Plant Breeder Spotlight: Edmund Frost

Edmund in his South Anna patch.

Edmund Frost lives in Virginia where he is the managing director of Common Wealth Seed Growers, a cooperative of seed growers producing farmer-grown, regionally trialed seeds in the southeast. Frost was drawn to seed growing as part of his anti-GMO activism.

As a seed grower, he has spent time at both Acorn and Twin Oaks intentional communities, but variety trialing and breeding was a logical next step. 

His personal work has focused on variety improvement for cucurbits, specifically downy mildew and striped cucumber beetle resistance. Through his seed growing growing he faced the challenges of the seed industry first hand. “I stumbled on a pretty big need,” says Frost, who in 2014, received a SARE grant to trial 120 varieties of cucumber, winter squash and melon. 

A healthy crop of South Annas displaying the classic butternut shape.

Frost is motivated by two important principles. First he believes that plant breeding under organic conditions allows the plants to be exposed to more pests and diseases, which in turns allows for greater selection to perform in those conditions. In the long term this type of breeding work will greatly benefit the southeastern food system. Secondly, Frost is committed to creating and distributing open-pollinated varieties. Open-pollinated varieties are, “Conducive to including a lot more people in growing and saving seeds,” says Frost. “It’s what we need to be doing to have a seed system that really serves us in the southeast.”

Frost’s long term commitment to the bigger picture ideals of our food system, coupled with his detailed work on specific plant breeding objectives is one of the reasons The People’s Seed was proud to present Frost with the inaugural Tony Kleese Award in 2018. 

Frost is working with the following crops:

    • Butternut (South Anna, see below)
    • Pickling cucumber 
    • Melons
    • Gourds
    • Summer Squash

 

Variety Spotlight

South AnnaA downy mildew resistant, great tasting butternut squash

South Anna started as a cross between a seminole pumpkin from Florida and a Waltham Butternut from Massachusetts. The Seminole had good eating qualities, disease resistance, but not a lot of edible flesh because of its huge seed cavity. The Waltham was a classic butternut but with little downy-mildew resistance. The initial cross led to an F1 that looked halfway like a butternut. The F2 created a wide range of variation in the fruit, which allowed for the beginning of selection through F3-F7.

Hey, Butternut!
The People’s Seed’s educational poster on display at the French Broad Food Coop.

 

Frost’s selection criteria focused on disease resistance, yield and flavor. Now, in its eighth year of selection the South Anna is a perfect example of a superior southern variety. The People’s Seed spotlighted this variety through a collaboration with the French Broad Food Coop in 2018.

 

Support Edmund and purchase his varieties through the Common Wealth Seed Growers.