When I think back to all the questions we’ve been asked by our customers at the farmers market this past year, the absence of one stands out, and I must admit it surprises me. We are often asked about the location of our farm, the types of fruit and vegetables that we grow, about the presence of pesticides on our produce, and why we chose farming as an occupation. But rarely, does anyone ask about how or where we source our seeds.
For those of us that choose to grow and eat organic food because of health or environmental concerns, organic seed sourcing is of huge importance! Let me explain …
In order for a plant to go to seed, it must complete it’s entire reproductive plant life-cycle. It grows from a tiny sprout to a full-size plant producing mature seeds, which can be collected. This takes quite a few months for most plant. Unfortunately, the longer a plant is the ground, the more exposure it has to disease and pests. Conventional seed companies apply pesticides and fungicides, often and liberally, to treat this. You see, seed crops aren’t grown for human consumption – no one will ever be eating them. So, pesticide regulations are less stringent and higher doses of potentially harmful chemicals are allowed in crops that are produced solely for seed stock. This is horrible news for the environment, as these chemicals make their way into the soil, and are often found in runoff in our rivers and streams.
Organic seed producers on the other hand, are limited in their ability to apply pesticides and fungicides to those approved under the USDA Organic Program. Therefore, these producers are more inclined to raise their seedlings in a manner that focuses on prevention of disease using controlled environments. Additionally, organic producers breed seeds and varieties that are better suited to growing on organic farms in healthy soil, and that respond to organic disease and pest control programs. This gives organic growers a better chance for success by starting with organic seed.
Some seeds, like peas and beans, have a tendency to rot in moist soils. To prevent this, some companies sell treated seeds. These seeds have been coated with anti-fungal and anti-bacterial chemicals that help prevent rot and improve seed germination. If you roll these seeds around on your hand, the chemicals will likely leave a white powder-like coating on your palms and fingers. You should always wash your hands after handling these, and never put this powder in your mouth. No thank you.
While not available to backyard gardeners, GMO seeds are available to farmers that are growing food commercially. These genetically-modified seeds are prohibited for use under the USDA Organic Program, but are widely used on many conventional row-crop farms. For conventional farmers, they offer several benefits as they combine genes from different plants (and sometimes other organisms) to produce desirable traits like frost tolerance, or resistance to herbicides. These seeds are rarely sold to farmers focusing on specialty crops like kale, tomatoes, or eggplant. However, they are commonly purchased by corn, wheat, and soy commercial growers. Long-term health and environmental impacts of GMO crops have not been largely studied by any governmental, or non-profit agency, but are reported safe for human consumption by the industry that produces them.
If you are interested in learning more about the presence of GMO’s in the food we consume, there is a really good explanation of prevalence of GMO products in our food system and recommendations about how to monitor and label in this article.
Organic Seeds & Suppliers
For many reasons, including those listed above, the seeds we purchase are certified organic. To be labeled as certified organic, seeds must have been grown, harvested, stored, and handled in accord with the rules and procedures outlined by the NOP (National Organic Program). Certified organic seeds cannot contain genetically-engineered traits; must be grown under certified organic conditions using only those inputs — eg, fertilizer, weed, and pest controls — allowable in organic agriculture; and packed in a certified facility.
We obtain our organic seeds from 2 main suppliers: High Mowing Organic Seeds and Johnny’s. Yes, they can be more expensive than other seeds and sometimes this means the varieties we can grow are limited. However, we believe it’s important to support companies devoted to the hard work that goes into producing these seeds ethically and organically. We hope you do too!