As you will learn if you read this issue, the historical role of farmers has not been just to provide food for humanity. They also, by selecting plants to provide seed for next year, saving that seed, and growing it out in populations that enable crossings, are inherently partners with nature in the design of the germplasm that will be our food in the future.
For thousands of years this has been an almost unconscious aspect of good farming. Only in the last century or so has supplying seed become a separate business in developed countries. We justify handing off this function on the basis of convenience and a faith in the benefits of science and technology. But we are now seeing the price to be paid for losing control of seed.
Food plants are not being designed for nutrition or even flavor so much as for commercial qualities such as shelf life, cosmetic appeal, and size. Varieties perfect for our small farms and challenging climate are disappearing because the volume of their sales does not justify the costs involved for large marketers. And science and technology are now baring their teeth as patents, licenses, and lawsuits are increasingly coming between farmers and their craft.
We hope you will read this issue and be inspired to take back some of this control. We have provided articles about the genetics behind, and techniques involved, in plant breeding. We have detailed the legal issues involved in farmers asserting their power to save seed and breed plants. And we share the experiences of many, farmers and breeders both, who are finding real satisfaction in working with Nature to create something new and useful.