Now that the holidays and their aftermath are history, it’s time to concentrate on the gardening season ahead. Seed catalogs are going out in the mail, so it’s the perfect time to research sustainable seed companies, get catalogs filling your mailbox, and place your orders!
Being a grower for decades, I have my favorites, and now owning a nursery and running a seed exchange, I’ve expanded the list to add several more ethical and sustainable companies. These are small organizations that sell organic, heirloom, and open pollinated seeds, and have taken the Safe Seed Pledge, which states they do not knowingly buy or sell genetically engineered seeds.
Here are some tips before you begin searching for seed companies:
- Seed companies have many suppliers. Read How We Choose Our Seeds by Renee Shepherd of Renee’s Garden Seeds to learn about the process of trialing varieties and contracting with farmers to grow out the ones that eventually make it to the seed catalog.
- Many companies grow out some or most of the seeds they sell, and contract out the rest. For some, the seed business is part of a larger farming operation.
- Feel free to ask a seed company about their practices. You might be able to find the information on their website or in the catalog. If not, call or email them. They should be very upfront with details.
- Buy locally or regionally. Look at the list of companies that have taken the Safe Seed Pledge, and purchase seeds from those near you.
- GMO seeds are not available to the general public, but you don’t want to support companies affiliated with or owned by Monsanto, such as Seminis. Monsanto now also owns the names of some varieties, which you will also want to avoid.
- Familiarize yourself with plant patents, which take seed and plant ownership out of the hands of home gardeners. Seed descriptions will say if a patent applies.
- Look for OSSI seeds. Open Source Seed Initiative partners with small farms to grow and label seeds that are not allowed to ever be modified.
- Due to increased demand, most seed companies now have some organic offerings. Buying organic seeds assures better conditions for workers, the environment, and the soil, and it is better suited to organic growing.
- However, there is more diversity in the larger selection of conventional seeds. I could not find any test results as far as pesticide residue in plants grown from conventional seeds, but my seed saving colleagues and I figure it is probably little to none. Nothing to worry about.
These are the seed companies I think are the best. I have successfully grown something from each of them. I also look for excellent customer service, good prices and shipping costs, viable seeds, and how they deal with crop failures (yes, it happens!).
I’m including their locations, so you can choose the companies in your region:
1. Renee’s Garden Seeds (Felton, CA)
I am a retailer for Renee’s Garden. I have grown her seeds since the early 90s, because of their excellent viability and the hardiness of the plants grown from them. The packaging is beautiful, too. Out of all the seed companies I could have chosen for resale, it was not hard to opt for Renee’s. There is no paper catalog. Website ordering only.
2. Johnny’s Selected Seeds (Winslow, ME)
I have been buying from Johnny’s since the mid 80s. Although they carry hybrids and patented seeds, they also have a wide selection of open pollinated, heirloom, and organic varieties. Worker owned.
3. Fedco Seeds (Clinton, ME)
The prices are low, because Fedco is a cooperative. Seeds are adapted to cold regions, and they carry OSSI varieties.
4. High Mowing Organic Seeds (Wolcott, VT)
100% organic and Non-GMO Project Verified, the only seed company with that verification. They were instrumental in bringing about OSSI varieties.
5. Sow True Seed (Asheville, NC)
6. BBB Seed (Boulder, CO)
BBB Seed carries all heirloom and open pollinated seeds.
7. Native Seeds/SEARCH (Tucson, AZ)
Preserving the ancient varieties of the indigenous people of the region, and providing education about seed saving. Shop online or in their retail store.
8. Seed Savers Exchange (Decorah, IA)
Since 1975, SSE has been saving seeds and teaching others to do the same. There are over 20,000 varieties in their seed bank.
9. Southern Exposure Seed Exchange (Mineral, VA)
Seeds adapted for the southeast, in packets or bulk. They carry OSSI varieties.
10. Sustainable Seed Company (Chico, CA)
USDA Certified Organic rare and heirloom seed. Sustainably powered!
11. Adaptive Seeds (Sweet Home, OR)
All seeds from Adaptive Seeds are locally grown in the Pacific Northwest. They sell OSSI varieties, but do not carry hybrids or patented seeds.
12. Wild Garden Seed (Philomath, OR)
USDA Certified Organic seed breeders, and developers of OSSI.
13. Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Company (Mansfield, MO)
Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Company carries rare, heirloom seeds from the 19th century, many Asian and European varieties.
14. Farm Direct Organic Seed (Avondale, CO)
USDA Certified Organic seeds grown on their market farm on the high plains of Colorado.
While compiling this list, I got inspired for the upcoming garden season - and my Fedco catalog just arrived!
Peruse these websites to learn about these companies’ different certifications, growing practices, and outreach. Their catalogs are an education in themselves, and great to keep on hand as a reference.
When you buy from a small, sustainable seed company, you support local families and many small farmers around the world while growing your organic garden. You help preserve diversity, a healthy environment, and good worker conditions. Vote for these things with your seed dollars!