Plant breeders play an integral – if often unheralded – part in the local food movement. Meet Oregon farmer (Gathering Together Farm) and seed saver/purveyor Frank Morton, who practices “old-fashioned Mendelian crossbreeding.” He also shares his skills with others.

Hannah Wallace (@hannahmw23) shares a personal account of how Morton’s work has affected her…through the vegetables she purchased at a Portland farmers market. She writes:


But it was the lettuce—hulking heads of it, bursting with uncommon vigor—and several types of kale (not just lacinato but White Russian and a frilly magenta-stemmed kale called Red Ursa) that stopped me in my tracks and caused me to exclaim out loud to complete strangers.

Before I had ever tasted a nibble of lettuce, I knew Gathering Together Farm was special. What I didn’t know until recently was why some of the farm’s most popular vegetables are unique and uniquely tasty.

It is this experience that sets Wallace on a journey to learn more about the farmer and what he produces.

The wild salad mix, the kale, and the delicata can all be traced directly to one maverick plant breeder named Frank Morton. Little known to the general public, Morton is a rock star in plant breeding circles. A seed saver who grows heirloom plants that are at risk of extinction, Morton is also an organic plant breeder who creates never-before-seen varieties that have improved yield and disease resistance as well as culinary attributes such as texture, color, and enhanced flavor.

He’s also an indefatigable activist who sued the U.S. Department of Agriculture in 2008 for failure to require an environmental impact assessment before Roundup Ready sugar beets were introduced in the Willamette Valley.

This lovely, lyrical essay – which also includes an excellent history of plant breeding and seed saving – first appeared in Communal Table, but is currently running in Civil Eats.

Related Links:

Culinary breeding network aims to diversify veg crops

Seed libraries are cropping up all over the nation

Syrian seed bank wins award to continue work despite civil war