Garden Time: Do You Know Where Your Seeds Come From?

Copyright Jill Henderson By Jill Henderson

Ah, winter.  At last it’s time to kick back in your big easy chair with your garden-weary feet all wrapped up in those new fuzzy slippers you got for Christmas.  I can just see you now, gazing contentedly at the flickering flames of a glowing fire in the hearth, more than content with a summer’s worth of jobs well done and not a single garden chore on your “to do” list…  Yeah, right.  I mean, you’re a gardener, aren’t you?  When did gardener’s ever get a day off?  I mean, seriously – spring will be here before you know it and you don’t have a single moment to waste lying around gazing at fires if you want to have an incredible garden next year!  Gosh.

What?  No, of course I’m not crazy.  You may not be physically gardening right now, but you should be mentally gardening.  It’s just not right if you’re not and you know it.  The rest of us are counting on you to be just as strung out as we are.

Seriously, how can you just loll around the fort watching it snow, what with the food security of your family and all at stake?  You’ve got to think about planning, rotation, cover crops, winterizing, fencing, mulch, fertilizer, deer and, of course, armadillos!  And oh, yeah, while you’re laying around the shack toasting your toes, you should at least be perusing a two-inch thick seed catalog and taking notes to boot!  No chores, my foot!

What’s that?  You don’t have any seed catalogs yet?  Well, then, now we’ve got something to talk about, because I want you to do something different this year.  I want you to think about where your seeds come from.  No, I don’t mean the company name or the grocery store where you buy the ten for a dollar seed packs.  I mean, literally, what city, what state, what country do your seeds come from?  Do you know? Is it Wasilla, or Pittsburg, or Madagascar?  Because wherever they come from, I’ll betcha they don’t come from here.

That’s right.  It’s me again, up to my old trips about buying local, blah, blah, blah.  But hey, you’ve got to admit that it’s a no-brainer.  If you don’t save your own seed or graft your own fruit trees (and why don’t you, anyway?), at least buy some of your seeds and plants from a local company.  Local meaning this state, your state or at the very least nearby states.

And although it’s true that despite our fabulous growing season here in the Ozarks, not every seed company wants to raise their seed here.   Their loss, of course, but that’s a fact we just have to own up to and work a little harder on.  And if you ask me, which I know you would, I think it’s because most outsiders are just flat-afraid of our hardy strain of chiggers, but that’s just me talking out loud.

Chiggers aside, I just happen to know that there are, in fact, a bunch of great seed companies and nurseries and seed banks right here in the Ozarks that can sell you some good old-fashioned hillbilly seeds right now!  Yeah, I said it – hillbilly!  And don’t get me wrong, I’m not making fun of hillbillies – heck no.  In fact, my neighbor (something like a tenth generation Ozarker) told me to my face that Dean and I were more hillbilly than he was!  Well, thank you neighbor, appreciate the compliment.  Have a turnip.

No, folks, I said it and I meant it in the best way.  You see, hillbilly seeds are what you want here in the Ozarks because they’re seeds that know exactly where they come from.  And by golly, hillbilly seeds will grow in these rocky hills and hollers like a feral pig.  And even if some of the seeds or plants that certain local businesses sell aren’t really “native” (and you know who you are…) doesn’t mean that we can’t keep our money right here at home, now, does it?  Heck, I think Wasilla’s doing all right up there without our money pouring in every year, don’t you?  Besides, it’s really cold there…what would their seeds think of our climate down here?  They’d hate it and be mad at us all summer long – that’s what.

No, what you want are seeds, plants and trees grown right here at home – or at least as close as you can get.  The nice thing about the good folks at the local seed companies and nurseries is that they really appreciate your business and most of them are glad to sit and talk about gardening with you.  Oh, I know gardeners are gardeners everywhere and those out of town folks are nice, too, but can they understand the kinds of weird weather we get here and have they ever seen the size of our bugs and do they have armadillos to worry about?  I don’t think folks from Seattle can help you with that last one.

And this is just my humble seed-saving, organic-gardening, nature-loving opinion, but I’d advise you to stay away from those genetic things with mice ears sticking out of the pumpkin or whatever.  Like we don’t have enough pesky critters as it is.  No what you want are the good old-fashioned kind of open-pollinated and heirlooms seeds – especially those that have been grown for generations in these hills.  These kinds of seeds have a memory like an elephant and know a thing or two about growing up here.

Local seed producers and nurseries are sort of like open-pollinated seeds in that way, too.  And whether you’re a market gardener or a homesteader, or if you’re a weekend gardener who just grows a couple of tomato plants on the porch, buying your goods locally can make a big difference in the quality of your gardening experience and the vibrancy of your local economy.

Now that we’ve gotten near to the end here, there are a couple of ways that each of us can bring locally grown seeds, plants and trees into our gardens.  Obviously, you can get up off that easy chair and take a drive one sunny afternoon and look for local nurseries.  Or you can get down to the library and read some books on how to save seed and propagate plants yourself, which I’m sure you’ll do the minute you’ve finished that hot toddy, there.

While you’re on the hunt for local sources of seeds, plants and starts, don’t forget to check out the various farmer’s markets, area garden club plant sales and Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farms near you.  Why not give them a call and see what they have to offer – I’m sure they would be more than happy to sell you a few things.  And last but not least you can visit one of the few seed banks here in the Ozarks and pick up some really cool seeds that you won’t find anywhere else.

Of course, if you’re in the south-central Ozarks area, don’t forget to mark your calendars for the second bi-annual Ozarks Seed & Plant Swap, which will be held in West Plains on the first Sunday in March.  If you’ve not come to  one of our swaps before, let me tell you, it is a seriously fun time!

That being said, I’ve gone and spent days and days and days slaving away at a list of regional sources of seeds, plants, and trees for you.  I’ve even thrown in a couple of really awesome local seed banks and a couple of non-profit organizations just so you won’t be bored while you’re hanging out roasting marshmallows over that barrell stove and living the life of Riley over there in your fuzzy slippers.  And even though I slaved for endless days on this, I’m sure I missed a bunch of good companies, so I’ll count on you to direct your local seed and plant producers to our site and I’ll add them to the list, pronto.

So finish off that last S’more and check out our Heirloom Seed Sources list, which has all kinds of great seed companies – including many that are truly local – that sell open pollinated and heirloom seeds.  Some have taken the Safe Seed Pledge, which promises that they will not sell GMO seeds.  You’ll be glad you did!

(c) Jill Henderson

 Jill Henderson is an artist, author and the editor of Show Me Oz.  You can find her book,
The Garden Seed Saving Guide:
Seed Saving for Everyone

in our bookstore.

…and don’t forget to tell your friends you got it from

9 responses to “Garden Time: Do You Know Where Your Seeds Come From?

  1. Wow Jill, what a fabulous resource with all things covered. I’m looking forward especially to browsing the site you list that is totally devoted to local PawPaw since I’ve already ordered some trees from the George O. White tree nursery in Licking and want to understand a bit more about how to site and nurture them. Along with wild pawpaw the richest most exotic fruits I know.

  2. Thanks, Sara! It was a bit of a challenge to compile. And as you and a reader so generously pointed out – I missed the George O. White Nursery in Licking, MO. Too many marshmallows for me this week! Thanks!

  3. Thanks for this great list. I’ll include these regional companies in my annual seed source list on 12.30.
    Merry Christmas.

    • Glad you liked the list, Martha. We have some really awesome nurseries and seed sources right here in the Ozarks. If you have any additional local seed sources I’d be glad to post them!

  4. Since I’m having a bit of a glitch with my writing tools I’ll go ahead and post this seed source:
    George O. White Nursery
    Missouri Department of Conservation
    Licking, MO
    Phone: (573) 674-3229
    Plant nursery specializing in Missouri native trees and shrubs.

  5. Many seeds are produced in china from sinochem that has partnered with monsanto.

    • Yes, I’m sure many of them are, Brynn – especially when you take into consideration that Monsanto now controls about 55% of all home and commercial seed production in America. That is why it is more important than ever to save our own seeds. One day, (and soon) we will need to stand up in a court of law to defend our cultural rights to grow and save open pollinated and heirloom seeds from the greedy hands of corporate giants like Monsanto.

  6. Jill, thanks for the wonderful article! Could you repost the link to your Heirloom Seed Sources list? The one above doesn’t work anymore.

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