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.
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…