Gardening Articles: Care :: Seeds & Propagation

Inside the Seed Business (page 4 of 5)

by Warren Schultz

The Chemical Factor

Seeds of Change, a small, aggressively organic company owned by the candy giant Mars, Inc., shuns large seed distributors, because the company believes that there's another important factor in seed production--the environmental one. So it sells only organically raised seed. Howard Shapiro, vice president of agriculture and purchasing at Seeds of Change, is critical of the way conventional seed farms operate. "They need the seed-production area to be free of all other plants, so they use chemicals to eradicate them. When people say they want to garden organically, but then buy conventional seeds, it seems disingenuous to us." So Seeds of Change forsook high-tech experience for hands-on organics and uses only open-pollinated seed.

In 1991, the company began contacting organic farmers to find out if they wanted to grow seed for the company. After determining the best conditions for different crop, they made compacts with the farmers to become contract growers.

Finding the Best-quality Seed

As recently as two decades ago, most garden seed companies had a personal relationship with every grower. Though gardeners will never have a such a relationship with the person who grows their seed, there are ways to find the best-quality seed. Buy from companies you know, especially if they have their own trial grounds. Look for service, says Renee Shepherd. "Is there somebody there at the company you can call?" Her advice is, "Don't buy cheap seed. To the gardener, the difference between 59 cents and $1.59 is really very small."

If you trust the retailer and you're satisfied with the seed quality, stick with it. Run your own trials with seed from different companies. If you're concerned about the environment, buy from a company that sells organically grown seed. If you're worried about the loss of genetic diversity, buy from a company that makes an effort to keep old open-pollinated varieties on the market.

Even if seed companies don't grow their own seed, differences still exist in terms of quality and philosophy. Along with freshness, germination rates, and purity, we may also want to consider economics, environment, and politics. That little seed represents a huge decision. And it should, because it's about to become a part of our gardens -- and so, part of us.

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