What is AgroBiodiversity?


Human beings consume about 200 of the nearly 400,000 species of plants on Earth, but just 3 plants (Rice, Corn and Wheat) compromise half of all calories consumed.  Historically people ate very seasonal diets of a wide variety of plants, many of which had a fairly narrow window of availability.  In a unique glimpse into the ancient past, the discovery of frozen human remains determined to be over 5,000 years old in the Austrian Alps (discovered in 1991), revealed through an analysis of his gut that he had consumed over 60 species of plants including barley, Einkorn wheat, legumes, flax, poppies, blackthorn berries and many wild greens.  We must ask ourselves, who among us consume 60 or more species regularly?  While there may be regional specialties, our global food distribution system has resulted in a handful of crops being the basis of most peoples’ diets.  An estimated 90% of the human population is fed by 15 species: corn, beans, wheat, cassava, taro, rice, potatoes, sugar cane, millet, sorghum, yams, soy, barley, teff and plantains. Of course, in many regions, people who still have a connection to the local ecology may harvest wild fruits, herbs, fungi and more when in season.  But sadly, this level of engagement with natural ecosystems is rare and fading into antiquity in favor of box stores and online food delivery schemes.

Here at Seven Seeds Farm, I have always been fascinated with botanical diversity.  I am continually curious to try growing new varieties of vegetables, flowers, herbs, grains and novel species – even if it turns out that my efforts are stymied by our northern latitude or temperate climate.  Nonetheless, we do manage to grow over 300 species of vegetables, flowers, herbs, fruits, nuts and other multi-use plants (such as willow and bamboo).  While this may sound impressive, consider that 300 species amount to a mere 1.2% of the total species richness in North America and an even smaller 0.07% of the total global plant diversity.  So many plants to grow and discover and so little time.  At times I feel as if I am loading a veritable Noah’s Ark of possible plants that can grow here in Oregon.  Foolish? Perhaps…but it keeps me occupied and out of trouble, and more importantly, the more I do this work of using our farm as a research and development laboratory, I learn more about microclimates and what gardeners here in the Pacific Northwest can actually successfully grow.

Plant Breeding, Selection & Crop Diversification as a Thoughtful Response to Climate Change

With a rapidly shifting climate I believe that testing out new crops is a crucial task to expanding the diversity upon which we depend on for our nourishment.  Consider that 20+ years ago few people consumed plants such as quinoa, goji berries, cacao in its raw form, coconut milk, kale and so many more, that are now household standards for so many people.  Further, with the increased prevalence of gluten intolerance, lactose sensitivity and other food allergies, we are well served by a more diverse range of plants to look to.  We are living in unprecedented times in which huge shifts are occurring in traditional agricultural such as:

  • Historically significant viticultural areas in France are shifting northward into Southern England
  • The corn-belt region, where corn and soy can be grown without irrigation, has shifted 150 miles Eastward in the pat 150 years, thereby transforming a huge swath of very productive farmland from corn and soy to less productive (in terms of yield and value) wheat and pasture.
  • Drought and wildfires in the West have greatly affected agricultural yields and working conditions
  • Flawed immigration policies have led to shortages in farm labor and resulted in unharvested crops.
  • Higher temperatures are increasing the pressure from weeds, fungi and disease.
  • Traditional cropping areas are shifting outside of favorable geographical regions (from a valley into the mountains for instance)


Botanical Backgrounds for sidebars

in our 2020 Catalog

Celery (Apium graveolens)

Origin: Mediterranean

Celery evolved from a marshland plant in the Apiaceae family that grew around the Mediterranean. North of the Alps it grew in foothill regions and can still be found in parts of Germany. Long cultivated more for its aromatic seeds and pungent leaves than the modern preference for its fibrous stalks. First described by Carl Linnaeus in Volume One of his Species Plantarum in 1753. Its fibrous root (or hypocotyl) which is now commonly called “Celeriac” has been a mainstay in Northern European soups and stews for centuries. Celery, Onions and Bell Peppers have become the “holy trinity” of ingredients in Cajun and Louisiana Creole cuisine after being introduced to the SE USA and Caribbean by French colonists. Celery is a member of the Apiaceae family which also includes vegetables such as carrots and parsnips other aromatic herbs like fennel, dill, cilantro, anise and parsley and medicinal herbs such as Osha, Angelica, Lomatium and Ashitaba.


Fava Beans (Vicia faba)

Origin: Eastern Mediterranean

Favas (aka Broad beans) are an ancient staple in the Fabaceae plant family who’s use is thought to have originated in the Eastern Mediterranean region about 6,000 years ago. Unique among other beans in that they thrive in cooler growing conditions and can grow on clay soils and those soils high in salinity. They are an erect plant with little to no branching about 30-36” tall that produces 6-20+ pods that grow up to 10” long and can contain 3-8 beans that are ½ “to 1” long. High in protein they have found the way into may Middle Eastern and Mediterranean dishes. While they can be used fresh, they are typically shelled, cooked and often the individual beans are peeled. A wonderful hummus, or falafel can be prepared from favas, however their versatility does not stop there! The beans can be fried, causing the skin to split open, and then salted and/or spiced to produce a savory, crunchy snack. These are popular in China, Malaysia, Colombia, Peru (habas saladas), Guatemala (habas), Mexico (habas con chile), Gilan (North of Iran) and Thailand (where their name means "open-mouth nut"). They have also found widespread use in Columbia, the Andes in South America, Algeria, Pakistan, China, Egypt, Ethiopia, Greece, Iran, Iraq, Japan, Morocco, Nepal, Syria, Turkey, Vietnam, Croatia, Italy and Spain. Moreover, you should try growing them! However, some rare individuals suffer from favism, a hemolytic response to the consumption of broad beans, a condition linked to a metabolism disorder known as G6PDD.

Kale (Brassica oleracea & Brassica napus)

Origin: Eastern Mediterranean & Asia Minor

A Leafy member of the Brassicaceae long cultivated for its edible leaves that are either green or purple. Cultivated for food since at least 2000 BCE. Both curly and flat leaved variants existed in Greece in 400 BCE. Heading cabbage does not appear in written records until the 13th century in Western Europe. Brassica oleracea kales include curly, Vates, Lacinato and Dinosaur types and were most prevalent in Europe, whereas Brassica napus kales, which are related to Rutabagas, and include the Russian and Siberian types were historically consumed farther East. The Russian types were introduced to North America in the 19th century by Russian fur trappers. Kale was later introduced by USDA botanist, David Fairchild who brought them from Croatia. Kale never really caught on in the USA until its planting was encouraged in Victory Gardens on account of its nutrient density. Kale is quite high in vitamins (A, C, B6, K, E, Thiamine (B1), Riboflavin (B2), Niacin (B3)) and minerals including manganese, calcium, iron, folate, potassium and phosphorus. Health food fads have widely embraced Kale starting in the 1990s. Kale yeah!!!

Radish (Raphanus sativa)

Origin: SE Asia

Radishes are the darling of the vegetable garden largely on account of the rapid growth and easy success. While there is some uncertainty to where the wild form of modern radishes first emerged, there is archeological evidence from southeast Asia and then later historical evidence in 300 BCE. They were one of the first European crops brought to the Americas in the early 1500’s. The large, elongated, mild, white Daikon types were bred in Asia and have become mainstays in Chinese, Japanese and Korean cuisine. A black skinned variety was developed in Spain and another that is cultivated for its edible seedpods has been consumed in SE Asia for centuries (our “Rat Tail variety is one of these types). The sharp, spicy flavor that develops in radishes as they age results from the chemical compounds that accumulate in their roots including glucosinolate, myrosinase and isothiocyanate. Radish seeds are commonly used for producing edible sprouts. Radishes can also be planted as an overwintering cover crop which has nemotodicial and dynamic accumulator properties.

Watermelon (Citrullus lanatus)

Origin: Western Africa

Watermelons are a trailing vine that originated from the bitter melon of Western Africa that was selected for sweetness by early farmers over the centuries to arrive at the fruit that is so widely cherished today. There is evidence from seeds in Pharaoh tombs of watermelon cultivation in ancient Egypt. The sweet watermelon was formally described by Carl Linnaeus in 1753 and given the name Cucurbita citrullus. It was reassigned to the genus Citrullus in 1836. The Moors introduced watermelons from N. Africa into Spain by 936 BCE. Spanish colonists introduced watermelons to N. America (in Florida first) by 1576. It was grown widely by African slaves who already had a culture around its cultivation from their homelands in Africa where it originated. Native Americans adopted growing them throughout the Mississippi river valley by the early 1600s, with some tribes selecting them for large, oil-rich seeds in addition to the juicy sweet flesh. Seedless watermelons were initially developed in 1939 by Japanese scientists who were able to create seedless triploid hybrids. Seedless watermelons became more popular in the 21st century, rising to nearly 85% of total watermelon sales in the United States in 2014. Being subtropical vines, watermelons thrive with a nice long warm growing season of at least 100 days of frost-free weather. 


Cucurbita pepo: Origin: Oaxaca, Mexico

Cucurbita maxima: South America

Cucurbita moschata: Southern meso-America / Northern S.America

Annual vining plants in the Cucurbitaceae family with five lobed palmate leaves and spiny traiting vines and male and female flowers on the same plant (monecious, imperfect). There are 5 cultivated species grown in N.America, however, we only offer seed fro the 3 most common species (as the C.argyrosperma & C.ficifolia require a very long season best suited to being grown in the SE USA), so we will address those here.

Cucurbita pepo is thought to be the oldest with evidence of being grown in Oaxaca, Mexico 8-10,000 years ago. There is archeological evidence going back 4,000 years in the Missouri river valley in the USA. C.pepo includes all the summer squash, pumpkins, Delicata, spaghetti squash and acorn types along with the small, ribbed ornamental gourds.

C.maxima originated in S.America (probably in Argentina and Uruguay) 4,000 years ago and includes buttercup, kabocha, red Kuri, Hubbard and similar strains with a large corky stem and typically with a recessed “nipple” at the blossom end. It spread to be cultivated in the USA after being exchanged northward by the 1600s.

C. moschata is native to Latin America, but the precise location of origin is uncertain. It has been present in Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, and Peru for 4,000–6,000 years and has spread to Bolivia, Ecuador, Panama, Puerto Rico, and Venezuela. This species includes the butternuts, crook and cheese types.