Why are our seeds so expensive…or, such a great value?
Seeds are mysterious. Even many avid gardeners couldn't tell you much about the life a seed has had before they shake it from the packet into moist soil. Everything from how plants actually make their seeds to where the seeds were grown to all the steps required to harvest, process, clean, dry, germination test them, and pack them into packets are largely absent from our consciousness when we line up in front of seed racks full of colorful photos and choose our hopeful summer bounty.
In the same way consumers are waking up to the stark differences between factory farmed feedlot beef and animals raised on healthy pastures, seeds deserve our critical eye. The ways different brands of seeds find their way to our shelves create vastly different agricultural and economic systems in their wake.
Most large-scale seed companies, even ones who offer "organic" seeds, source their seeds from all over the world, shipping seeds from China, industrial organic hybrids from Europe, etc. So while we might grow local food to reduce our carbon footprint, the seeds we're using have already got some serious food miles on them. The packet tells you nothing about where the seeds were grown--only where the company is headquartered. We can assume the seeds have been purchased from large-scale farmers who will grow them for the cheapest price.
Once they arrive to be packed, most of the process is automated. Big hoppers are filled with a certain seed lot and a machine fills and seals the packets. With the really cheap seeds, multiple companies' seed packets are filled in the same warehouse with the same poor-quality seed, slapping different companies’ names on the same seed. The machine simply replaces one company's packet with another and keeps filling. But even integrous seed companies like Seed Savers Exchange have automated seed packing equipment. A video posted on Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds' facebook page just recently shows their shiny, new warehouse full of conveyor belts and computers to pull orders for shipping to every corner of the world.
Our seeds are literally a world apart from this global food chain. For starters, we only work with small-scale growers in our own bioregion. Our seeds are born and raised in the Intermountain West, and most of them remain here for sale in our independent retail partners' garden centers and co-ops.
We are working to get more local farmers involved in growing seeds on their farms, and offering them a viable marketing outlet for this important work. The cost of production is built into our seed prices. In order to create a viable localized economy, farmers have to be able to make a living. We pay our farmers often ten times more for their seeds than large-scale seed companies will pay, because that's truly what it costs to produce these crops. As farmers, we work hard and pour our hearts and souls into our farms and our seeds. We will not support the system that keeps farmers in poverty so the rest of us can have cheap food. Seeds provide an additional winter income stream, allowing us to mitigate gaps in our farms’ financial solvency and helps keep us farming!
All but one of our growers is small enough that we harvest our seeds by hand and clean them with small-scale equipment like fans and screens. This takes longer but allows more farmers to participate, because they do not need lots of land or fancy, expensive equipment. We germination test and pack the seeds by hand in a small shed on one of our farms. It is truly a labor of love, and we are putting people to work with important, low-tech, community-sustaining jobs. The independent garden centers and food co-ops who carry our seeds are also doing this in a way big box or virtual online stores don't.
So when you're comparing the prices of different companies' seeds, remember that THE SEED CREATES THE SYSTEM! With each packet of SNAKE RIVER SEED COOPERATIVE’s seeds, you're getting enough locally-adapted seeds to grow at least 250 delicious carrots, or 175 Broccoli plants, or hundreds of Black Krim tomatoes, all for $3.35 cents! All the while, you're supporting an entire local economy that begins with healthy soils on small, sustainable farms and travels through happy, well-compensated farmers and thriving locally-owned retail nurseries and into your own lovingly-tended garden. How's that for a value-packed bargain?!
The Earthly Delights Farm crew processing wet seeded crops.
THANK YOU FROM THE BOTTOM OF OUR HEARTS for supporting our cooperative by buying our Idaho-grown seeds!