Open-pollinated vs. Hybrid Seed
Nash was able to continue the development the Pearl Romanesco because the seed he was given was from plants that are open-pollinated. This means that they reproduce themselves by disseminating their pollen via wind, insects or water, either between two plants or between the male and female parts of the same plant.
Open-pollinated plants (OP) produce seeds that “breed true.” This does not mean that there won’t be variation—mutations can always occur. But generally the next generation closely resembles the parent plants. This means a farmer can save seed, and be confident of getting the same crop the next year.
Traditionally, a hybrid comes from the cross of two different varieties of the same plant species. Today, however, there is a more narrow and legal definition. Seed companies control the parent lines and the pollination process to get desirable traits, such as disease resistance, color, or stature. They make deliberate combinations to produce uniform offspring, whose subsequent seeds will not breed true to type. You must always combine the same parent lines to get those traits, and the only ones who have the parent lines are the seed companies. In effect, they “own” the hybrid seed, and even patent them, and the farmer must return to the same company to purchase seed year after year.
It’s good business to be paid for your work, and that is why seed companies developed hybrids in the first place. It is an issue that all farmers who develop OP varieties have to deal with—that once they release it, anyone can grow it and they will not come back to the originator to purchase more seed.
However, seed was once part of the “commons” in agriculture. Farmers shared them so that everyone could eat. When all seed becomes proprietary, it will be a more expensive, and perhaps even dangerous, world. No one person, government, or corporation should own the source of all food. It is already leading to tremendous loss of agricultural biodiversity, and it puts too much control in the hands of those who do not have the community’s interests as their primary concern.