Authors: Amy Garrett, Small Farms Program, Oregon State University

Publish Date: Fall 12

Part 1 of this story appeared in the spring edition of Small Farm News, and highlighted Gathering Together Farm (GTF) of Philomath, Oregon; in particular their unique partnerships with local farms and food artisans.

Part 2 highlights the partnership between GTF and Wild Garden Seed, a company that in turn helped another young farmer get his start. This piece will touch upon both of these partnerships, and the benefits to all involved.

For many organic farmers like GTF, it is desirable to produce seed of the crop varieties they use in production. But this is difficult to do. Among the many constraints that prevent farmers from producing their own seed are the time and resources required to save seed. Specialized seed production knowledge is also critical to produce high-quality seed. Then land and time must be allocated for planting and caring for the crop, maintaining purity, and harvesting and conditioning the seed (Stephensen, G. et al).

So, it made sense for GTF to build a new partnership. In 2003, Wild Garden Seed (WGS) became part of the GTF corporation, and Frank and Karen Morton of Shoulder to Shoulder Farm became the managers of the seed business. Now, Shoulder to Shoulder Farm rents out their services in managing Wild Garden Seed to do something GTF could not otherwise accomplish— produce vegetable, herb, and flower seeds, as well as a wide variety of salad green seed that are farm-original varieties at GTF.

All of WGS’s crops are incorporated in the crop rotation on GTF land, and grown alongside GTF’s fresh market vegetable crops. WGS sells their seed at Gathering Together’s farm stand, the Wild Garden Seed web site (www.wildgardenseed.com), and major organic seed distributors nationwide and abroad.

GTF gets the benefit of having unique salad varieties adapted to the conditions on their farm, increased biodiversity and floral resources for beneficial insects, as well as income during the slow winter months when farmers are buying seed from WGS.

There are many advantages for WGS too: GTF assists the company with equipment, fertility, propagation, website, and marketing just to name a few. The WGS crew also enjoys the GTF workday tradition of mid-morning break with fresh pastries, and Farm Lunch provided by farm owners John Eveland and Sally Brewer.

 Wild Garden Seed and Avoca Seed

After Hank Keogh got his B.S. in horticulture at Oregon State University, his primary goal was to find a mentor in the seed business. After traveling through California and exploring afar he came back to his hometown, he started working for Frank and Karen Morton at WGS in 2008. Hank wanted to learn what they did, and read every book on their shelf.

After a couple years he became WGS’s field manager while Wild Garden Seed’s business was booming, and space for new crops was limited. They needed more land and Hank had a little more than 5 acres east of Corvallis, which he had certified organic through Oregon Tilth, Inc., as Avoca Seed. This was a great opportunity for Hank to have an additional income and gain valuable experience working with Frank, who already had more than twenty years of seed saving experience, while getting his own seed company started.

The additional land at Avoca Seed enabled Wild Garden Seed to have another isolation zone for seed, as well as the added benefit of being in an area less susceptible to flooding.

Currently, WGS leases the land at Avoca Seed that is devoted to producing WGS crops, and Avoca Seed bills WGS for the time spent on WGS crops.

To help simplify a potentially complex billing relationship, Avoca keeps track of total sales and expenses then WGS and Avoca split the profit annually.

The partnership between Wild Garden Seed and Avoca Seed blossomed from a foundation of trust and friendship, and Frank is thankful for Hank’s long-term interest.

Good communication, clarity of terms, and keeping good records of time and expenses are critical to making this partnership successful. Frank’s advice for other farmers in forming partnerships is to, “find people that have complimentary, not competitive interests, then consider how that person’s passion can be something you are a part of. We are way more together than we are alone.”

The partnership between GTF and WGS with Shoulder to Shoulder Farm and Avoca Seed illustrates a creative way that experienced farmers and new farmers can work together that is far beyond just being an employee. Gathering Together Farm is a great model of what can happen when you combine talents and provide a community to grow with and work in. Like a rising tide lifts all of the boats, Frank Morton believes by supporting neighboring farms and new farmers the whole community benefits and is a better place to live.

Stephensen, G., Gwin, L., Powell, M., and A. Garrett. Enhancing Organic Agriculture in Oregon. EM 9050. July 2012. See page ? for more information or view it online at: http://ir.library.oregonstate.edu/xmlui/bitstream/handle/1957/31202/em90...