Our friend, Menkir, introduced us to a number of exceptional vegetable varieties from Ethiopia. We want to share them with you.
Mustards at our Farm in Sunol, California
The past couple of years, we have been growing a handful of mindblowing crops at our farm. They came to us from half-way around the world, but THEY SHOULD BE in the hands of gardeners and growers everywhere, and we want to make that happen later this year.
Every seed reward we have for this project is well worth the corresponding pledge amount, particularly if you love peppers and mustards. These varieties will be a welcome addition to farms and gardens everywhere. To see what others are saying about the peppers and mustards (and the tomatoes which are part of the rewards) see here.
If you are near Menlo Park or Sunol, please pay special attention to the "backer pick" rewards. The more you pledge, the more value you get in return. Go here for more on our Backer Pick produce subscriptions. You may also want to see this post, by the blogger Food Gal, to get a sense of the produce in store "backer pick" subscribers.
Our Project: Ethiopian Peppers and Mustard seeds for all
Ethiopia is one of the most important centers in the world for crop evolution. The temperate highlands produce a cornucopia of vegetable varieties, many of which are relatively unknown in the US. We want to help change that, by introducing varieties that have thrilled us (and many others in the San Francisco Bay area) with gardeners and small growers throughout the United States. This project will introduce five Ethiopian vegetable varieties nationally THIS YEAR.
The varieties we will introduce are:
Highland Kale (Ethiopian Gommanzar): The seeds of this mustard are traditionally crushed into cooking pots to prevent food from sticking. We have made incredibly flavorful stone-ground mustard from the seeds, and this is the primary winter crop that we sell to restaurants. The restaurants buy "kale tops" which include tender stems, leaves and buds.
Highland Mustard: The seeds of this mustard are excellent for producing spicy mustard, and the leaves are excellent as a cooked green. They are deep, dark green and full of nutrients. This mustard also holds great potential as a winter cover crop, as it is extremely fast growing and produces large amounts of biomass in a very short time. On our farm it has out-performed every other mustard cover crop we have tried.
Mareko Fana: An excellent, deeply flavorful pepper with medium heat. A long, brown pepper that is the cornerstone of the Ethiopian spice mix -- Berbere -- which is typically in many meat and lentil dishes. We also put it in our Grey Dog Herb Tea.
Mareko Fana Red: Similar to standard Mareko Fana, but with thinner skin. The thin skin makes it an excellent frying pepper (similar to Padron peppers). For a little more background see our blog post on Mareko Fana.
Mitmita: A hot, spicy Ethiopian red pepper. Not for the faint of heart.
Mareko Fana Peppers
How we got involved in this project
Two years ago we were introduced to Menkir Tamrat, who had trays and trays of Ethiopian peppers. He was looking for a home for his peppers, and since peppers are one of our main crops, we started a collaboration. Our joint efforts have expanded with each passing season. We started growing Mareko Fana and Mitmita peppers with him, and then a number of Ethiopian mustards, then an Ethiopian grain called teff, and barley, and safflower. You can read more about Menkir, and his efforts to bring new crops to the Bay Area, and his efforts to provide local supplies of traditional Ethiopian vegetables to traditional Ethiopian restaurants here. Our collaboration continues because we have found the Ethiopian peppers and Mustards to be exceptional, and they have outcompeted many other very good varieties of peppers and mustards in the field, and with many of the excellent chefs that we work with.
The Mareko Fana peppers have pushed Padron peppers off the menu in many establishments, and they have been made in to chutneys, jams and purees. The Highland Kale tops have been a huge hit with farmers' market customers and with chefs. Their flavor is clean, and sweet enough to eat raw, while they are also excellent paired with garlic in cooked side-dishes and chopped up and put into soups at the last moment so that they are softening, but still fresh. It would certainly be a mistake to assume that this project has anything to do with charity. These crops have come into our fields and kicked the butts of some very good competition. They are the creme de la creme. As we fine-tune these crops for our own purposes, by selecting for specific combinations of traits, we are formulating a plan to deposit seeds with agronomists back in Ethiopia solely as a gesture of responsibility and respect for the phenomenal work their farmers have done with these crops.
We will release the Ethiopian varieties through our new seed company -- Artisan Seeds
We recently launched a seed business called Artisan Seeds. With the help of many partners, we will be introducing six striped cherry tomato varieties worldwide in 2012. We have partners that will be growing tomatoes to produce seed, and others that will be selling seed around the world to farmers, nurseries and to other seed companies who will include our new varieties in their 2013 catalogs. We will also be releasing packets of seed ourselves through an Artisan Seeds online store to be set up next fall. We will release the five Ethiopian vegetable varieties from THIS PROJECT in our online store. In future years, the five Ethiopian varieties will also be distributed via our partners as well.
Some of the tomatoes that we are releasing this year can be seen in the photograph below. All of them have stripes. All of them have excellent flavor. We want to use these tomatoes to help motivate people to back this project, particularly since the success of both the peppers and the tomatoes is intertwined. Although all of the rewards that include packets of these new tomatoes are to be delivered in October, we will make them available in March -- as part of a special pre-release -- to pledgers who simply sign a form indicating that they will not sell seeds from the varieties. We are happy to get these in the hands of people who really want to try them, but we absolutely need to protect our partners who will be releasing these varieties at the end of this year.
An assortment of new Artisan Seeds tomatoes bred at our farm
Why we need Kickstarter funds to release the Ethiopian varieties?
We are counting on our Artisan Seeds venture to be successful, and there is every reason to believe it will be. Eventually we will receive royalties from our partners who are the primary distributors of our new tomato varieties. However, we are presently still a small farm with a very tight budget, and we have invested everything into developing our farm and breeding our new tomato varieties.
To produce the seed necessary, for a 2012 release of the 5 Ethiopian vegetable varieties, will need to rent 3 acres of land at our current site, and devote it primarily to seed production. This is land that we could alternatively use to grow crops to sell to our farm customers. Frankly, we just don't have the resources required to pay upfront for the rent, water, labor, cleaning, packaging and testing costs necessary to produce the seed required to release the Ethiopian varieties this year. Please help us close the gap so we can do this project now.
What if we have additional funds left over, after the seed for this project is grown and packaged?
Up until this point, Menkir has treated this project as a labor of love, but we think it is high time we started compensating him for his involvement. We would like to pay him to deposit all of the varieties with agronomists back in Ethiopia, and also for the additional research he will do this year to help us further characterize the Ethiopian crops growing at our farm. We would also like to support his efforts to increase the amount of our harvest that ends up in local Ethiopian restaurants.
Our seed company also has the goal of providing up-front royalties to small farmers who let us release exceptional vegetable varieties that they have created on their farms. We want to support small farmers who are exceptional innovators, and additional funds will allow us to move forward with our plans to trial more vegetable varieties submitted by our farmer colleagues. We also want to expand our exploration of international peppers and mustards. This year we already have collaborations set up in which we are growing traditional Peruvian and Korean peppers.
Keeping our supporters updated
We are going to blog about this project. Every week or two we will take pictures and let everyone know how the project is going. We will also have a few field days associated with this project at the farm this summer, and everyone will be invited!
We WILL NOT be patenting any of the tomatoes, peppers and mustards. All of these crops will be freely available, and seed may be saved, and used without limitations.
First of all, we don't have the right to patent the Ethiopian peppers or mustards. Indeed, we are selecting some distinct varieties of Mareko Fana from the populations we are using. While we might be able to legally register a "new" variety through continued selection within the population, we won't be doing this. We are more interested in highlighting the diversity we see, transparently and openly. There are certain assumptions that are often made about where genetic value comes from, and it is important to us to faithfully give credit for to the development of crops in other parts of the world. Our primary goal is to make some fantastic Ethiopian crops, bred by Ethiopian seed-saving farmers, available to North Americans.
While we could apply for "Plant Variety Protection" on our new tomato varieties, we aren't interested in that either. We are avid plant breeders, and we aren't opposed to making money from our efforts. But, we would rather breed a few more things, and trial a few more crops developed by other small farmers, as opposed to spending our time trying to control who grows the things we breed,
We will be paying royalties on the Ethiopian crops and we will also pay royalties on a tomato we are releasing later this year (Captain Lucky -- for more info see our "Artisan Tomato" blog).
The payment of royalties need not occur along with a patent. Royalties can be paid simply for being allowed access to a variety or for the rights to initially release a variety.