For Earth Day, gardeners can help ensure vegetable, fruit and grain seeds remain available to everyone by ordering a set of open-source seeds from the University of Wisconsin – Madison. Gardeners and farmers can save open-source seeds after harvest and pass the plants on for generations. Breeders can use the open-source crops to develop new varieties.
Most new crop varieties result from elaborate breeding programs or expensive genetic engineering techniques. Legal measures prohibit or limit farmers' and gardeners' abilities to save and replant those crops' seeds. Intellectual property rights and patents also block breeders from using those plants to create new varieties. Some sociologists, agronomists and food-security activists worry that patenting plants makes farmers dependent on corporations for their seeds and limits regional innovation.
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"Already, many public breeders don't have the freedom to operate," said Jack Kloppenburg, UW-Madison sociologist and one of the founders of the Open Source Seed Initiative, in a press release. "They can't do what they want to do as often as they would like."
UM-Madison's Open Source Seed Initiative aims to keep some crop varieties available to the public forever. Last week, the group released 29 new varieties of crops, including celery, sweet peppers, barley, carrots and others. Four distinct varieties of the hipster's favorite leafy green, kale, were part of the release.
The Open Source Seed Initiative recently began taking pre-orders for an assortment of 15 seed packets. Crops varieties in the assortment include Midnight Lightning zucchini, Red Ursa kale, Gatherer's Gold pepper and Joker Lettuce. The seeds are certified organic.
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The Initiative uses a simple pledge printed on the seed packet to ensure the plants remain available to the public. By opening the packet, the user acknowledges that the seeds can't be legally protected and can be used freely for breeding, crop production or any other purposes.