By STEVE BROWN
PORT TOWNSEND, Wash. -- Brian Campbell couldn't find seeds suited to his small organic farm in far northwestern Washington, so he started producing his own.
Now that's all he does.
Campbell and his wife, Crystine, operate Uprising Seeds on four acres of leased land in Whatcom County, which borders the Canadian border.
"We produce a lot with very little," he said at the Tilth Producers of Washington's annual conference.
Campbell provides open-pollinated material specifically for small farms and organic farms. For example, he has developed a hull-less oat variety that produces a good amount of grain on a small area.
He focuses on the "wealth and legacy of publicly owned seed," growing varieties suited to how he had been growing vegetables.
Large-scale farmers can't be expected to invest in the breeding of open-pollinated seeds because there's no profit in it for them, he said. The hybrid system is where the energy has been.
Not only that, Campbell said, he has seen a lack of transparency in what's available. Open-pollinated seed is sometimes sold as hybrid, and hybrid sold as open-pollinated.
"We've lost the skills. We've gotten away from the practice of harvesting and saving seeds," Campbell said. "But we focused on it and dropped fresh-market production."
Nash Huber, owner of Nash's Organic Produce in Sequim, Wash., said the industry needs agricultural systems that can respond, instead of top-down decision-making.
"What Brian's doing is a very good model," he said. "It has to be farmer-led."
When he started farming more than 30 years ago, Huber harvested his own seeds with 5-gallon buckets and tarps, then graduated to using screens. Rudimentary tools work well and can produce a lot of seeds.
The key, he said, is growing a weed-free stand of plants.
"A clean crop means clean seeds," he said.
He chose his first crop based on the demand he saw in the surrounding community, which was rich in German heritage. To Huber, that meant cabbage. He saw where those crops were growing, their place of origin, then went there and got good material.