Food Rebel: Matthew Dillon
Director of Seed Matters
Line caught salmon right out of the pacific northwest on a little bed of quinoa, with a wonderful side salad kale and arugula, very simple.
The reason I got involved with seeds was I was an organic farmer in Anderson Valley, California and I realized that I was planting conventional seed and I was very confused. I didn’t understand as an organic farmer why I was relying on conventional seed, why can’t I find enough organic seed? I realized not only was there a lack of organic seed, but there was also consolidation that was going on and a handful of companies were patenting up genetic resources. Not just patenting GMO crops, but patenting our fruits and vegetables, patenting naturally occurring traits like heat tolerance in broccoli or a flavor in a melon characteristics that existed in our crops for centuries. When I discovered that, I was angry because that means we lose plant genetic diversity, and you lose access to plants.
I was angry, I wasn’t hopeful, and what got me hopeful in the last years, was when I started this organization advocating for the protection and improvement of organic seeds to ensure healthy, nutritious and productive crops to feed people now and in the future.
What is the problem with seeds in America today?
One of the real challenges with seed today is that farmers don’t have the seed they need. The majority of farmers are getting their seed from a handful of companies and when it comes to organic farming in particular, there’s a real lack of seed. 95% of organic farmers worldwide rely on seed that’s been bred for high input chemical agriculture. In the United States, the vast majority of organic acreage is planted with varieties that have been bred for high input chemical agriculture.
What is the solution?
If we’re going to solve the problems of today and the predicted problems of the future, we have to make investments for our future. Plant breeding is the prime investment in agriculture innovation for determining what the agriculture of tomorrow will look like. When you breed a plant today, you determine what agriculture will look like in the future. So until we change the direction of plant breeding, we cant really change the direction of our food and farming systems.
What is your earliest food memory?
One of my earliest memories is of my two grandparents who were Italian immigrants and they loved to grow peppers and tomatoes. At the very end of the year, as the tomato vines were dying, they would do two things. One, they would take all those fruits from those plants and they would preserve them for next year and two, they would roast the tomatoes, and they would make sauce out of the roast. Every year as those plants were dying, to them they were a new potential to feed ourselves, to celebrate life again.