Ordering the cleanest seeds around

Choosing your seed supplier is like choosing an engagement ring. Go to the wrong dealer and you could unwittingly end up giving your loved one a conflict diamond. Exactly so with seeds. Just as not all diamonds are produced equally, so it is with our little tomato and pepper specks. Whoever thought planting a garden could be such a political statement?

Skull by artist Damien Hirst

If you have been following the food justice movement over the past years, you probably aren’t all that surprised. However, for those of you new to the scene, let me introduce you to the controversy. The story is a familiar one- big business pitted against small. Farmers taking on wealthy lobbyists, corporations taking on farmers. These are troubling times.

Now, I’m certainly not an expert on this topic, nor am I claiming my opinions reflect the sentiments of others at Farm51 (though I suspect they do). I’m just saying, that as with all products I purchase, I favor buying from companies that have a proven record of ethical practices. I feel quite sure that Monsanto does not meet my criteria. Monsanto is a US-based multinational agricultural biotechnology corporation that is one of the world’s largest producers and sellers of genetically modified seed and is one of the most vocal advocates of bovine growth hormone. These facts, along with their insane lobbying power and questionable human rights practices, have time and time again brought them under the scrutiny of concerned citizens, farmers, international leaders, and environmental activists alike. I am no fan of Monsanto. Maybe you are; I would be happy to talk it out with you.

But I digress. The point that I’m trying to make here is that when I choose seeds, I want to feel confident that they are being produced in a sustainable, earth AND people friendly way. So, I’ve dug around, spoke to those in the know, and am happy to report that I’ve already tapped into some really strong companies. If you are looking to make some informed seed purchases this year, maybe these two companies can help you:

1. Johnny’s Selected Seeds

Johnny’s was started in the early 1970’s by Rob Johnston. Over the past 30 years this seed business, started in the attic of his parents New England farmhouse, has grown into a national and international multi-channel retailer employing over 80 full-time and 50 seasonal employees. They regularly ship seed to growers and home gardeners across the United States, and supply seed to over 50 countries around the world. I know many gardeners out there that have fondly used Johnny’s for years. If you are one of them please feel content knowing that they work really hard to avoid seeds produced by Monsanto. Furthermore, they seem to have extremely transparent business practices as evidenced by this blog posting which not only provides the statistic of Monsanto produced seeds sold (4%) but also gives a list naming which these are. These facts were provided to the blogger from a Johnny’s representative. Follow the link if you want the full list.

2. Fedco

Fedco is a cooperatively owned and managed seed supplier based in Maine. They offer a large selection of certified organic cultivars and regional heirloom varieties. They also have a deep commitment to sustainable growing methods, as they put it on their website, they utilize both “cultural hints” and product choice that is conducive to low environmental impact growing. Fedco also has the added bonus of specializing in cold hearty cultivars, which with winters like this year’s, may be more and more handy here in Philadelphia!
While these are two of my favorites, that isn’t to say there aren’t other excellent companies out there who are also supplying top-notch seeds. I’m already thinking of several more… maybe you have additional suggestions?

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