I truly hope no one held their breath to find out who won the big giveaway I did a few weeks ago. Because if you did, I am sure you are currently unconscious. The winner is comment #6, Janel! I really did plan to come back and announce (and post more!) sooner, but I consider blogging one of my “guilty pleasures” and when I have co-op packages to be sent out, website development to do, and household tasks looming… blogging always gets shoved to the bottom of my to-do list! But, a recent issue has shoved blogging back to the top of my to-do list! I was just very saddened to read a negative review of Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds because they source from seeds produced in China (in addition to about 150 small time growers worldwide and their own magnificent farms). I fell in love with Baker Creek several years ago. Prior to learning about Baker Creek, I looked for organic, or better yet, biodynamic, seeds. To me, this seemed crucial in getting “the best of the best”. However, when I began to read Michael Pollan’s books and learn about biodiversity in our crops, my perspective of what is truly important changed a lot.
I stand strongly against GMO’s (and so does Baker Creek- they are leaders against genetically modified organisms and do everything they can to avoid them, testing to ensure they provide non GMO varieties on seeds prone to be tainted with gmo, like corn). But they are not the only threat to our food supply; lack of seed variety is a huge problem. What happens when farmers and gardeners begin to depend on a very few varieties of food crops- a tiny percentage compared to what we use to grow in our backyards and farmlands? These varieties have less of chance of standing up to inhospitable weather conditions, pestilence, and disease. We know the story of the Irish potato famine; this is a case of a nation depending overwhelmingly on a small variety of one crop. With all the weather and climate uncertainties earth currently faces, our food supply stands the best chance of providing for us if we are using many varieties, all with different strengths and different reactions to adversity. We have a greater chance of harvesting a tomato that is rarely affected by wilt, a corn crop that is happy in drought, or a cabbage that withstands worms when we have plant diversity available to farmers and gardeners, evening out odds and supplementing our mostly mono-cropped, industrialized food supply. Read more about the importance of food crop diversity here.
When I approach the question of which seeds to buy, I am enamored with the unusual, exotic, and ultra functional. I want the corn that stays “evergreen” if hung by its roots to partially dry. I want the tomato that will keep til the end of December. I want the funky gourd that can be turned into a basket. And I want to support a company that is constantly seeking out heirloom varieties that protect earth’s biodiversity and food supply. My criteria has switched from organic, biodynamic, local seeds (what I originally thought was most important)- to heirloom, open-pollinated, unique seeds.
What is heirloom? There are several opinions. Some people hold a true heirloom seed needs to be handed down from family to family. Others simply require them to be pre-1951, the year when many hybrid varieties were marketed widely. Basically, heirloom seeds are open-pollinated, non hybrid, and have been loved and appreciated, many times by isolated, small growers- since World War II or before. The fact that they are open-pollinated helps preserve our biodiversity; when pollination lies in the hands of nature and is not controlled, the plants have the possibility to run a larger gamut of traits. Offspring grown right next to each other can grow up to be uniquely different from each other and showcase a wide variety of features. What hand does Baker Creek play in this? Well, while there are three major seed banks and the Seedsavers Exchange, Baker Creek has many more varieties- and plans to continue to increase their varieties at their adventurous pace- than any other publicly accessible seed catalog around. While I do hope to join Seed Savers at some point, membership is pricey and having to write to and send payment for seeds to farmers and gardeners all over the country, different sources for every variety, becomes time consuming and expensive. A catalog that boasts over 1500 varieties, all in one place, without requiring membership fees to be able to order from it, is a labor of love and passionate work worth supporting!
Incidentally, all of China is not an industrial complex. While we certainly need to be very vigilant in buying items made in China- and this post really opened my eyes to the degree with which we must be vigilant- there is a big difference in sourcing seeds from China, and sourcing plastics and metals made in pollution belching factories from the industrial sectors. There are over 300 million farmers in China and many of them are small time farmers cultivating on only approximately 1.6 acres. This is very different from the typical US farm. If you’ve read some of my previous posts on gardening, you know that I feel very strongly about cultivating a relationship with my plants. I love the human interaction and attention that small farms allow for.
I am so excited to honor diversity and teach about different cultures through food in our gardening this year. I am planning 4 “mini gardens” within our larger garden, each with an ethnic theme. My potager garden (“kitchen garden”) will pay homage to France and boast The French Breakfast Radish, French Dandelion, a french thyme variety, chervil, Tete Noir Cabbage, Bleu de Solaise leek, Merveille de Quatre Saisons lettuce (Marvel of Four Seasons), Corne de Belier peas, Rouge Vif D’Etamps pumpkin, Peche tomato, and Calima beans. A homeschooling project will be to talk about France, build a mini Eiffel tower garden decoration for the plot, and cook authentic French meals from our bounty. Our Asian themed garden will have a fairy pagoda and feature Chinese Chives, Chinese motherwort, Tatsoi Green, Baker Creek’s amazing Siamese Dragon Stir Fry salad mix, Chinese Red Noodle Bean, Extra Dwarf Pac Choy, Red Kuri Squash, and Chinese lanterns. Our “three sisters” garden will have a teepee structure over it and honor native Americans with corn, squash, and beans; and my Russian Dacha will feature some hardy and quickly growing tomato varieties like Raspberry Lyanna, Golden King of Siberia, Emerald Apple tomato, Pilcer Vesy tomato, Paul Robeson tomato, and Emmer wheat.
I am so excited to have added all of Baker Creek’s 1500+ varieties from the seed catalog they mailed me… I had so much fun learning about all the varieties offered this year. As I do every year, I am offering everyone the opportunity to order their seeds through our Cedar Ring Circle Baker Creek Heirloom Seed special order, and you can order through that link and save 20% with the code SAVESEEDS at checkout (and free shipping on orders of 10 packets or more in the US- otherwise I will contact you for $3 to help with shipping costs). You may want to refer to Baker Creek’s website for pictures and descriptions, at http://www.rareseeds.com, too. Although if you don’t have their paper catalog, you definitely want to order it… it is full of anecdotes and recipes. I will place one order tomorrow, so earlybirds will want to get their orders in by midnight tonight, and another on March 3rd.