PT seed steward named an ‘Extraordinary Woman Working in World of Plants’

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Port Townsend’s Cara Loriz was recently in the spotlight for her work as an international leader in the food and farming industries when she was featured in Jennifer Jewell’s book, “The Earth in Her Hands: 75 Extraordinary Women Working in the World of Plants,” published this year by Timber Press.

Loriz is executive director of the Port Townsend-based Organic Seed Alliance, which she joined in 2016, after leading the start-up of Sylvester Manor Educational Farm, a historic organic farm on Shelter Island, New York.

The Organic Seed Alliance’s mission is to support human and environmental health by delivering genetically diverse and regionally adapted seed to farmers, and Loriz has prioritized the promotion of seed literacy by building cultural and community connections to plant breeding.

Loriz confessed her surprise at being contacted by Jewell, insisting “I’m not sure what captured her attention.”

Even with a career that’s wound through multiple disciplines, Loriz focused on farming early on, having grown up in Omaha, Nebraska, during the “farm crisis” of the 1980s that inspired the start of “Farm Aid” in 1985 as a benefit concert for family farmers.

Loriz saw in the U.S. the farmers who defaulted had tied their fortunes to the contemporary “Big Ag” push for big equipment and the “monoculture” practice of planting a single species in a field, so it’s perhaps not coincidental that she’s become a strident advocate for a biodiversity of crops within a region. At the same time, she ensures such prospective crops are suited to the native soils and other environmental conditions of that region.

For Loriz, such measures represent a rising tide that can lift all boats by improving the environment, the economy and food security all at once. The reduction of transportation also reduces farming’s carbon footprint, just as shopping locally at farmers’ markets puts money back into the communities where it came from and doesn’t place as much reliance on cross-country or international shipping chains for a steady supply of food.

Loriz sees all these concerns as especially prevalent during the age of coronavirus, as travel is discouraged and concerns arise about the reliability of traditional shipping lanes.

Through the Organic Seed Alliance, Loriz strives to connect local farmers with university plant breeders, seed companies, food distributors and chefs, allowing each to synergize their needs and work together more efficiently.

Loriz relishes having the fields of the Finnriver Farm and Cidery in Chimacum as her “test lab.” Before mandated social distancing became the norm, she welcomed the opportunity to invite the community to Finnriver, so they could taste the fruits (well, vegetables) of her labors. Of not was when Finnriver’s wide diversity of carrots OSA bred with researchers from the University of Wisconsin, Madison, to be “resilient, adaptable, nutritious and great-tasting.”

As long as COVID-19 restrictions are in place, however, Loriz acknowledged the need to make information available online, for free if possible, through webinars and other distance learning.

While Loriz is humbled by the attention that Jewell’s book throws her way, she would much rather people credit the Organic Seed Alliance as a whole, including its many partners and remember to support local farmers.

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