Gene Logsdon and Friends

Alan Kapuler — Peace Seeds: Man of Science, Ideas, and Humanity

In Around The Web on May 27, 2011 at 9:05 am

From COOKING UP A STORY

Video 1 | Video 2

This is Dr. Alan Kapuler, founder of Peace Seeds, and former co-founder and research director for Seeds of Change. He currently resides in Corvallis, Oregon where he continues his research projects, and maintains his remarkable organic seed catalog.

Dr. Alan Kapuler is a man who thinks on big time scales, and across wide geographic spheres of reality.

A molecular biologist by training, as a young adult, Kapuler experienced an almost spiritual connection from working with plants. Years later, he became a public domain organic plant breeder, and an impassioned advocate for the protection of the natural world. Kapuler believes, the interconnectedness of all living things—biodiversity itself, is the true seed of life. Widely regarded as the founding father of the organic seed movement, Kapuler’s reverence of living things is embodied in his daily work—planting, breeding, and cataloging of seeds he has done for almost 40 years.

“It used to be that public domain plant breeding was done in the agricultural universities,” Kapuler explains, “where the schools would hire people interested to make crops for the local area so the local self sufficiency was enhanced, and so there was more diversity in the local food system. That’s broken down. The only place that’s really left is the government, in the Germ Plasm Resource Information Network (GRIN) where you can actually get online and find interesting seeds, and they will send them to you if you want to do plant breeding for the benefit of humanity.”

Sadly today, it’s more about developing and protecting patent rights on plants and seeds, than serving society’s needs. As a scientist involved in helping to develop biotechnology, Kapuler does not see genetic engineering as inherently evil. It’s a powerful tool that can be used for the public good, but as he sees it, ownership rights, and the patenting of life, limit its potential. For the most part, this technology has brought us, the BT toxin and roundup ready traits in plants; he believes, we can do so much better than this. Kapuler asks, how come we can’t use genetic engineering to develop plants that grow in the ocean, or avocadoes that grow on temperate zone conifers?

One of Kapuler’s keen interests is studying of the world’s flora to better understand the genetic relationships of plants. So when he grows a garden, the question, how much diversity am I really planting, can be properly answered. Over the years, Kapuler has grown hundreds, even thousands of different plant species, and through the various seed companies he has run, he has offered over 1200 kinds of seeds, most collected from his gardens.

“The garden is a metaphor for having a place to develop an ethical way to understand life, and to make a life that is ethical,” says Kapuler.
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  1. I just don’t see how it is enforce-able for an entity/corporation to isolate DNA and patent it to restrict future testing and use. If it’s here from God and/or Nature for everyone, no individual has the right to limit access by others that way.

    It’s different when you actually invent something… THAT you do own. I agree that genetic engineering isn’t all bad – isn’t it genetic engineering when we graft a plant onto different rootstock to make hardier plants?

    With a sole goal of shareholder profits, the future of genetic engineering to benefit all mankind will probably always suffer from tunnel vision.

    Thank goodness for people and organizations like Alan Kapuler and GRIN and sign me up for those avocados!

    • “isn’t it genetic engineering when we graft a plant onto different rootstock to make hardier plants? ”
      No, it’s not that’s more of a parasitic relationship of graft to stock. Genetic engineering is when they use create a designed bacteria or virus with the DNA they want to introduce into the cells of the plant. They can use genes from plants outside the species or genes from animals. So there is no way that nature would allow that to happen. Most gene manipulations that are happening are to benefit the selling of herbicides, as with “Roundup Ready” plants. BT corn has a pesticide (toxin) in the genes of the corn itself. So when you eat the corn you are eating the pesticide as well! Selective breeding is taking an animal or plant with the characterists you want and breeding within the species. It’s completely different from genetic engineering. Look up David Suzuki if you want a better explanation. He’s a geneticist who speaks plain English and thinks what they are doing now is just plain crazy.

  2. Today I received 3 large boxes from GRIN. I requested several dozen different varieties of rhubarb. There are a very limited number of varieties available from nurseries, and I’ve had a couple that just don’t like our soil or climate.

    I decided to on farm test all these varieties and submit my observations to the North American Fruit Explorers publication Pomona. I wasn’t sure that the repository would actually fill my request, since I am just a farmer with a bent for research and not “official”.

    I also am uncomfortable with so few varieties available to the gardening public. If I am successful, I’ll be sharing starts of the rare rhubarbs in years to come.

  3. Thanks for posting this, Gene. My world just got a little bigger and more interesting. I was not aware of this guy and what he has been doing, so now I must do some research. It’s reassuring to know there are people like this in our world. Thanks, again.

    There are three days of sun in the forecast, finally, so if we get four more after that, I’ll be in the garden/worm farm!

    • Roof, I appreciate your note of thanks here, but it should go to Dave Smith out in Mendicino Co. Calif. He is the one who does all the computer work on this web site and adds in the wonderful stuff along with my posts. Let’s hear it for Daaaaavvvvvvveeee! Gene

  4. Heartening to learn of Alan Kapuler’s work, I’ll be moseying through the articles on Peace Seeds to absorb some brain nutrients.

    We’ve been ordering open-pollinated seeds from Turtle Tree Seed Co
    http://www.turtletreeseed.com/aboutus.html and slowly learning to save seeds. Just a generation ago my grandparents understood plant breeding, but I’m trying to overcome years of ignorance. That disconnect from the cycle of soil, sun, and sustenance has hampered an entire generation or two. Harder to make up for what’s lost than it is to absorb wisdom from one’s earliest days.

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