes and sizes, shades of green, degrees of red blushing, fine red speckling, or bold red splashing. I have been exchanging seed in alternating generations with my friend Glenn Teves in Hawaii to foster climate resiliency and broadbased  adaptation in this germplasm.  The ‘Big Flame’ and ‘Little Rosebud’ Romaines are 3rd generation populations intended to add antioxidants to where the light doesn’t shine in lettuce—in the hearts of romaine. ‘Camo Oakheart’ does the same for oakleaf types in a range of sizes and head architectures. All of these materials are primarily selected for tipburn and disease resistance, followed by taste, appearance, and productivity. Without resistance to disease and stress (like tipburn), a lettuce won’t make it to market to be admired or tasted.

KaleGoal: Create at least 3 distinct cultivars of winter hardy kale from parentage with high phytonutrient content (Lacinato X Redbor F1) and exceptional freeze resistance. Our ‘Lacinato Rainbow’ has been selected for survival and a range of intense pigmentations and exaggerated leaf forms for about 9 generations at this point. In that time it has been tested by record flooding, intense disease pressure, and the coldest winter in 4 decades–an event that wiped out 90% of the population. This presents the perfect opportunity to sort this population into relatively stable families of distinct phenotypes with hardy backgrounds and high phytonutrient content. We began this process last year targeting a “violet Lacinato,” a “vividly purple curled kale,” and an “indigo green curled kale,” all of these savoyed, all with a distinctive pink midrib as you will also see in Hank Keogh’s ‘Dazzling Blue’ version of Lacinato (released in this catalog).

QuinoaGoal: Create more new varieties of quinoa for North America, and advanced breeding germplasm. This begins a fresh round of genetic recombination between my Northwest selections and Washington State University’s collection from North and South America. I anticipate finding new traits for seed qualities and colors, heat resistance, and things I never thought of.

ParsleyGoal: 1) To introduce three new flat-leaf parsley cultivars suitable for winter production in cold climates. 2) To create 3 new parsley breeding populations for future cultivar production. Our problem with Italian flatleaf parsley in the long cool Pacific Northwest season is that growers want it to last into winter, but it bolts by autumn due to chilling and daylength. We set out to find northern, cold hardy flatleaf parsley in the USDA gene bank, and found amazing diversity in lines from Iran through every country east and northward unto Poland. Parsley in every leaf dissection you can(’t) imagine, and shade of green, and stature, and root parsleys...some that don’t bolt. Parsley, yes.

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