24 Aug 2010

Baker Creek Seeds: Preserving the Future of Food with Heirlooms

by Robyn Jasko

Jere Gettle has an affinity for all things heirloom.
As the owner of Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, he travels the world to find the best native, heirloom varieties so home gardeners and farmers can grow varieties that their great grandparents grew---pre-pesticide, before GMOs, and back to a time when every gardener was an organic locavore by default.

Things have certainly changed, but not at Baker Creek, which is more Little House than large conglomerate. Jere, his wife Emilee, and their young daughter Sasha are modern-day pioneers leading the heirloom movement, with the mission to preserve our food supply and teach people about the sustainable nature and diversity of heirloom vegetables.

Gettle started Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds at the age of 17, evolving his mail order hobby into a thriving company dedicated to preserving this simpler way of eating and growing food.

Today, the 28-year old runs one of the country’s largest and fastest-growing independently owned seed companies. They have expanded their business beyond the original Mansfield, Missouri homestead to include a Seed Bank retail store in Petaluma, California, and the recently purchased Comstock, Ferre & Co. in Wethersfield, CT. Both are historical buildings which fit in line with Baker Creek’s philosophy and mission of preserving the heritage of American seed culture.

Despite their love of the past, they are also very much in the present. Jere and his wife have expanded Baker Creek with blogs, Facebook/Twitter, an online forum called, and even their own magazine, The Heirloom Gardener. They also host several planting festivals in Bakerfield, every year celebrating heirloom culture and 18th century living at it’s best in Bakersville, their historic pioneer village in southern Missouri.

When asked why heirlooms are important, Gettle is enthusiastic.

“One reason is their history,” says Gettle. “You can grow something that Thomas Jefferson grew, with a distinct taste and variety. In some cases, you can get a variety that’s been grown in your area for years. Plus, with heirlooms, you can save your own seed.”

Gettle  also loves the variety and unique flavors of heirlooms. The Baker Creek catalogue now features more than 1400 varieties of Old World vegetables that most people have never even seen before. We’re talking really old school; The Crapaudine beet from 900 A.D, the rare Japanese Shishigatani or Toonas Makino Squash that villagers ate in the 1800s to keep paralysis away, speckled Japanese Chiriman Squash from the Edo period, the list goes on and on.

“Heirlooms also taste better because they were bred for taste, not shipping,” continues Gettle. “Heirlooms tomatoes were too thought to be too soft to be shipped, and that’s why people developed hybrid tomatoes that were tougher, so they could stand up to the picking, packing and shipping of our industrialized country. Despite this common misnomer, Gettle says that many heirlooms have commercial potential.

Other crops that have changed over the years due to hybridization are strawberries, melons, cantaloupes and watermelons. Gettle says that to experience the true taste of these vegetables and fruits, you really need to grow them yourself. Some people never experience the true taste of a carrot until they pick one from their own garden.

By getting the word out about heirlooms, Gettle hopes to give people the knowledge to create a better, safer food supply and fight gene-altered Frankenfood and the companies that support it.

“When you buy your vegetables from the store, you are depending on a commercial supplier---you don’t know what you are going to get,” says Gettle. “There is no guarantee, even when it says organic. When you grow your own, you know where your food comes from. It’s so much better to support food that’s local. The more people that buy local, the more farmers that will start farming again.”

About the author:

Robyn Jasko started Grow Indie in 2009, to empower people with the tools, know-how and gusto to try growing their own food, while being as resourceful as possible.

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