The People’s Seed

Chrystal Kelly photographed The People’s Seed First Annual Farm Fundraising Dinner, which celebrated the life and work of founder, Tony Kleese.

Durham is bigger geographically than you think. It is a county as well as a city.

Head north, up Roxboro Road, past Pelican Snowballs, and La Superior Carniceria. Turn right at Church’s Chicken, aka Old Oxford Road. Follow it past the old Catsburg Country Store, built in the 1920s by Sheriff Eugene Belvin, and you are almost at Durham Green’s Farm where the The People’s Seed dinner was held, part of their campaign to raise the initial capital to get fully operational.

photo by Chrystal Kelly

photo by Chrystal Kelly

It was a beautiful night with a warm fire.

Down a long driveway, she saw the results of a lot of organization. Volunteers and the board had worked hard to pull together the final details together on the evening.

Durham Greens Farm provided the space.

David and J. J. Owens of Durham Greens Farm photo by Chrystal Kelly

David and J. J. Owens of Durham Greens Farm photo by Chrystal Kelly

Matthew Daniels was the chef.

photo by Chrystal Kelly

Chef Matthew Daniels (Kai Daniels in the rear ground) photo by Chrystal Kelly

The bartender was Rob Mariani of Behind the Stick Provisions.

Rob Mariani of Behind the Stick Provisions, photo by Chrystal Kelly

Rob Mariani of Behind the Stick Provisions, photo by Chrystal Kelly

The volunteer serving staff were Eric and Matthew’s kids, Kai, Ella, and Nate.

Ella and Nate Cohen photo by Chrystal Kelly

Ella and Nate Cohen photo by Chrystal Kelly

Crystal interviewed Eric Cohen, the President of The People’s Seed.

Eric Cohen told Chrystal Kelly, “Sadly, our founding member Tony passed away on March 17, 2018. The board is now moving forward with Tony’s legacy work. The team is now six people, five board members: Eric Cohen, Angel Cruz, Tobin Freid, Nicki Owens, and Chris Smith, and Executive Director, Jacob Rutz.”

left to right Jacob Rutz, Nicki Owens, Tobin Freid, Angel Cruz, Eric Cohen. photo by Chrystal Kelly

left to right Jacob Rutz, Nicki Owens, Tobin Freid, Angel Cruz, Eric Cohen. photo by Chrystal Kelly

Other organizations that helped make the First Annual Farm Fundraising Dinner possible include: Eastern Carolina Organics, Conniption Gin, The Durham Hotel, Sow True Seeds, The Source Farm Ecovillage, and Bull City Sweeps.

The first annual Tony Kleese award was given to Edmund Frost who is building a unique network of seed breeders and farmers in the Southeast. The goal is to address common crop challenges for organic growers of winter squash, cucumbers, gourds, and like crops.

Eric told Chrystal The People’s Seed was born in the latter half of 2016 after a National Plant Breeders meeting in Raleigh, NC. Founder Tony Kleese attended a two-day session on intellectual property rights.

He [Kleese] walked away from that meeting with the firm belief that the entire plant breeding system was controlled by financial interests that did not consider the needs of the farmer, eaters, or the planet. He felt scientists were trapped in this system and the only weapon they currently had in their arsenal was to patent seeds.

According to Eric, Kleese believed there had to be a better way.

Eric told Chrystal, “The objective of The People’s Seed is to create a new model for funding plant breeding. A paradigm shift is necessary to open plant breeding to the needs of all people–from farmers to distributors to consumers. We know that this change will only happen when fair and open access to regionally adapted seed and plant varieties is available to all. Our mission is to create a viable and thriving seed breeding network that supports farmer success, food security, nutrition, and environmental protection.”

He continued, “The People’s Seed is part of a seed-to-fork movement to bring an alternative to the corporate model of seed ownership to reality.”

They fund organically oriented public plant breeders to develop new varieties, with an eye on the ever changing climate.

Eric continued, “We educate all who eat food about where seed comes from and why it is critical to support plant breeders dedicated to a better world.”

To find out how you can support The People’s Seed, visit

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