Besides baking, knitting, and watching Netflix during the pandemic, home gardening has significantly increased. According to a nationwide study, more than 20 million Americans took up gardening for the first time in 2020. A survey done by Gardening Insights showed 76% of people aged 26 - 41 plan to spend even more on gardening in 2022 than they did the previous year. With that, there has been an increase in interest in buying sustainable seeds.
With many newcomers planting home gardens, there are some things you should know before you purchase seeds. Some popular questions when searching for seeds online are:
- What seed characteristics should I look for - a hybrid, heirloom, open-pollinated seeds?
- Why buy organic? Does it make a difference if the seeds are organic?
- How do I know if the source of seeds has been genetically modified (GMO)?
- Is there such a thing as sustainable seeds?
What seed characteristics should you be looking for?
It can be a little overwhelming initially when shopping around for online seeds. Still, with a little knowledge of the terminology used, you can make a better educated decision on what to look for.
Organic seed crops are managed with strict regulations that protect the native habitat, waterways, and local communities from the harmful effects of agricultural chemicals. In contrast, conventional seed production shows little concern about using chemicals. And because seeds are not directly for human consumption, the pesticide regulations are less stringent than those for vegetable crops. Organic seed is a better seed and contributes to a healthier world from development to cultivation.
Tip: Buy organic whenever possible. When you choose to grow from organic seed, you will positively impact the world.
Hybrid Seeds have been crossbred by combining two different parent plants. The plants will most likely not produce seeds. If you are lucky enough to reproduce, it won't be the same as the parent plant.
Pros: Hybrid seeds may help us survive and adapt to the challenges of climate change. Cons: Hybrids make us dependent on repurchasing seeds and using fertilizers.
Non-GMO Seeds are non-genetically modified organisms, meaning their genes have not been genetically altered in a lab.
Note: Heirloom seeds cannot be GMO. All Organic Seeds are Non-GMO, but not all Non-GMO are organic.
Open-pollinated Seeds have been naturally open-pollinated by wind or insects. Since all plants need to be pollinated to grow seeds, GMOs or Hybrids need to be replanted year after year.
Note: Heirlooms are generally from open-pollinated plants over 50 years old.
Heirloom Seeds are grown for many generations and, therefore, have unique characteristics people want and pass down through their families. This makes them special! Many of these seeds have a history that comes with their longevity.
Note: All heirloom seeds are non-GMO.
Curious for more, read about the differences between open-pollinated, hybrid, and GMO seeds.
What are sustainable seeds?
A Sustainable seed is a seed that was gathered from organic and non-genetically modified plants. When you grow a plant from sustainable seed, it will pollinate and continue to grow fertile seed that can be replanted and further grow more plants for the next growing season. The seed has not been altered genetically or sprayed with chemicals. When a farmer plants seeds from a genetically modified seed, his/her crops will not produce seeds to replant again. The farmer must purchase new seeds every year to plant their crops.
Sustainable Seed Companies
When looking to purchase seeds, here are a few reputable companies to start with:
Seeds of Change sells only organic and non-GMO heirloom seed varieties, and for every item you buy, they plant nutritious seeds through school growing programs across the country.
High Mowing Seed Company has a large selection of certified organic and non-GMO seeds and is a leader in the organic seed movement.
Seeds For Generations is a small family business that sells heirloom/open-pollinated seeds and related gardening products.
Johnny's Selected Seeds offers non-GMO organic, hybrid, open-pollinated, and heirloom seeds.
Hudson Valley Seed Co is a certified organic farm in upstate New York that is a great source for heirloom and open-pollinated garden seeds.
Check out Food Print's full list of sustainable seed sources!
What is a Safe Seed Pledge?
One easy way to narrow your search for sustainable seed companies is to purchase seeds from companies that have signed the "Safe Seed Pledge." The Safe Seed Pledge was created in 1999 by a coalition of companies that drafted a statement sharing their stance on genetic engineering. It became a way for growers and sellers of non-genetically modified seeds to show they stand together in unison against genetically engineered seeds or plants. The Pledge has allowed businesses and individuals to declare that they will not knowingly buy, sell or trade GMO seeds and assuring consumers of their commitment. The Pledge has been signed by over 370 seed companies worldwide and visibly shared on the websites of those that signed the pledge.
The Safe Seed Pledge states the following:
"Agriculture and seeds provide the basis upon which our lives depend. We must protect this foundation as a safe and genetically stable source for future generations. For the benefit of all farmers, gardeners and consumers who want an alternative, we pledge that we do not knowingly buy or sell genetically engineered seeds or plants. The mechanical transfer of genetic material outside of natural reproductive methods and between genera, families or kingdoms poses great biological risks, as well as economic, political and cultural threats. We feel that genetically engineered varieties have been insufficiently tested prior to public release. More research and testing is necessary to further assess the potential risks of genetically engineered seeds. Further, we wish to support agricultural progress that leads to healthier."
Ways to show support
Start by supporting the companies that work hard to preserve heirloom seeds and crops. Seed Savers Exchange (SSE) is a non-profit organization that saves and shares heirloom seeds. SSE’s mission is to “conserve and promote America’s culturally diverse but endangered food crop heritage for Future Generations by collecting, growing, and sharing heirloom seeds and plants.
Support local farmers, buy produce at farmer's markets, or join an organic CSA. Don't hesitate to buy organic and heirloom varieties, even if they are a little more expensive.
If you're interested in gardening, explore TMF's Resources for more gardening tips and learn how to grow your vegetables this year!