Cindy and I decided to start our seed company in June/July of 2008. I had left my job at the dealership, and Cindy was looking to move to something else from her job as an outreach coordinator at the non-profit natural history center. We had been growing our own vegetables for about 14 years at that point and wanted to move into something bigger. One of the biggest factors in starting our own seed business was the loss of diversity that has occurred since 1900. If one were to compare what was commercially available in 1900 (vegetables, herbs and flowers) to what was available in 2000- there has been a 97% DECREASE in the varieties offered for sale! This was a huge wake-up call for us…
We looked at the total seed market, from the smallest one person businesses to the giants of Monsanto, etc. Then we looked at the open pollinated and heirloom seed companies, who were engaged in what we feel is the most important work- that of keeping genetic diversity alive and well. We saw the heirloom/open pollinated market as the best one, for a multitude of reasons. Heirlooms are becoming known more in the mainstream world, as people are tired of the poor performance of the hybridized varieties of seeds and plants that they buy at the local garden centers. Nutrition is a growing concern, as people are starting to realize that they CAN grow a significant amount of food in their backyards, reducing their food budget and providing better taste and health for their families. People are looking at the current economic situation and are trying to find ways to gain more control of their lives, and lessen their cash outlays; thus reducing their income needs and exposure to the current economic climate.
The term Terroir means soil in French. The French have always paid close attention to the flavor as well as the origins of food, unlike most Americans. It matters to the French where a food comes from, because they understand that place matters. It is interesting to note that the French government has subsidized food production, like America. The difference is that the French have subsidized the local farmer instead of supporting the corporate business of farming, as in America. The difference in approach is startling, as there are multitudes of benefits to the localized agriculture that is the norm in France, instead of the exception. Health – both of the soil and of the people- is one, as there are fewer chemicals in the food chain. Nutrition is another, as the localized food production encourages organic and wholesome approaches to food production. There is a longer history of food production in Europe than America, so people have had to learn how to grow food without destroying the soil. This is something that we as Americans are realizing is important. We felt that this term exemplified what we wanted to accomplish with our business. It closed the circle, as I showed in my last blog- Terroir Seeds means soil seeds or soil and seeds.
We have tried to “grow” our soil for the entire time we have been growing food, and have discovered many things- one of the biggest is that the fertilizers are for the plants, not the soil. One must pay attention to the soil in order to have successful, long term food production. We wanted to pay attention to the soil in our business as well.
When we found Underwood Gardens for sale, we realized that it would be a perfect fit for what we wanted to accomplish. The direction of Underwood Gardens was very close to what we wanted with the diversity of the seeds. We saw that we could add the soil aspect to the business and move forward, combining the qualities of the heirloom seeds with building the best soil possible to achieve the best of both worlds- great flavor and nutrition with healthy soil that will sustain people for a long time. Expanding the selection of offerings and increasing the depth of knowledge presented, both for the soils and the seeds is our primary goal. We are finding “new” heirloom varieties in all areas- vegetables, herbs and flowers, as well as new information on their history and uses, both culinary and medicinal. Several influential people have given us resources to find these offerings, and we will bring them to you as we get them grown out and tested.
This is an incredibly exciting time for all of us in many respects. There are changes on the horizon, some that we will make, some that we will have to adapt to in order to move forward. Many feel that we are at the “tipping point” in many areas- economic, agricultural, energy supply, social and environmental. Some of these choices we make are becoming easier, as we gain knowledge of the results of our choices. Some are going to be difficult to get used to, as habits are hard to change, even on a personal scale and especially on a social scale. We feel that the time of the community garden or small farm is upon us- it is one of the fastest growing segments in agriculture today. It is what has sustained us for the total amount of recorded history. In the words of Small Farmers Journal founder Lynn Miller- it is time for the Farmer Pirate; one who refuses to be drawn into the wizadry of modern chemical agribusiness and recognizes that in some things, the old ways truly are the best. We want to be with you for the journey of growing, whether it is the first time you’ve planted something, or the first time you’re planting heirloom seeds, we want to share the growing with all of our community. There are some incredible people in this community, many of whom are willing to share their experiences with all of us that need it- Cindy and myself included. Please join us as we begin this part of the journey.