I was grateful to meet Dr. John Navazio at a Fundamentals of Plant Improvement course that an organization that I helped to found and serve on the board of directors called the Biodynamic Seed and Plant Initiative organized back in early 1999. He had recently left working for the conventional seed industry for Alf Christensen seed to return to his calling of supporting organic agriculture. He was a torch bearer for sharing with grass roots organic farmers and seed growers of techniques and tools for selecting, breeding and adapting open pollinated varieties to perform well under organic growing conditions. John had a unique way of deeply sharing in the enthusiasm of the nuance and intricacies associated with a myriad of vegetable species, although it became obvious that his favorites were the cool season crops like carrots, beets, radish, Swiss chard, spinach and raddicchio. 

From this point I was fortunate to collaborate with John on some seed production grow outs for his start up Seed Movement in 2000 growing Sputnik Arugula (that he obtained the original stock seed from a pickle spice jar in Italy) and the recently free from PVP intellectual property restriction (a PVP is a 20 year plant patent) variety Plum Purple, that was part of the infamous easter egg radish mix. We also helped grow some of the early versions of Rhubarb Supreme Red Swiss Chard with his guidance. Then later when he was hired by Seeds of Change (which was the first organic seed company in the world starting in the early 1990s in case you didn't know) , I was fortunate to collaborate and receive his guidance and mentorship on onion, spinach, radish and other crop selection for varietal improvement. John was a big proponent of "work horse" open pollinated varieties, as opposed to prima donna "race horse" varieties that only did well in ideal circumstances. Further still, he was an absolute maverick for advocating that Open-pollinated varieties could perform every bit as well as F1 hybrids if good selection and roguing (removing the inferior plants prior to flowering to avoid their contributing pollen to the population). This was tantamount to sacrilege in a group seed community that deified F1 hybrids. 

I feel deeply grateful to have called John a friend and equally so as a mentor who truly believed in me as a seed grower and amateur plant breeder.  Over the years we had many opportunities to work together, teach at conferences, extoll the brilliance of various rock musicians such as Bob Dylan and the R&B greats. On the occasions when he visited the farm here, he would delight in taking one of my guitars and strapping it on as we strolled the fields and rows, singing Dylan songs and riffing on plant attributes. His command of music was second only to his command of agronomy and plant breeding. He was the front man of a rock and roll group aptly named The Pheromones. I was deeply honored to join them on stage once playing saxophone at the MOSES conference in Wisconsin. 

When you were in his presence, he was inclusive of everyone there while absolutely holding court in the highest order. And hold court he could!, with a rich sumptuous voice like the low rumble of a waterfall up a distance canyon, he would spin tales, riffing names and places with incredible lucidity of spectacular scenes and tales with all in earshot captivated with rapt attention. 

(L-R: Frank Morton, Joel Reitan, myself, Dr. John Navazio, Matthew Dillon)

In fond reflection I can confidently claim that John Navazio was likely the greatest story-teller, and among the finest human beings that I have ever met. One last story: One time in the wee hours of the biennial Organicology Conference in Portland, OR, he and I and my office manager Lindsay Jetton were in a quiet room adjacent to the the big party room that Organically Growing Company had and the bedside clock shifted to midnight (2/5) and he began signing "happy birthday to me" in a lovely low baritone in the style of Marilyn Monroe and Lindsay and I looked at him in surprise as if to say, "Really!!! it's your birthday and you, the coolest guy at this whole conference didn't mention it at all and are hanging with us???" After which Lindsay (who had previously lived in Portland) said, " Let's go celebrate!, I know a Vietnamese restaurant open late", and we went and had Pho at 2 AM together.  A great memory of a truly great man.

Here is the official eulogy for Dr. Navazio:

"On June 1st, in the early morning hours, Dr. John Navazio left the field, and yet his legacy will live on season after season in the harvests of countless gardeners and farmers, and in the hearts of all those he inspired and loved. We are many.

John was born on February 5, 1955, to German and Italian immigrants Wilma Margaret Roth and Peter Navazio, in Landstuhl, Germany while his father Peter served as a Captain in the US Army. He was raised in Staten Island, New York, while his mother attended Columbia and then moved to Alexandira, Virginia his school age years.  He loved to lapse into east coast accents, and often give a little lecture on the nuances of accents from neighboring geographies. Let’s be honest, lecturing was one of John’s favorite pastimes, and he did it so well. His anecdotes, aphorisms, and theories were colorful, often comical, and always entertaining. A plant breeder by training, John was a born teacher and shared his knowledge and experience with generosity and passion. Curiosity was his measuring stick of a person’s character; if they didn’t have it, he tried to inspire it. 

John’s plant breeding career grew out of his love for farming and farmers. In 1981 he headed to Oregon to be a firefighter but took a tangent and stopped by River Brook Farm near Eugene, Oregon. He never made it to the forest and stayed in the field. After several seasons as a farmer his curiosity led him down the path of seed and headed back to school, first to teach sustainable agriculture at the College of the Atlantic, and then went on to get his PhD at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Farmers stayed in his heart, and his approach to breeding was always to understand what a farmer needed and work closely in a participatory process with the farmer to develop breeding projects. 

He worked at Garden City Seed in Missoula, Montana; Alf Christianson Seed in the Skagit Valley of Washington; Abundant Life Seed and Organic Seed Alliance in Port Townsend, Washington; and Johnny’s Selected Seed took him back to Maine, a place he deeply loved. Along the way John bred varieties like Purple Dragon Carrot, Astro Arugula, Shiraz Beet, Dark Star Zucchini, Cool Customer Cucumber, and so many more. And of course, dozens and dozens of breeding lines he shared with others to encourage them to develop new varieties. John was “open source” with his seed and knowledge before such a phrase was coined, and humbly gave credit to all others who he learned from and who had shared with him. 

Along the way, he made friends and fans. 

In addition to being big-hearted, he was also big-voiced, a booming sound that not only carried his musings on plant breeding but also his love of music. John played guitar, and was in several bands over the years, with the fan favorite being “The Pheromones” which played at organic farm conferences around the country. He had an encyclopedic memory for music, obsessively collected records and could tell you which studio musician played on which recording with shocking accuracy. 

Last, but not least, and above all of these accomplishments, John was a father and husband. He loved and talked about “the apple of his eye”, his girls Emilia and Zea with joy and tenderness at times playing make believe animal town and bonding with Emilia over batting averages and the Yankees, being a stickler while editing Zea’s collage papers. Terri Matson, his wife, was the deep love of his life, a partner in both farming and life's adventures, shared a journey that took them through marriage, divorce, and ultimately, a remarriage—a testament to the resilience and enduring bond they shared and when they landed together back in Maine he felt he was the luckiest man in the world and truly at home in heart and in place.

John will be buried in Maine with a green burial, giving back to the soil and land in death as he did in life. The family asks donations to be made in John’s name to Organic Seed Alliance, the nonprofit he co-founded. https://seedalliance.org/"