Seed Companies Versus Seed Saving?

Tarahumara Purple Ojos Bean seed, Desert Southwest Heirloom Bean

Let’s think about seed companies and seed savers. Occasionally I hear comments from new gardeners which indicate that they consider seed saving to be to be in competition with seed companies or that seed companies are somehow against seed saving. Perhaps, somewhere, there is some seed company which doesn’t like seed savers, but I have yet to find it.

The Goal of Preservation Is to Preserve, Promote and Disseminate Plant Material.

Generally speaking, though we can mess up in any of these areas, that’s what seed savers do, We need as many seed savers as we can get, in order to locate, maintain and even develop good food crops on a grass roots level. There was a time that most of our crops were maintained and disseminated this way, and though I greatly appreciate what the government does in the area of preservation, I sure wouldn’t want to depend on them.

Seed Companies Have a Definite Role In the Work of Preservation.

Think about it. Seed companies sometimes preserve rare varieties, even when they’ve been lost to everyone else. I know for a fact that a bean variety I introduced through the Seed Savers Exchange nearly became extinct. I lost my seed. Almost everyone I knew, who had it, lost their seed. But Victory Seeds still has it in frozen storage and intends, not only to grow it out, but also to sell it in their catalog. This is just one example. There are plenty more. 

Spangler Bean Seed, Rare heirloom bean variety
Spangler is a rare Appalachian heirloom bean. Presently, if you want seed you need to order it from either Sustainable Mountain Agriculture or The Sample Seed Shop; both good seed companies.

But seed companies and seed savers are different. There can only be so many seed companies, and they must earn enough in sales to continue in operation. Seed savers, on the other hand, can grow whatever they like, to their heart’s content, maintaining it until someday… someone else becomes interested. It costs little to be a seed saver. It costs considerable work and money to have a seed company. Ideally we need a good many privately owned, independent seed companies and we need a myriad of gardeners to be growing, producing, selecting seed and preserving varieties. Both seed companies and individual seed savers can fail, so we need MANY of each.

Seed companies educate the public,  promote and disseminate varieties.

There is a wide range of emphasis for these necessary activities among seed companies. Some are better than others at education. Others are better at promotion of what they sell. Still others excel at the actual preservation. If you examine seed catalogs, you’ll probably notice that most which have super fancy, glossy catalogs have a smaller inventory than some of the older style catalogs which may not have any pictures at all. Each has its place. I know at least one seed company which never intentionally discontinues a variety. They have a really large inventory too (and almost no pictures).

My favorite seed companies are owned and manned by experienced seed savers.

This is because they generally have a passion for preservation and a deeper knowledge of that which they are selling.  Some of these companies actually grow and produce a significant portion of the seed they sell, which adds to the stability they give to gardening and our society in general.

So, what’s a good gardener to do?

I’d recommend that you be proficient in seed saving, practice it and patronize a number of the best, privately owned seed companies. Remember, when it comes to preservation, seed companies matter.

If you would, take a minute to comment and tell us about your favorite seed companies and why you like them.

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4 thoughts on “Seed Companies Versus Seed Saving?”

  1. Victory is one of my favorites. Southern Exposure Seed Exchange seems to have varieties that do well in Oklahoma. I like Fedco, especially their lettuce. The Sample Seed Shop gives me a chance to try a lot of varieties for a low price. Pinetree, Johnny’s, Kitazawa. Sandhill Preservation Center (my only complaint is they don’t take online orders. I don’t even HAVE checks anymore.)

    1. Yes, this is a problem for a growing number of people.
      I do need to do some reviews on Pinetree, Johnny’s and Kitazawa (I haven’t even heard of this one before). We need diversity of seed companies! Amy, perhaps you would like to do a review for us?!

  2. Bonnie Bright

    Victory is my favorite seed company. I always order from them, first. I will contact them if they don’t have something I want listed for sale. This year I made an order with Southern Exposure Seed Exchange and I’m very happy with them, too.

    1. I like Victory very much too. Southern Exposure is one of the few companies I actually purchase from regularly. We still need to do a review on them.

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