The Thankful Truths Woven
Within True Magenta Swiss Chard
By Heron Breen, Fruition Product Lead
Fruition is truly honored to offer True Magenta Swiss Chard, a newly released variety for 2023 from the participatory plant breeding program of seed non-profit Organic Seed Alliance (OSA). True Magenta’s namesake color, mild savory flavor and succulent texture redefine ornamental edible. Just as stunning is OSA’s commitment to breeding varieties suited to organic growing, and sharing these varieties with cooperating seed companies and the public without intellectual property restrictions such as Utility Patents or Plant Variety Protections. And you too can share in the good deeds: Every purchase of True Magenta seed from Fruition helps to support the ongoing research and education work of OSA.
When working with Plants, there are moments along that journey where it is obvious something wonderful has emerged. Maybe this wonderful plant was there all the time, or had been seen & tasted before. But there it is, in front of us, in a singular growing season, and maybe also singular within that crop type’s constantly shifting genetic path….But more honestly and probably only singular within the constraints of our human minds & short human lives.
In that dreamlike moment, we hope hope hope we have enough skills, or that at least we have wise friends to call upon for advice to learn: What do we do next? The wonderful plant (or plants) often requires good choices and care for a number of years beyond its first appearance to us before a stable genetic population we call a “Variety” is actualized.
To name with clarity the lesson True Magenta teaches: First among the best choices we can make when blessed with a wonderful plant is to Share. Without that one choice to Share, True Magenta might not “be”. That one choice set in motion the ethos of collaboration and openness that spanned True Magenta’s development. The singular individual achievement mentality is nothing when compared to a choice that allows multitudes of outcomes.
Once Upon a Chard
The story of True Magenta begins in the mid 1980s when Tim Peters interbred (or crossed) a cold-hardy, bolting and disease resistant chard from Switzerland called ‘Geneva’ with Rhubarb Red Chard. Peters then grew out the resulting breeding population, planting literally 2+ acres with this colorful diversity. Out of these thousands of Swiss chard plants, a surprise singular plant-being revealed itself with eye-popping magenta colored stems. An unexpected discovery in that vast planting, Tim continued to work with the populations derived from that one plant’s seed.
This original plant and its still variable in glowing color offspring were more slender-stemmed, smooth-leaved, and shorter in stature than traditional Swiss chard; Tim thought a unique salad chard or “spinach”-type chard would be tasty and popular.
A quiet, humble and largely unsung seed hero, Tim may be the progenitor of the modern “independent farmer/plant breeder” movement. You may know Tim’s work from the open pollinated broccoli varieties he bred that are still prized & available today: Umpqua & Thompson broccolis.
There & Back Again
In 2006, Tim Peters shared seeds of this uniquely magenta strain of swiss chard with Dr. John Navazio, now a plant breeder at Johnny’s Selected Seeds. Wanting to bring this color into a more standard Swiss chard ideotype, John decided to “backcross” (or breed back to a parent type) this strain with a sturdier, thicker-stemmed Rhubarb Red Chard that he had been selecting in his home garden in Oregon.
Soon after making this cross, John moved to Arizona to teach at Prescott College, and the ‘Rhubarb X Magenta’ project went with him. John grew this population mix thru the AZ winters, and selected for cold hardiness down to 5℉.
In 2009, when John moved back to the Northwest and became Senior Scientist at the Organic Seed Alliance (OSA), this Swiss chard project became embedded as an OSA Participatory Plant Breeding (PPB) project. PPB means that farmers and plant breeders collaborate, co-selecting the plant populations in working farm fields in active agricultural systems. This can result in resilient regional adaptation, as well as more disease resistant, hardy and stress tolerant crops.
The True-ing of Magenta
Over the next decade, the ‘Rhubarb X Magenta’ farmer/breeder shared project was grown, bred & selected on at least 3 working organic farms, as well as OSA’s own research farm. Each farm and the farmers involved aided in the choices of plant vigor, taste, & stem color, strengthening the diversity of perspectives applied to decide “what is a good chard”. At some point, John Navazio departed for Johnny’s Seeds, and this PPB project continued to be guided by Micaela Colley, OSA’s past-Executive Director-now-Program Director. While what came to be called ‘True Magenta’ had begun to shine clearly in 2015, it took another 5 years of selection work before another moment came…
Katie Jagger (then Katie Miller) had moved from Rhode Island across-country to Washington state’s Olympic Peninsula explicitly to learn about growing seeds at a farm scale. While working at Nash’s Organic Produce, which also collaborated on the True Magenta swiss chard project, Katie met OSA’s Micaela Colley in (of all places & of course!) a farm field doing plant selections! Soon after, Katie went to work for OSA. While soaking up the experience and skills others could teach on-the-job, Katie still wanted to fulfill a dream of starting a small seed company. Joined by two equally inspired teammates, Joanne and Sam, Saltwater Seeds was born!
Saltwater Seeds began growing seeds for other seed companies, like Fruition Seeds, but also began their own distinct seed journey. Katie continued to work at OSA part time, and held the True Magenta project in high esteem. In 2021, a chance conversation occurred with Fruition’s Matthew Goldfarb, both agreeing it was time to get this awesome aurora-like swiss chard out to the big wide world!
Granted permission from OSA, and with select stock seed in hand, the Saltwater Seeds team grew the first large production of True Magenta Swiss Chard seeds. It is this seed of True Magenta that we offer you in 2023!
* Video Interview Correction: Tomas Svoboda, not Alex, has co-stewarded the Svoboda Pepper.