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33: Robin Kelson | the Good Seed Company | Whitefish, MT

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Tell us a little about yourself.

Good Seed Company sells organic and ecologically farmed seed that’s all locally adapted, biodiverse, non-gmo, open-pollinated, and heirloom. Their goal is to support communities in reestablishing their own practice of selecting, saving and sharing seeds, in order to support communities in rebuilding their own local supply of biodiverse seeds for common use.

In 1980 started in Okanogan Highlands in NE Washington state individuals who had 600 acres of pristine land and they grew food their family wanted to be growing their own food and had to do a lot of research in identifying of plants that did well in their altitude their (probably zone 3-4) as things grew they began to save and sell seeds and that’s how the Good Seed Company got started.

40 years later Harris Dunkelburger is in mid 70s and ready to move on to next chapter in his life  and he was going to let it go, Robin said No, No, No, you can’t do that, these are extraordinary seeds, you’ve been saving them and selecting them and they have incredible genetics. So Robin agreed to move it to Montana and create a foundation for building a seed library, an education resources for people on how to save seeds and developing a network for sharing seed.

Select, save and share are the three components for replenishing our seed supply.

A seed library – is a depository just like a library – a place where seeds are kept, members come and take out seeds just like a book, and only commitment is to bring back at least as many seeds as you took out. Allows you to learn how to grow those plants. You get to eat some of the food the plant produces, you just promise to bring back at least as many seeds as you took out, you can share more.

If you don’t replant them you lose the genetic variety.

By planting them in different gardens they are enhancing their genetics. This helps to build and save seeds of healthy plants. It’s very important to keep growing the seeds, and saving the seeds and sharing them so they learn how to grow in different climates which will help maintain the seed vibrancy and vitality.

Also have seed sales online and do sell seeds which helps support them, but main mission is to help communities in developing their own local seed supply through a seed library and education.

People all over the country buy their seeds. Seed racks in stores in 3 stores in the valley … this is second year in stores and online. So people can buy seeds, join the library, attend a workshop.

Need to grow open-pollinated seeds (heirloom is a type of that)

Hybrid seeds – when you first cross two plant species (like 2 varieties of corn for ex) – the progeny is the hybrid (an F1) and those seeds don’t usually grow true-to-type. Need to do a lot of growing out before the genetics stabilize.

Seeds are being infiltrated by GMO varieties which will not grow true-to-type, they have been modified in a laboratory with non-plant life form DNA, like to be more pest resistant, or more frost resistant, etc. Impact is not well understood and it could have a disruptive negative affect on lots of things like pollinator bees and insects, microbes that help the soil, immunes systems, therefore  people need to take control of own seed supplies and resources.

Tell me about your first gardening experience?

First Real significant gardening experience just out of high school. Late 70’s looking for an opportunity to be self sufficient and learn how to grow own food.

Friends sent her to Pippendale Farm in Santa Rosa, CA where she studied with David Cavagnaro on an acre and ½ garden, 100 different fruit tress that he had grafted himself that he remembered had great fruit. Northern California. Grew seeds from all over the world, saved seed and sent it to Seed Savers Exchange. David went on to run their heritage gardens and is on the board and now is in Iowa running the Pepperfield Project

Seed Savers Exchange has a robust community of growers all over the country who save seeds and send them in from their gardens.

At the Good Seed Company they call it ecological farming which simply means growing food without synthetic chemical inputs by people who are dedicated to building good soil in harmony with nature with the intention of producing delicious nutrient food.

Went back to college and went to University of Oregon to pursue a botany degree and ended up with a degree in biology.

Robin grew up in Puerto Rico in the tropics, grew some orchids out back. Didn’t understand vegetable gardening till she was older.

Who or what inspired you to start using organic techniques?

David Cavagnaro

Tell us about something that grew well this year.

Tomatoes – Bunch of seeds that originated in Russia from Bill McDorman in Idaho, trying to grow vegetables in mountain home, and had an opportunity to go to Russia and met people who fed him all their seeds they had been saving and amazing gardeners who had been growing tomatoes, and gave him over 60 varieties of tomatoes from all over the country that grew well. Now these seeds are all over the web, growing, saving, and sharing by selling … Moscow Bush, Siberian Patio, De Barrao, Galina (cherry tomato). The plants looked horrible after the early frost the first week in September, with brown leaves and droopy plants, but they just put a sheet over them at night and they were able to harvest until October!!

Is there something you would do different next year or want to try/new?

Whole slew of medicinal plants from Michael Pilarski from Hot Springs, MT. Lots of good permaculture plants.

Tell me about something that didn’t work so well this season.

Eggplant – were not successful getting them to ripen in time. (see Mike’s Green Garden’s post on eggplant for some eggplant success tips)

Melons – had cool June and so what I would do differently is put plastic down on the soil and keep the soil warm. Didn’t get them out long enough with warm soil long enough … need to take advantage of the heat after it cools off where others who kept soil warm were successful.

Something that you find is easy to grow and is generally successful every-time.

Root vegetables and bulb plants: carrots, garlic, onion, potatoes, beets, parsnips, turnips, rutabagas. Kales, hearty greens, mustards, sorrel, chards… great to plant in the late summer because they can be up in fall, or first plants in spring …

Something you would steer new gardeners away from that you find is typically challenging to grow in your climate.

Eggplant, soybeans.

Which activity is your least favorite activity to do in the garden.

Weeding, if I don’t stay on top of it, early in the morning … try to set it up with an opportunity to visit the plants…

backyard garden

What is your favorite activity to do in the garden.

Soil preparation, babying the plants as they come through the soil, is like seed germination.

Medicinal – any plant that an herbalist would use to help balance the body, could be a chamomile or mint to make a tea that are calming to the body and nervous system, lots of plants will calm our digestive system, anything that supports kidney or liver function.

Our ancestors have used these for years to support our bodies. Many would be considered a weed but have tremendous value. Lots of the culinary herbs that we use to flavor our food have medicinal properties, and were used centuries ago but those that have a cool flavor and are fun to cook with, like caraway or anise, or oregano, or chives have medicinal properties.

Naturalized or brought when people came to America and have been used by local populations for hundreds of years.

Arnica – native to Northwest – can make a tincture that makes a topical that can reduce muscle injuries. Horehounds, skull cap and stone-seed … all curious sounding named plants that have wonderful properties.

A favorite tool that you like to use? If you had to move and could only take one tool with you what would it be.

Japanese hand hoe that I like a gama hoe.

Eating or harvesting vegetables or fruit on time? 

Don’t harvest it all at once if you can. Raspberry bush and freezer is the gardener’s best friend.

Do you have any secrets for preserving food-making it last? 

Have canned no special secrets.

What’s the best gardening advice you ever received?

First thing you plant in a garden, is a chair, get a chair. So much to get out of the garden besides the food, one of which is just sitting and being and enjoying the pace of life which is moving all the time, and moving at a pace much slower then the average human speed today. Sitting in the garden, and looking and enjoying the life force.

From David King of the Seed Library of Los Angelos

Do you have any special techniques for cooking weird or unusual foods?

Add sweet potatoes or yams are a great ingredient for hummus.

A favorite recipe you like to cook from the garden?

Making a salad from the garden, using lots of edible flowers – nasturtium, scarlet runner bean, bachelor buttons, chives.

A favorite internet resource?

Rocky Mountain Seed Alliance – Bill McDorman is basically  developing a seed school teaching people how to save seeds, and building a network of seed stewards around the globe.

Searching the Internet Google

A favorite reading material-book, mag, blog/website etc you can 

Learning more about dye material or resource. Lots of plants clearly and medicinals have dye properties.

A Garden To Dye For and you can like their Facebook page as well.

So Robin is creating a list of seeds to buy together like red cabbage, carrot leaves, and onion skins with the intention for making your own dyes.

If you have a business to you have any advice for our listeners about how to sell extra produce or get started in the industry? 

Robin has the gift of being able to rely on the company founder, Harris to still be providing them with seeds, as Robin spent lots of time last year learning the business and trialling a lot of plants, and saving seeds.

Recommend having a strong network of friends and community members.

Good Seed Co on Facebook 

They are currently working together with some other producers to create a Local Food hub – Farm to Fork food hub – where they have an online store where members of the co-op can buy those products once a week, and eventually connect with other hubs statewide that would connect producers of Montana made ecologically produced goods and consumers who are looking for those items.

Final question- if there was one change you would like to see to create a greener world what would it be? For example is there a charity or organization your passionate about or a project you would like to see put into action. What do you feel is the most crucial issue facing our planet in regards to the earth either in your local area or on a national or global scale?

Quality of our soil. Without soil, we don’t have food, and without food we are unsustainable. Western culture is disconnected from the soil, we are not taking care of it and it is at risk of destruction. Would like to see people reconnect to the soil, and understand that the quality of our soil is the starting point for our food and our health. What happens in our bodies, is what happens to our planet?

If everyone made a commitment to grow one plant and eat from the plant that they grew (and save the seed).

Real vision if everyone planted one tomato plant on their patio, took care of it, ate from it, let it produce fruit and saved the seeds from one of those plants and then grew another plant from that seed and watch it make food again it could literally turn the world around. Lots of people grow their own food, but they buy seeds, but when you realize the extraordinary power that exists from planting one seed that then grows a plant the next spring with maybe 50 tomatoes on it it’s an extraordinary sense of power and capability, independence and freedom, it’s just an amazing feeling!

But would be happy to see people grow a single radish :~)

Do u have an inspiration tip or quote to help motivate our listeners to reach into that dirt and start their own garden?

Movie called Dirt. A group of women in prison who started a garden. Shifted them and their lives as a result, and they had a song they would sing. Refrain that says “dirt don’t hurt.” Had tough lives and felt there was nothing they could trust. The Earth gives so much back. With a little effort and it returns is a 1000 fold the generosity you give it.

To connect with Robin you can visit her website The Good Seed Company and I would encourage you to like her on Facebook.

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About the author, Jackie Marie

I'm an artist and educator. I live at the "Organic Oasis" with my husband Mike where we practice earth friendly techniques in our garden nestled in the mountains of Montana.

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