Seed Matters Grants Nation’s First Organic Plant-Breeding Fellowships

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Photo By Seed Matters
Seed Matters' Matthew Dillon (left) and fellowship recipient Brook Brouwer (right).

Ph.D. students in English, biology, history and dozens of other fields have long vied for fellowships that support them while they conduct research and work toward degrees. Now, the fellowship model has taken an exciting new subject under its wing.

The Clif Bar Family Foundation announced that it would be awarding the first fellowships in organic plant breeding granted in the United States. Funded through its organic seed initiative, Seed Matters, the foundation issued $375,000 in grants to fund three Ph.D. students for five years to study organic plant breeding.

Seed Matters worked directly with university professors to select the fellowship recipients. The first three graduate fellows are conducting research to improve quality, sustainability and yield of organic crops, including barley, corn, broccoli, green beans, quinoa, wheat and cover crops. Seed Matters says that as of May 2013, it had awarded six fellowships, and would reach nine by the end of the year, bringing the organization’s total fellowship commitment to more than $1 million.

In addition to equipping organic farmers with new varieties of seed adapted to organic systems, these fellowships will cultivate the next generation of leadership in organic research, education and entrepreneurship. “Organic seed systems are the underlying foundation for healthy, resilient farming and food systems,” says Matthew Dillon, director of Seed Matters. “Seed is a farmer’s first line of defense against pests and global climate disruption, and has a huge impact on the nutrition and overall quality of the food we eat.”

The Seed Matters initiative was created in 2009 with a $1 million commitment. Today, it’s a coalition of organizations and companies — including Annie’s, Earthbound Farm Organic, Eileen Fisher, Organically Grown Company, Organic Valley, Vitalis Seed and Whole Foods Market — that advocate for the improvement and conservation of organic seeds and crops that are healthy for people and planet.

We’ll raise a packet of organic seed to that!

Shelley Stonebrook is MOTHER EARTH NEWS magazine’s main gardening editor. She’s passionate about growing healthy, sustainable food and taking care of our environment. Follow her on Twitter, Pinterest and .