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!
Every week we are going to introduce a Seed of the Week, 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 unique, pretty cuke is prized by gourmet chefs for its delicate flavor and crisp flesh. Deriving its name from its yellow skin, shape and size. An old heirloom that is sure to still please the discriminating cucumber lover and is easy to digest.
This one is easy to grow, works well in containers, and is extremely productive. Best when harvested young. Great for slicing, salads, on sandwiches and makes delicious pickles!
Please meet … Lemon Cucumber
A perfect vegetable to plant now and enjoy towards the end of summer – a perfect time to cool with cucumber water or salad! Best of all? It’s on sale, for only $1.50 – time to eat cucumber
Denver Urban Gardens
The Living Seed Company believes everyone should have access to vital, pure, open-pollinated seed varieties and through their The Giving Seed Program, seed donations have been sent to Haiti, India, Africa, Europe, South America and throughout the United States.
Over the past three years, The Giving Seed Program has given away over 4,000 packets of fresh heirloom seeds to school garden programs, inner city youth programs, community gardens, seed libraries, food banks, correctional facilities, veteran programs and others. The Living Seed Company also covers the cost of shipping.
We take recommendations for seed donations, feel free to email us at info@LivingSeedCompany.com. Interested in donating to our program?
Donations can also be made by calling us at 415.663.8002 or by sending a check to:
The Living Seed Company
P.O. Box 177
Point Reyes Station, CA 94956
Women’s Earth Alliance Seed Donation India
The Giving Seed Program began with a vision to give back to our local, national and global community. We kicked it off with donating a collection for every ten collections sold.
Today, aside from giving away collections, we are also giving away individual packets suited to particular growing regions and community needs.
The Living Seed Company also gives out Basic Saving Booklets to encourage and support communities saving seeds and adapting them to their bio-regions.
A Few of our Donation Recipients
Inner City Coalition
- Seed Lending Library | Steamboat Springs, CO
- N.W. Regional Correctional Facility | McChord, WA
- Denver Urban Gardens | Denver, CO
- Mill Valley Seed Library | Mill Valley, CA
- Hunters Point Family Girls Program | San Francisco, CA
- The 4-H Auerfarm | Bloomfield, CT
- Youth Over the Rhine | Cincinnati, OH
- AgriCorps | San Jose, CA
- Opportunities Over the Rhine | Cincinnati, OH
- Capital District Community Gardens | Troy, NY
- Comida del Bosque | 4 Corners
- The Institue of Ag | Steamboat Springs, CO
- Huichol People | Mexico
- Idaho Plant a Row | Coeur d’Alene, ID
- Church Living Stone Baptist | Chesterfield, VA
- Alfred Community Garden | Alfred, NY
- San Quentin Correctional Facility | San Rafael, CA
- Alder Ave School | Egg Harbor Township, NJ
- The Neighborhood Farm Initiative | Washington DC
Thank you so much for your seed donation and for what your company is doing to save these valuable seeds. M. Fay
We are so appreciative of your generosity in choosing DUG as the recipient of a seed donation. Your donation means so much to the gardening community in Denver. Thank you! J. Romer
We are greatly appreciate your effort and helping us with the seeds program for Haiti. Again many thanks May God richly bless you. Pastor J. M. Etienne
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!
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!
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. firstname.lastname@example.org
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!
Organic, Rare and Heirloom Seed Collections
The Living Seed Company is an heirloom seed company dedicated to supporting families, friends and communities growing healthy food and saving their seeds.
To take some of the guess-work out of gardening we have developed collections of organic heirloom vegetable and herb seeds, suited to your region and growing needs.
All of our seeds are open pollinated, non-GMO, untreated, organic or grown on small natural farms and were selected for their versatility in the culinary arts.
The Founders Collection Our original widely adapted collection suited for most climates
Northern Collection Our long season collection, suited for shorter climates
Southern Collection Our short season collection is suited for longer climates
Urban /Small Space Collection This mini collection is perfectly suited for Urban settings or small gardens and even container gardens
Salsa Collection Our salsa collection is suited for all the fresh salsa lovers out there!