8 Seed Companies With More Than Great Packaging
Seeds are miracles. The seed of a giant sequoia blows out of your hand in a light breeze. But, that seed contains all the genetic material needed to make the largest living organism on the planet. You wouldn’t notice a tomato seed on the ground and in fact eat hundreds of them regularly without a second thought. Those seeds hold in them centuries of human effort. Humans bred them from berry-like wild fruits to the meaty fruits they are today.
Our seed supply is under threat.
Crops are disappearing that have been cultivated and improved upon for millennia. In their place, large monocultures that cover the globe. In Never Out of Season, Rob Dunn writes that 90 percent of human calories come from 15 species (pg. 3).
This is where every gardener can make a difference. By seeking out heirloom seeds, growing them, saving and sharing the seeds, you preserve cultural legacies, bolster food security and discover a world of new flavors.
This begins with sourcing your seeds from responsible seed companies that will be your partner in crop diversity. Below are 8 of my favorite seed sources. These companies not only carry a diverse selection of seeds but specialize in heritage varieties, practice sustainable growing methods and/or have a progressive policy towards the treatment of their employees. But first, let’s clarify some seed terminology.
The Language of Seeds
There are many definitions of this word. To some, it is a plant variety that existed before 1940. For others, a variety that has been passed down through a family. Heirlooms are all ‘stable’ meaning seeds from their fruits will grow plants that produce the same variety of fruit.
Think back to 7th-grade biology and Mendel’s experiments with peas. A hybrid seed is created by taking the pollen from a flower and introducing it to a female flower of another plant (of the same species). The resulting fruit will contain hybrid seeds. Hybrids are bred to be disease resistant, ship well and look good. Therefore, most commercially grown produce are hybrids. Seed saved from a hybrid plant will typically not ‘breed true’ to the parent. Do not confuse hybrids with GMOs.
GMO (Genetically Modified Organism)
Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) are created by altering a plant’s DNA in a way that would never happen in nature. Often, DNA from one species is inserted into a separate species with the goal of making the plant resistant to herbicides and pesticides. These plants disrupt systems that the earth has been refining for millions of years and compromise our health.
Currently, GMO seed is only sold to farmers and not available to home gardeners. However, you may want to support seed companies that have signed the Safe Seed Pledge to ensure the company you are supporting does not buy, sell or trade GMOs.
8 of the Best Organic Seed Companies
*I receive a small commission for seeds purchased for Renee’s Garden, as well as High Mowing Seeds purchased through Gardener’s Supply Company. However, I would recommend them regardless because they are awesome companies. I do not receive any form of compensation from any of the other companies listed below.
1. Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds (Mansfield, MO)
Baker Creek is a family-owned business carrying one of the largest heirloom seed selections in the United States. Their seed catalog, sometimes described as garden porn, contains over 2,000 varieties. Baker Creek explores the globe in an effort to continuously offer unique varieties to its customers.
2. Johnny’s Select Seeds (Winslow, ME)
Johnny’s is a 100% employee-owned company. They maintain a superior quality control standard ensuring the seeds will have a high germination rate. If you are gardening on a larger scale than a typical backyard garden, Johnny’s offers many of its seeds in bulk. I recently grew a large patch of their Santo cilantro.
3. High Mowing Organic Seeds (Wolcott, VT)
High Mowing has a strong commitment to offering GM-free seeds and in fact headed the formation of the Safe Seed Pledge in 1999. In addition to competitive pricing for their high-quality seeds, High Mowing offers free shipping on orders over $10.
4. Seed Savers Exchange (Decorah, IA)
Seed Savers Exchange is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit dedicated to preserving heirloom seeds. As part of their mission, Seed Savers Exchange donates their previous year’s seeds to school and community gardens. I have often used this resource and grown their seeds with my students.
5. Peaceful Valley Farm and Garden Supply (Grass Valley, CA)
Peaceful Valley is an organic seed company that strives to implement strong environmental practices. Their headquarters recently switched to solar energy. In addition to seeds, Peaceful Valley offers a good selection of other garden products like tools, irrigation supplies and frost protectors. I cover crop with their soil builder mix each winter.
I don’t recommend choosing a seed company based on its seed packet design, but, if I did Renee’s Garden would top the list for its water-colored seed packs. Art aside, this small company is run by gardeners and offers non-GMO high-quality seeds.
7. Native Seeds/SEARCH (Tucson, AZ)
The nonprofit, Native Seeds/SEARCH began in 1983 when co-founders Gary Nabhan and Mahina Drees were working with the Tohono O’odham Nation. Tribal elders expressed, “What we are really looking for are the seeds for the foods our grandparents used to grow.” Native Seeds/SEARCH was founded to preserve the rich food diversity of the native people of the Southwest.
Native Seeds/SEARCH carries varieties that would be difficult to find anywhere else like Guarijio grain amaranth and Tarahumara Cacareno corn. These varieties have adapted to the dry harsh conditions of the Southwest. As the climate continues to change these seeds will become essential.
8. Local Seed Library (Your Community)
This is not a company but a group of people that come together to grow and share seeds. Like a library, you return what you borrow. In this case, you check out seeds, grow them, and at the end of the season save seeds that you return to the library for others to use. Over time the seed supply adapts to your local climate and soils. Seed libraries also save you money on seeds and build community. Search for a seed library in your community at http://www.seedlibrarian.com/. If your community does not have a seed library start one yourself.
Let us know your favorite seed company in the comments below.