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  • Darby Weaver

How High Mowing Innovates for a Greener Future

By Darby Weaver

Farmer and High Mowing Organic Seeds Sales Manager Paul Betz at the High Mowing Trials Farm.
Farmer and High Mowing Organic Seeds Sales Manager Paul Betz at the High Mowing Trials Farm.

For the last 27 years, High Mowing Organic Seeds has been growing organics. Carrying forward the inspiring work of founder Tom Stearns, our Vermont-based seed company continues to expand the market of organic seed across North America. Under the direction of new CEO Andrea Tursini, the company carries this essential work forward by cultivating meaningful relationships with mission-aligned organizations, seed breeders, and producers across the globe. Ms. Tursini knows that a stable seed system is built through collaboration, and she is eager to leverage High Mowing’s place in the seed industry for good.

Our journey as a seed company has evolved over the years through innovations in crop breeding, partnerships, and a focus on the challenges our growers face navigating market trends, climate change, pests, and disease. We invited Sales Manager and farmer Paul Betz to share some insights into how organic farming has evolved since his days in the field and how High Mowing is innovating to support a green future for organic growers.

Seeding A New Adventure

Paul Betz joined the High Mowing team after 8 seasons growing a market garden at High Ledge Farm in Woodbury, Vermont where he supplied local produce to the community through farmers markets and a CSA program. “I began working with High Mowing in 2001 when we started to grow seed at our farm. We had been doing the market garden since ‘99 and had several years under our belt. We attempted to produce a lot of different crops and had hit or miss success. In the fall of 2007, I went into the warehouse looking for a seasonal job.” That seasonal job turned into a passionate career and Paul now manages the Commercial Grower Sale Representative team while also having helped build and strengthen systems company-wide.

The Growing Community

When considering how agriculture has evolved since his farming days, Paul notes that many innovations have changed the game for growers. From Paperpot Transplanters (developed over 30 years ago in Japan, which saves hundreds of thousands of hours in time and labor by enabling farmers to transplant rows of seedlings in minutes instead of hours) to succession growing techniques, Paul is consistently impressed with the human scale tools of the modern-day grower. In crops, Paul feels that Eazyleaf Lettuces (suitable for cut-and-come-again or single harvest) are an advancement that has transformed salad production. He also called out how connected we’ve become since the dawn of the internet. “With our access to social media and other communication apps, geography is no longer a barrier. You can now find a community of folks growing on the same scale as you, facing comparable problems, and creating creative solutions. This level of sharing is something we didn’t have when I began my farming career,” he says.

Teamwork Makes the Dream Work

In the example of Paul’s farming experience, not only was the community limited to a regional experience, but the availability of organic varieties was also restricted. As a result of the efforts of High Mowing's Product Development Team and specifically those of Product and Trials Manager Taylor Maida, producers can now grow from entirely organic seed and have a successful season. Paul adds, “Through our Trials Program, we bring material into an organic growing system and collect data. Taylor shares this data back with the producers of the material, giving them feedback regarding how the variety performs in an organic system. We also utilize our Trials and Product Development work to give breeders and producers feedback about what crops our growers are seeking to grow.”

We Learn from Our Growers

Paul explains, “We ask growers what works for them and what doesn’t and what gaps in our assortment could be filled. This goes back to the Product Development Team and then to Taylor, who shares it with our representatives in the seed industry. Then, we can see what is available now and what could be available organically in the future, revealing an opportunity for a breeder to create something new. If you can start with the right variety for your conditions, you can mitigate many of the issues you will face in a season.” In this way, High Mowing is always looking ahead, and this forward, solution-based focus is Paul’s ultimate motivation. “We are a resource for growers and a catalyst for positive change in modern agriculture and that fills me with hope.”

Facing Climate Change

Paul and his team have had many conversations with growers about how climate change impacts their operations. Climate change is a daunting phenomenon for all who derive their livelihoods from the land, including those who grow seed. “Climate change scares me. It scares me that things that were talked about in abstract terms are becoming very real. Everyone from the home gardener to the large commercial producer is starting to experience how difficult the variability of weather conditions, disease pressure and migrating pest pressure makes food production today and how much risk is involved.

We’ve had several seed contracts delivered to us as failures because there was no water. There was no irrigation allowed or available to finish the crop. At High Mowing, there are times when we place contracts in multiple locations so that if a contract fails in one location due to inclement weather conditions, the other contract may still be fulfilled. We also increased the size and quality of our bulk storage room to allow us to hold more seed. We can now contract more frequently or on a larger scale, so if a production fails or comes in light, we still have that variety in-house. This helps minimize the chance that the variety will go out of stock.”

It's A Small Seed World After All

High Mowing has been able to leverage our work for good through our openness to collaborating with others. A strength of ours has been a willingness to work with unconventional partners. What results from these untraditional relationships is more varieties becoming available organically. Paul notes, “I think one of the many things we do well is find people who we share alignment with and develop long-lasting relationships. We have global partners. We are connected to people worldwide doing similar work for similar and different reasons. The fact that High Mowing is now tied into the global organic market and making lasting connections shows how much the organic movement has grown.  These relationships are being founded and strengthened at a crucial time as climate change threatens the stability of our food chain. Acknowledging the urgency of this work, Paul notes, “If ever there was a time when we needed to consider the impact that we have on the global stage, it’s now. If there was a time to find people doing good work in their part of the world and develop mutually beneficial relationships—this is the time.”

Darby Weaver is a farmer and the Lead Writer and Brand Strategist at High Mowing Organic Seeds in Wolcott, Vermont.

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