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Agricultural geographer presents overview of Genetic Commons to South Whidbey Tilth

January 11, 2013 · Updated 2:32 PM
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By RECORD STAFF

South Whidbey Tilth hosts Laura R. Lewis, Ph.D. of Washington State University at 4 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 13.

Lewis will give an historical look at plant genetic resources, “An Overview of the Genetic Commons.”

The program follows Tilth’s annual membership meeting at 3 p.m. at Trinity Lutheran Church’s Grigware Hall in its community building at 1834 Highway 525 in Freeland. The program is open to anyone and a $5 suggested donation from nonmembers is welcome, but not mandatory.

All are welcome to the potluck following the program. Guests are asked to bring eating utensils and dishes to reduce solid waste; there will be complimentary hot drinks.

The term “commons” refers to a situation of collective interest, such as open-pollinated seeds, land held in common, etc. This overview focuses on germ plasm development, screening and selection for organic production systems during an era of climate change, habitat destruction, loss of agricultural land and governance of intellectual property. Lewis will also discuss how to strengthen our plant genetic commons and guarantee public access, in contrast to the current use of plant genetic resources dominated by large corporations and parallel agricultural development agendas, according to a Tilth news release.

Lewis is an agricultural geographer with an emphasis on biodiversity and environmental systems. She is currently the director of the WSU Jefferson County Extension service based in Port Hadlock. Her expertise is in genetic resource conservation and utilization of agrobiodiversity in traditional and small-scale farming systems.

She earned her bachelor’s degree in agriculture at WSU in 1996 with a focus on crop, soil and horticultural science in world agricultural systems and sustainability. She also holds a doctorate in agricultural geography from the University of California, Davis.

Prior to coming to Jefferson County in 2011, Lewis served for five years as an assistant professor of biogeography at the University of Maryland in the Geography and Environmental Systems Department. Her research program includes applied ethno-ecology and agrobiodiversity in urban landscapes, with focus on food deserts, as well as agrobiodiversity in traditional African agricultural systems, and the conservation and restoration of economically important species. She has collected and studied seeds in Niger and Syria.

She also helps manage the WSU Farm Innovation Education and Leadership Development (field) program in collaboration with the field program board of directors, a group of farmers who spearheaded the establishment of the farmer internship program in Jefferson County.

This presentation was also made last Nov. 9 at the joint WSU and Tilth Producers of Washington Symposium, Seeding the Future: Ensuring Resiliency in Our Plant Genetic Resources in Port Townsend.

South Whidbey Tilth’s annual membership meeting is at 3 p.m. at the same location and includes the election of four new members to its governing council. New members are welcome. For more information, contact Linda at 221-6439 or president@southwhidbeytilth.org.

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