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Student threshing lettuce seed
Student threshes lettuce seed at ARS-sponsored workshop at last year’s Common Ground Country Fair in Unity, Me. Manual seed-threshing equipment will also be available at this year's workshops. Image courtesy Teri Ferrin, ARS

ARS Workshops Enrich Organic Farming Tour

By Luis Pons
July 28, 2006

Workshops sponsored by the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) will be part of an education and discussion tour aimed at small-scale organic farmers and seed companies in the Northeast.

The on-farm series—which kicks off on Tuesday, Aug. 1, in Freeville, N.Y.—is presented by the Organic Seed Partnership (OSP) and the Northeast Organic Farming Association of New York (NOFA-NY). All events are free and open to the public, although registration is required for some.

ARS and NOFA-NY are cooperators in OSP, a national network developing superior vegetable varieties for use in organic systems. Other collaborators in the effort include Cornell University, New Mexico State University, Alcorn State University, West Virginia State University and the University of California-Davis.

Members of the ARS Plant Genetics Research Unit (PGRU), which is based in Geneva, N.Y., are involved in the workshops.

According to PGRU plant geneticist Larry Robertson, OSP grew out of the Public Seed Initiative, an organic, on-farm breeding, testing and seed-production project which has sponsored similar tours for the past three years.

First in this year's series is the Freeville Organic Farm Field Day, which will feature a full-farm tour during which trials of organic potato, cucurbit, pepper and tomato varieties will be discussed.

The centerpiece of many workshop sessions will be demonstrations of a mobile seed-processing unit, which farmers will be able to use to clean their seed. This unit will be a part of tour events on Aug. 12 in Amherst, Mass.; Aug. 30 in Peru, N.Y.; September 5 at Norwich, N.Y.; Sept. 16 at Newark, N.Y.; Sept. 22 and 23 at the Common Ground Country Fair in Unity, Me.; and Oct. 11 in Sheffield, Mass.

On Aug. 22, the tour visits Flanders, N.Y., where breeding and seed-saving techniques will be discussed.

For more information, visit the websites of the OSP ( and NOFA-NY (

ARS is the U.S. Department of Agriculture's chief scientific research agency, while NOFA promotes healthy food, organic farming practices and a cleaner environment.