BUSINESS: Astrid and Matthew Hoffman began growing and selling heirloom seeds through their business, the Living Seed Company, in 2011. The former interior designer and puppeteer met at the Solstice Grove Institute in Nicasio, where they butted heads before teaming up.
Husband-and-wife team Matthew and Astrid Hoffman are seed farmers and distributors who live in a large house with bright blue siding that sits across the street from Marin Sun Farms in Point Reyes Station. Their home—which they rent from a longtime Point Reyes resident who helps them package seeds—is the base of operations for the Living Seed Company, the couple’s nascent seed-saving business, and during the busy packaging season the whole house transforms into an office space strewn with seed packets and boxes filled with produce they’ve grown from the seeds they’ve saved, such as peppers and (surprisingly) watermelons.
“It’s pretty much just Matthew and myself,” said Astrid, who ran an ecological interior design company in Santa Monica prior to launching the Living Seed Company. “We hired a designer to do our website and we bring on seasonal volunteers, but we’re the two more-than full-time people in the company.”
The Living Seed Company is a local seed growing and vending business and online retailer that the Hoffmans created in 2011 to support themselves as a family and to promote sustainable seed-saving practices. The company also runs seed-saving education workshops and donates seeds to schools, farmers markets, libraries, correctional facilities and community gardens.
At the operational level, Astrid is in charge of the company’s in-house responsibilities: day-to-day administration, accounting, marketing, public and vendor relations. Matthew oversees the entire seed production, which encompasses the half-acre backyard load and two larger sites at Black Mountain Ranch.
“We’re trying to find a way to live and farm here in West Marin,” said Matthew, who grew up farming with his family in rural Wisconsin and worked as a giant puppeteer for Puppet Farm Arts. “We’re a young company focused on the greater good for the Bay Area. It’s definitely a dream to be in Point Reyes. Farmers are heroes here.”
Aside from saving seeds from their local stock, the Hoffmans coordinate with other growers along the West Coast and with some in the Midwest. The couple selects sources from a cream-of-the-crop vendor list that was given to them by a mentor whom they met while attending a weeklong seed school.
“There is a very delicate dance between knowing what to stock and how to prepare for the growing season,” Matthew said. “We’re fortunate to know we have high-quality seeds. Not all seeds are grown in climates similar to ours. It’s like the food movement: know your seed farmer.”
Living Seed is one of many regional seed growing organizations that have signed the Council for Responsible Genetics’ Safe Seed Pledge, by which buyers and sellers agree they will not knowingly trade in genetically modified or engineered seeds. Founded in 1983, the nonprofit council conducts research on genetics issues and provides a network for the non-G.M.O. seed market.
“Too often the conversation is limited to whether G.M.O. products are safe or not,” said Jeremy Gruber, the president of the Cambridge-based council. “The truth is that we just don’t know. There have been a number of studies, but there have been no long-term studies done that look at the effects of G.M.O.s over many years. Unfortunately, we live in a country that allows G.M.O. proliferation while studies are still being done.”
High-profile G.M.O. corporations like Monsanto have attracted media attention by their fierce lobbying to control product labeling rights and make it harder for the general public to know whether or not their food has been genetically modified. Meanwhile, since the 80s and 90s, these companies have slowly swallowed up small bioregional seed companies and, in doing so, have greatly reduced seed varieties.
“After thousands of years of seed-saving practices, there has been a huge shrinkage of available seed stores,” said Matthew, who believes fewer seed varieties put communities at risk by the possibility of climate change wiping out one or two predominant strains. “The future is moving back to smaller food systems. Seed saving allows people to adapt their seeds to their environment, so that the seeds become more resilient. It’s a process that takes years, but it’s important for regional food security.”
Unlike companies that produce hybrid G.M.O. seeds, Living Seed only sells what are known as “heirloom” seeds. All heirloom seeds are open-pollinated, which means they grow to produce offspring similar to their parent plants. This practice plays a key role in seed-saving techniques that, according to the Hoffmans, could over time restore seed variety, resilience and security.
“The miracle of a seed is pretty wonderful,” Astrid said. “Even though we’ve lost a lot over the past century, the opportunity is still there to create new heirlooms. Seeds are such intelligent beings, aware of where they are and adapting constantly.”
Like the seeds they grow, the Hoffmans have also had to adapt to changing conditions. The two met at the Solstice Grove Institute Program, a long-term environmental residency in Nicasio, where the couple butted heads at first but eventually found themselves talking about marriage and raising a family. The couple hopes to one day teach their children how to grow seeds, keeping the cycle of seed farming alive in West Marin.
To date, the Hoffmans have financed Living Seed through a variety of their own funds and loans from family and friends. Now, the company is in the midst of a two-week Kickstarter campaign (which was chosen as staff pick by Kickstarter within five minutes after launching). The Hoffmans have until Dec. 17 to raise $15,000.
Funds raised will go toward updating the seed packet image and revamping the website’s shopping cart feature, as well as streamlining office functions so that both Hoffmans can spend more time growing and breeding local seeds.
To pledge to the Living Seed Company’s kickstarter campaign please visit https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/livingseed/growing-a-delicious-beau…
The Living Seed Company is turning to alternative crowd funding, as a way, to bring their seeds to more gardens.
With just 2 weeks to fund the project, The Living Seed Company is seeding a cause to grow.
The Living Seed Company is a young family owned and operated heirloom seed company based in GMO-Free Marin county in Point Reyes Station, CA. and is turning to Kickstarter, with an all or nothing model, to raise the funds it needs to expand and grow. The Living Seed Company has a total of 14 days to fundraise their goal of $15,000. The campaign will run until December 17th, 2014.
Take a look at their campaign here.
Astrid and Matthew Hoffman of The Living Seed Company, chose this online model as an alternative way to raise
funds for the expansion and growth of their heirloom seed company. Crowd-sourcing has an ability to reach a wide audience while creating a momentum in their campaign that will inspire those who come across it to fund and spread the good word.
WHY RAISE FUNDS?
We are ready to step into greater exposure both in the San Francisco Bay Area, West Coast and nationally. Our wholesale vendors which includes garden centers, hardware stores and specialty shops have requested we add images of the varieties to our wonderful information filled packets. We have taken most of the photographs and are currently reformatting the packets to incorporate them. A major cost involved in this is the printing of new packets and labor to reformat.
We also need to update our website to make it more search engine optimized (SEO) and e-commerce friendly. We have received a lot of comments on how beautiful and clean our website design is and we want to keep the same look with more user friendly features, for both the customer and us. There are a lot of new plugins available that will help us save time and money by providing; invoicing, shipping labels, tracking, inventory and analytics.
We also need to update one of our computers to ensure seamless interaction with the new site. Another item needed is machine to print “packed for date” and “lot number” which we are currently doing by hand and is very time consuming.
Another time consuming aspect of the company is seed cleaning. With the help of a couple seed cleaning machines we can spend a lot more time growing seeds and our customer base.
Campaign runs till December 17th, 2014.
Please join and support our work!
The world of seeds can be a cornucopia of information, images and wild descriptions, almost all with promising results. Unfortunately, for most novice gardeners, it can be very misleading and frustrating. How can you tell if a seed company is good or not? Simple, if you can call them and have them provide you with where their seed crops have been grown. Most small seed houses would be more than happy to provide such information, as it proves that the consumer is going the extra mile to ensure where their seed source truly comes from. You will be surprised to learn that not many seed companies grow their own seed, which leaves the consumer to trust each company for providing seed that has vigor, traits and characteristics signature to each seed.
Today, you can find prices for a packet of seed, start at a modest 99 cents and reach upwards of $8.00. So what is the difference in that large gap? Most seed, sold economically via big box retailers is usually grown in Asia. Which means, it is already adapted to a region, soil type and water source, that is completely different from what you have at home. Their organic standards may be something to question, as well as their labor practices and environmental impact, among other things. Despite federal germination standards, inexpensive seed has lower germination. Although this may or may not be due to the quality, it often has to do with how the seeds are stored and transported, before it makes its way into a garden. Seeds are living breathing embryos and conditions that are too hot can inevitably kill the seed before it has even had a chance to germinate. At the turn of the 20th century, the United States was full of regional seed houses covering the country from coast to coast. In the 80’s there was a huge consolidation of the seed industry when large pharmaceutical and big ag companies bought out many of these family owned businesses. This not only reduced the available genetic stock to gardeners and farmers, but began to tip the scales heavily, in a direction that did not favor biodiversity, preserving genetic stock, seed saving or family farms. This has caused a dichotomy in the world of seeds and available food varieties, but with new seed houses sprouting up again, things are changing and rare and unusual varieties are becoming the vegetables and fruits of choice. Most importantly, consumers are becoming more aware of what to look for in their food, what questions to ask their farmers and now, how to choose from a reputable seed company.
Not all seed is created equal. A seed may have the same variety name, as seed from another company, but the quality in its traits may be vastly different. Just imagine the difference in how a small farmer vs. a large farmer will have the ability to pay attention to his fields and truly choose crops that are only of the highest quality. The purity of a seed variety is only as clean as the attention paid to that crop. More awareness among gardeners and consumers, alike, are realizing the importance of supporting small family farms and family owned businesses, which the very back bone of what this country was created on.
Seeds naturally adapt to where they are being grown, the more they are planted in the same place the more resilient they become to pests, disease and inclement weather. Seeds, sold from a reputable seed house can offer seeds that were probably grown in conditions where plants are rouged and seed is never harvested from diseased or weak plants. This practice in turns builds strength and purity in a genetic line, assuring vigor in future generations. Choosing seed that has been grown in your local area or in similar climate will assure that the seeds you plant will naturally be more acclimated to your climate and will thrive with your love and attention. This inherently builds regional resilience in the food supply of an area.
It wasn’t too long ago that most gardeners and farmers saved the seed from their fields, but with the on-slot of modern agriculture, that ancient practice began to fall away in favor of hybrids and petroleum-based pesticides and insecticides. The chain was broken, but only temporarily. There is a resurgence in returning to these practices, these ways that have been tried and true for thousands of generations and they are reminding us of how things were done. In such a way that is in reverence to the plants and the earth, where a relationship of reciprocity is developed and trusted. One of our main principles, as a small family owned seed company, is for more and more farmers and gardeners to begin to tap back into the beautiful cycle of life, known as seed saving. We believe seeds are not meant to be stored, we believe the most vital seed vault is in your very garden. The living embodiment of life and death, the place where we find ourselves and learn about the nuances of life.
There is a strong opposition, happening globally, to reject what is happening in modern ag and the truth is that growing a garden may be one of the most radical acts anyone can do. It directs the energy into what works, locally grown food sourced from your backyard. For those without a yard, supporting local farmers via CSA’s and farmers markets can be as rewarding and powerful. Starting a garden with pure seed is essential in growing a healthy vibrant garden! When folks buy seed from us, we see it as though they have joined our growing family. Where they will received the support they need to assure their plants thrive in the ways that they are meant to!
Every month we are going to introduce a Seed of the Month, where we are going to select one seed to highlight. We will share the historical attributes, the story that makes this variety an heirloom and why we love it so much!
This stunningly beautiful vegetable is now sought after by chefs and home-cooks for its radiant colors, delicious taste and enhanced health benefits. Purple Carrots have been grown in since 900 A.D. in Afghanistan, Turkey and Middle East, but this incredible carrot was only Introduced in 2005. Dr. Philipp Simon and staff at the USDA in Madison, Wisconsin, bred a whole new spectrum of colored carrots, stay tuned for more of those varieties!
The Cosmic Purple Carrot adds a punch to any meal, whether enjoyed raw or cooked. Grate it in a salad or on the side, add some lime juice and relish in the crunch while enhancing your meal with a sweet spice!
Please meet Cosmic Purple Carrot …
An amazing colored carrot, Cosmic Purple on the outside and brilliant orange and yellow on the inside. A delicious sweet and spicy flavor that kids of all ages will love! This one is a favorite!
Purple has always been a sign of royalty and now purple vegetables are a sign of health. Rich in phytonutrients, this vegetable will add more than just beauty to your meal, it will enhance your overall well-being!
Getting married or know someone who is? Looking for a favor to give your guests, something to remember your event by? Look no further, our custom seed packets can be filled with any vegetable, flower or any herb seed. The packets can be designed in honor of you and your beloved with an image or a gorgeous botanical drawing.
With wedding season in full swing, it’s no wonder brides all over the country are at their most excited and stressed states of mind. With so many decisions from dresses to food to flowers, it’s not a surprise that party favors are low on the priority list.
Chocolate covered almonds and small mementos are usually the simple go-to solution. Unfortunately, favors are often left behind or end up in a landfill. With the advent of the farm to table movement and more and more people interested in gardening, offering customized seed packets for special events is a natural and often long-lasting favor.
Just think, whether you choose herbs, vegetables or flowers, your guests will be sure to remember you and your special event every time they enjoy one of the fruits or flowers from the favors they received.
Leave a lasting memory that will feed your guests, provide forage for bees and butterflies or simply bring color and life to a home.
For more information on varieties available and pricing, contact us at info@LivingSeedCompany.com
Written by: Kirsten Hudson for Organic Authority
Handed down through generations, heirloom seeds offer a taste of the past. Often described as “open pollinated” seeds that have a long history, heirloom seeds can make for a diverse and downright gorgeous, organic garden. Like a family keepsake, these seeds offer something precious. Once planted, they’ll bloom into a one-of-a-kind fruit, vegetable, herb or flower that hasn’t been tainted by genetically modified organisms (GMOs) or pesticides.
Modern hybrids, which are created by crossing two selected varieties, often produce infertile plants. But heirlooms will yield the same plant year after year, which means you can always save the seeds for next year’s crop. Heirlooms also offer a connection with history. Essentially, you’ll be eating the same plump tomatoes that your ancestors enjoyed.
So, what else makes these vintage seeds inherently superior?
Many hybrid fruits and vegetables have been bred to produce more crop, or to resist certain diseases and insects. Unfortunately, these “features” often sacrifice taste in the process.
Plants from heirloom seeds weren’t designed to be carted across the country or hoarded in cold storage for weeks, like many commercially grown fruits and vegetables. Instead, heirlooms were carefully selected for their flavor. After all, who wants to go out to their backyard garden and pick a bunch of carrots that taste like cardboard?
And once you’ve tasted a juicy heirloom tomato, it’s unlikely you’ll ever think the same about a supermarket tomato again.
Amped up nutrition
With heirlooms, taste and nutrition go together. You can’t get much fresher than just picked-off-the-vine or pulled-from-the-dirt fruits and veggies—and that means maximum nutrition.
Hybrids, however, have been bred for certain traits—such as producing higher yields—that sacrifice nutritional content in the process. The traits that make carrots, potatoes and other produce uniform in size and faster growing can also mean a lower quality food.
Heirloom fruits and veggies come in an all-out medley of kooky shapes, colors and textures. From deep red carrots to wonky-shaped tomatoes to bright pink bananas, you just can’t get the same fun variety from hybrid fruits and vegetables.
Contribute to the cause
By choosing to plant heirloom seeds, you’re participating in a mission to diversify our food supply and preserve cultural history. As commercial growers increasingly opt to only plant a small variety of species, we’re losing genetic diversity in our seeds, and therefore our food. This can potentially compromise the nutritional value of our food, lead to issues with soil in farming and potential food blights. Couple that with the increasing GMOs introduced into our produce and it’s a potential recipe for disaster… convinced yet?
Want to take part in the tradition?
Several organizations offer GMO- and pesticide-free heirloom seeds. Browse their catalogs and get excited for this year’s garden!
Follow Kirsten on Twitter @kirsten_hudson
This article was originally published on Organic Authority, an organic living online magazine. View the original article.
Want to have a garden, but don’t have the space? Fret not, container gardens are the solution to the woes of urbanites and farmers alike. Aside from having the ability to produce a significant amount of food within a limited space, container gardens allow you to have full control of what going into your soil. This could be an easy solution for folks that may not know their soil quality while also protecting your crops from soil-borne pests. The fact that your garden would be raised also helps with pesky garden critters. It is also a wonderful idea for students and other young people that move often and are hesitant to grow a garden that they will end up leaving the following year, they can simply take their garden with them!
Containers also solve the problem if your garden is lacking sunlight, if your containers are on castors, you can easily wheel them as they follow the sun. This type of gardening also knows no boundaries, literally. I have seen full-grown fig, lemon and an assortment of other fruit trees flourishing in wine barrels! The idea is to do a bit of research and give your plants the room and light they need to grow. Some vegetables may be compromised if their container is too shallow, such as deep setting root vegetables. This method of gardening allows you to grow food anywhere from your porch, to your balcony to the sidewalk and even your rooftop! Take advantage of the vertical space in your container and add trellises, teepees or wire cages.
It is a solution that allows for maximizing productivity and creativity …. containers can be upcycled from old basins, bath tubs, wheelbarrows, wagons, baskets, chairs, cinder blocks, you name it! The sky is the limit with what you can use to make your container garden out of. Best of all, the more unique the vessel, the more outrageous your garden will look! Some things to keep in mind when you are reusing pieces that have old paint on them, it may have lead and you will not want to use it. Also, another thing to keep in mind is to remember is to drill sufficient holes for drainage, if not you will drown your plants. It has been suggested to drill the holes 2″ up on the sides, instead of on the bottom – this allows for a extra moisture retention, just don’t over water your crops! Knowing how your pots hold or release water will also help you gauge the quantity of moisture necessary. There are solutions for self-watering, make sure you do sufficient research before you take off for the weekend! Depending on where you live will determine how moist/dry your vegetables will want to be, consult your local Extension office.
These types of gardens add dimension, texture, color and depth to a garden. You can specialize each container with specific vegetables or herbs. Perhaps using a few for companion planting vegetables and others create a medicinal, culinary and spice garden! Think of all the incredible things you enjoy eating and explore the possibilities of growing them, noting beats fresh food right out of the garden! Consider researching what plants do well together and which ones prefer to be at a distance. Take into account the amount of sunlight you have available and note to have a water source near-by, watering on a daily basis is key to a successful container garden. Our Urban Collection/Small Space Garden is geared for container gardens. These varieties thrive in variable light and space. When purchasing your seeds, always purchase them from a reliable source, check out our post on the Renaissance of Heirlooms to learn about why growing heirlooms and using open pollinated seeds is so important. Now is an ideal time to plant your heat loving crops, from seed, in order to enjoy a late summer and autumn harvesting! Take this opportunity and dig through your garage or attic, thrift-stores of curb side sales and create your container garden today!
Spring is in full bloom and your excited to get back into your garden or start your first one. You know you want to start your plants from seed, but not quite sure where to start. Commencing this venture with the finest seed is an essential part to the success of your garden and the quality of your fruit. Not all seed is the same, even if it is the same variety – not all seed houses preserve the genetics in the same manner. A lot of the organic seed sold at local nurseries is actually from China, so always call and ask your seed company where their seeds are grown. Also, if you plan on saving seed, which we highly recommend, then you want to make sure that you are not buying hybrid seeds. Take a look at our article on Heirlooms vs. Hybrids, it’s an excellent guide that will help you understand what the difference between an heirloom and a hybrid is. Always buy open-pollinated seeds.
For those of you that ordered our Living Seed Collections, you have already received them already and you are thrilled, but perhaps not quite sure where to start? Fret not, follow this simple step-by-step model and your seedlings will be growing in no time.
Choose what you want to grow your seedlings in, are they going into temporary pots where the seedling will be transferred to the ground later or will they be placed in containers where they will stay. If you are transplanting, consider some of the great biodegradable pots that are available. We have seen some made from coir, coconut husks, DIY newspaper, toilet paper rolls and even eggshells! Using a biodegradable medium will make the transplanting less traumatic for your seedling, if this isn’t an option, transplanting the seedling, will be discussed later.
Soil is the next key ingredient in the success of your garden. Remember this is the foundation of where your seeds are going to start. Don’t know why soil is so important? Check out my blog post on the importance of soil. Initially though, you will want to use a seed-starting mix and not potting soil. A mixture that has vermiculite, perlite and peat moss are all an excellent combination. This mix will facilitate with drainage and proper water retention. Fill pots 3/4 full of the seed starting mix.
Next is the most beautiful part, when you interact with the very seeds that are going to grow an abundance of food to sustain you and your loved ones. Read the growing instructions on the seed packet as some seeds have very specific needs and should be planted only during certain times of the year. Ideally you will not be starting your roots or deep-rooted vegetables in small containers with the intention of transplanting, as they do not like to be transplanted. If you follow the Moon cycles, ideally you will want to wait until the New Moon to plant your seeds. Know what the desired depth for planting is – air on less depth and do not compact the soil, this is a very common mistake. Lightly cover your seed with additional starting mix and give gratitude to the miracle that is about to happen.
Once you have set up your flats, generously water them and place them in a warm location (minimum of 50 degrees) the warmer it is the better their germination will be. While they are germinating, they do not need light, but they need to stay moist and warm. Remember the seed is a living an embryo that needs air to breath and water to awaken its state of slumber. Once they start to sprout, they will need a source of light, either natural light (south-facing) or a grow light, placed just above them. In either case, protect your vulnerable seedlings from drafts, pets and any other disturbances. Lack of light will cause your seedlings to become leggy, a phenomena by which the seedling is trying the reach the light and becomes tall and lanky causing them to become susceptible to the elements once transplanted.
Keeping the soil with a similar moisture level to that of a wrung out sponge is the ideal. Too much water will drown the seed or cause dampening off, which means there was a high level of moisture and heat which created fungal activity, both situations result in killing the seed or seedling. A watering-can usually offers an optimal spray with enough control. Should you forget to keep the soil moist, you may jeopardize your seedlings and their growth may be stunted or they may die. There is a sweet balance of presence that is required of your seedlings as they emerge from the soil and begin to grow their roots. Sometimes adding a plastic dome or even DIY yogurt cups for individual seeds can help keep moisture and heat in.
Once your seedlings have reached a recommended height, you will want to transplant them as soon as possible. A big mistake of young gardeners is leaving their starts too long in their transplant pots. Generally you will want to wait until your seedlings have 3 – 4 true leaves – refer to image below for a reference. Make sure your garden is ready to receive your seedlings and holes have been made and are ready to be occupied. If you have your seedlings in plastic 6-packs or non-biodegradable pots, you will want to disturb the roots as little as possible. Turn it on its side and gently tap. Always hold the seedling by its true leave and never from the stem or roots.
Make sure you acclimate your seedlings to the elements, a term known as hardening off. This can either be done by leaving them in a sheltered place for a few hours during the day, over several days. If you have a cold frame, you can use that as an ideal way to transition your starts from the comfort of your home to the garden. Once they have fully hardened off they will be strong and ready to be planted in your garden. Take a look at the diagram, to the left, for an ideal way to plant your seedlings. Best to transplant towards the end of the day or on a cloudy day, this gives your plants enough energy to recuperate from the shock without having to be in the mid-day sun.
Continue to nurture your garden with water, regular compost and amendments. Observation is a meditative part of being in the garden that also informs you if your plants need certain attention. Read local gardening blogs and how-to books to guide you on this beautiful journey. Prepare for the abundance and enjoy the harvest!
Brigid Gaffikin as written for The San Francisco Chronicle
Wednesday, March 28, 2012
Paul Chinn / The Chronicle
Matthew Hoffman and Astrid Lindo, owners of the Living Seed Co., grow several varieties of produce and plants in their garden in Nicasio.
From their home in a quiet stretch of Marin County near San Geronimo, two entrepreneurs are hoping to take gardening back to a time when an abundance of plant diversity was the norm.
Matthew Hoffman and Astrid Lindo grow, source and sell seeds of rare and heirloom edibles. Their young business, the Living Seed Co., hung up its virtual shingle just last year.
“What’s amazing is 100 years ago, everybody saved their own seed and in just a short period of time, just a couple of generations, all that changed,” Lindo said.
The numbers behind this shift are remarkable, according to a study of crop diversity in the United States by the Rural Advancement Foundation International, a family farm policy and advocacy group. By 1983, the 408 varieties of peas cultivated on American farms some 80 years earlier had dwindled to 25. Sweet corn saw a drop from 307 to 12 varieties.
Lindo and Hoffman are new to farming but have embraced their venture with a quiet energy and intensity that one suspects drove their lives well before they founded the company.
Hoffman, 36, traveled the world for a decade as a puppeteer with Jane Goodall’s Giant Peace Dove Campaign. Lindo, 35, was born in Colombia but moved to Miami as a toddler. As an adult, she studied in Europe and New York before opening an interior design firm in Southern California. They met in 2009 and decided to make a life together.
A new career
Hoffman began thinking about a new career – one that would support the couple’s commitment to helping others live healthy lives and that would support a family, too.
Starting a seed company seemed a natural fit. Hoffman grew up in rural Wisconsin in a family of gardeners and as a young child lived 2 miles off the grid in a two-room cabin.
“Really it just kind of clicked,” he said. “To be able to grow your own seeds for your own garden … seems a really beautiful way to raise a family.”
Hoffman undertook intensive training in New Mexico at the first-ever seed school taught by Bill McDorman, one of the veterans of the contemporary North American seed-saving movement.
His enthusiasm was infectious; within a few months, Lindo decided to set aside her interior design business and immerse herself in the fledgling business. The couple talked with experienced seed growers and farmers, researched catalogs, and scanned gardening forums and blogs online. And then they dug in and began growing their own seed. At the outset, they largely bootstrapped the company. When they decided to expand, they secured loans from friends.
“It was so beautiful,” Lindo said. “To look back, you know, and a year later we’d farmed a third of an acre of painted mountain corn and some squash and tomatoes and lettuce.”
McDorman, director of Native Seeds/Search, a Tucson organization focused on conserving the genetic diversity of crops grown in the southwestern United States and northwestern Mexico, is effusive in his praise of the couple.
“These young kids are way smarter than we were,” he remarked, reflecting on his generation of seed savers in the 1970s. “Matthew and Astrid are indicative of what’s coming, a whole new wave.”
Seed trading among farmers a century ago has its modern counterpart in businesses like the Living Seed Co., he said.
“That’s where the real revolution is happening, in urban agriculture.”
For Lindo and Hoffman, revolution goes hand in hand with education.
“I think part of our responsibility is to re-inspire people to grow out some of these unique varieties and keep them going and keep them fresh,” Lindo said. “A lot of seed companies are taking them off the racks, and so they may just disappear.”
Adapting to location
“You can watch, over the season, which of your lettuce plants or tomato plants did really well, save the seeds from those, plant them again the next year,” Hoffman said. “That’s one of the beauties of seed saving … every time you save your own seeds, you’re adapting it to your location, so that plant’s going to do better each succession.”
Four of the company’s five seed collections include a seed-saving booklet that groups seeds by how easy or difficult they are to save.
The couple have embraced the educational potential in the Internet, too. They have a lively Twitter feed, a blog and a Facebook page as well as a YouTube channel with instructional videos on seed-saving techniques.
The company also donates seeds to school garden programs, urban garden programs and correctional facilities.
“Most people aren’t going to grow all of their own food, but growing some of their own food – it’s fulfilling in a way that’s beyond, you know, explaining to somebody unless you’ve done it,” Hoffman said. “But it’s worth the experiment, even if you’re just growing a little bit of lettuce.”
Seeds with a story
The Living Seed Co. grows its own seeds in Dixon and Nicasio and sources other seeds from seed banks that farm only in North America. A look at some of the offerings:
‘Amish Paste’ tomato: An heirloom tomato with origins in Philadelphia, the ‘Amish Paste’ disappeared for decades before being rediscovered in Wisconsin. Delicious fresh but also ideal for canning and sauces.
‘Mammoth Grey Stripe’ sunflower: This drought-tolerant, long-blooming, fast-growing native sunflower reaches heights of up to 12 feet, and its flowering head can reach a width of 2 feet. The seeds can be eaten or used for butter or oil.
‘Painted Mountain’ corn: A highly productive flour corn developed by cross-breeding 70 corn varieties for high-altitude growing, a short season and extreme conditions in countries experiencing famine.
‘Stars and Moon’ watermelon: Introduced in North America around 1900 and a staple of seed catalogs in the early decades of the 1900s, this deeply hued, pink-fleshed melon is dappled with yellow blotches that resemble stars in a night sky. It was rediscovered in Missouri in 1980.
‘Merveille des Quatre Saisons’ lettuce: A vigorous French butter-head with a long growing season and tolerant of a wide range of climates, this heirloom lettuce was grown in France at least as early as the late 19th century.
Brigid Gaffikin is a freelance writer in Piedmont. email@example.com
This article appeared on page F – 1 of the San Francisco Chronicle
Eating is one the many fundamental actions, for life, that everyone shares. What people eat is what drastically differentiates us from other cultures and the very thing that brings us together with like-minded foodies. We are living in a time where a lot of attention is being focused on food, whether it is the amount we are eating, the quality, how miles it has traveled and of course whether it has been genetically altered. Whatever your interest in food may be, we are living in an exhilarating time in the history of food.
Despite that 1 in 3 Americans is obese and most food found in our supermarkets, if it is not organic, is genetically modified, there is a food revolution happening in the midst of all of this.
As we know, we began as hunters and gatherers. Eating and cooking solely what we could hunt and harvest. Through time, technology and the advancements of the industrial revolution things changed dramatically. We began canning, preserving and freezing.
Today, most Americans take very little regard in what they eat, how it is processed, what is in it and most of all, how much of it they eat. The irony is how much of our eating habits have changed drastically in a mere 100 years. From our food supply, quantity and nutritional content, to the amount of imported goods we consume. Perhaps a simple way of addressing this is we went from viewing food as a sacred commodity to a simplified convenience.
While most of America has accepted that we moved from an agricultural society to industrialized agriculture and embracing that fact that most of our food travels 1500 miles – there is a huge subculture that has sprouted up globally. This movement touts local, seasonal and organic – backyards are being converted into food forests and front lawns are being torn up to make way for urban gardens!
The movement has taken root in all of America’s largest cities, while infiltrating small towns and growing communities. It is taking shape in the form of expanding farmers markets, community gardens, edible school yards and even homesteading. There are several large installations of some of these applications found in places like NY MOMA’s infamous indie art museum known as PS1. Annually there is a competition of young architects at the opportunity to build an oasis during their summer installation. Winners, several years ago, built an urban farm, producing food and raising chickens, right in the middle of Queens!
In the San Francisco Civic Center – the entire front lawn has been replaced with a garden, in time for the Slow Food festival – and the harvest will coincide with festivities all through Labor Day in 2009.
In downtown Los Angeles, there is an annual Public Fruit Jam in Echo Park – where an art gallery was opened to the public to bring local fruit to make jars of fresh jam. I attended a few years ago and I brought in green sour apples from my backyard, coupled with figs, lemons and mint to create this outrageous homemade jam!
So what are the advantages to eating local and seasonal?
With local food there are much lower energy costs and the nutritional value of your food is much higher, since the crop was not harvested early. Most of all, you are supporting your local farmers, your community and a really incredible movement that is taking shape and coming soon to your community!
Swapping recipes, seeds and gardening tips are no longer a thing of the past, but rather a really hip and obvious thing to be doing, now!
Don’t have a yard? Fret not … food in pots grows incredible varieties! Don’t have time or the patience to grow your own? There are Community Supported Agriculture known as CSA’s – where you can have a box of beautiful organic fruits and veggies grown in a local farm delivered to your door weekly! Check out Local Harvest to see where your local CSA is.
There is that classic adage that you are what you eat. The reality is that our habits around food have lost their value – and now more than ever, is a critical time to begin asking the right questions and being aware of what you are consuming and most of all, knowing where your food comes from.
We are finding ourselves relying on our community as well as our neighbors. In essence we are adopting the ways of our ancestors. The need to continue to push the envelope all while looking back and taking in the strides taken by our predecessors!