The 10 Best Seed Companies for Heirloom and Non-GMO Seeds
If you’re looking for seeds for your vegetable garden that are not associated with GMOs, Bayer/Monsanto, or any of their subsidiaries, like Seminis, look no farther…Each of the following seed companies have taken the Safe Seed Pledge and tested their stock to be free of GMOs.
While there are dozens of great seed companies that have signed the Safe Seed Pledge, I particularly like the following ten companies because I have used their seeds, and they each have something extra special about their mission, their catalog, or their business practices that fosters greater sustainability for people and planet.
Each of these companies specialize in rare seed preservation, or they are employee-owned, or they focus on seeds that are adapted to a particular climate.
The larger companies on this list carry open-pollinated, heirloom and hybrid seed varieties, as well as onion and garlic sets, planting potatoes, berry plants, fruit trees, tools, and more.
Although you can’t reliably save hybrid seeds because of their genetics, hybrids are not GMOs, and can offer advantages like disease resistance, or special traits, colors or flavors (like seedless watermelons or “burpless” cucumbers) that you can’t find in open-pollinated and heirloom varieties.
What About Patented Seeds?
The Plant Patent Act was enacted by the U.S. Congress in 1930. It was introduced primarily to benefit the horticulture industry by encouraging plant breeding and increasing plant genetic diversity. They needed a mechanism to ensure that breeders could make a return on their sizable research and development costs. The two most common types of plant patent are:
Plant Variety Protection (PVP) is like a copyright. Like a copyrighted piece of writing, anyone can enjoy it, reproduce it for themselves and their friends, use it as inspiration—but to publish it, sell it, put it on a greeting card, requires permission (and maybe money). Similarly, gardeners and farmers are free to save and replant PVP seeds for personal use, but they may not sell them.
Utility Patents are more controversial. A utility patent is granted by the United States Patent and Trademark Office based on a unique and specific attribute of an individual plant variety, like resistance to a specific disease. A plant variety with a utility patent can only be used for crop production and cannot be used for seed saving to resell, give away, or replant, for 20 years from introduction. Utility patents have major ramifications for seed diversity and the livelihood of subsistence farmers who depend on saved seed, but do not really affect American gardeners.
More and more small and midsize seed companies are developing their own patented seed varieties that have wonderful traits like extra disease protection, unique growing habits, or unusual coloring. But don’t worry: No one is concerned about whether a home gardener saves 5o cents worth of patented lettuce seed from one year to the next for personal use.
Gardeners are not trying to make money from someone else’s research and development. These patents are exclusively to protect the holder (for 20 years only) from farmers or competing seed companies stealing and profiting from their hard work.
What is far more concerning to me than patented seed varieties is that the USDA and many state Departments of Agriculture are calling for the regulation of public seed libraries.
In many cases, these agencies consider seed libraries legally analogous to seed companies, which must comply with regulations ensuring against mislabeled, contaminated, or compromised products. The enforcement of such regulations would, at the very least, undermine the purpose of community seed libraries—and at the worst, make the operation of a community seed library virtually impossible.
When it becomes illegal to trade ANY seed of ANY kind, then we have a real problem.
The Safe Seed Pledge
Signing the Safe Seed Pledge is voluntary and unregulated, but it’s a very safe bet that any company that has signed the pledge is committed to the cause. It reads:
“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 soils, genetically diverse agricultural ecosystems and ultimately people and communities.”
The 10 Best Seed Companies for Heirloom and Non-GMO Seeds
There are surely hundreds of great, family-owned seed businesses I have never heard of out there—and new companies seem to pop up every day. I can only recommend the companies whose seeds I have personally purchased and planted in my region of the U.S.
If you have any questions about a seed company that is not listed here or on the Safe Seed Pledge list, just give them a call!
I recommend that you consider your values, your gardening needs and your local climate/region when choosing your seed sources.
Seed Savers Exchange (Decorah, IA)
The Seed Savers Exchange (SSE) is a non-profit organization working to save heirloom garden seed from extinction. Their focus is on preserving varieties of seed that gardeners and farmers bring to North America when their families immigrate(d), and traditional varieties grown by American Indians, Mennonites and the Amish.
SSE’s 8,000 members grow heirloom varieties of vegetables, fruits and grains from all over the world, and offer them for exchange to other members in their amazing annual yearbook that has over 450 pages. You can find almost extinct varieties of seed to try in your garden, and all the money you spend with the Seed Saver’s Exchange goes to helping protect seed biodiversity.
This is, hands-down, my favorite place to look for seeds and exciting new plant varieties for my garden.
Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds (Mansfield, MO)
Baker Creek is a family-owned business offering a gorgeous catalog and website with over 1,800 varieties of vegetables, flowers and herbs—one of the largest selections of heirloom varieties in the U.S.
Baker Creek also carries one of the largest selections of seeds from the 19th century, including many Asian and European varieties. They also specialize in rare and hard-to-find heirloom seeds from over 75 different countries. The company’s mission is to promote and preserve our agricultural and culinary heritage.
Clear Creek Seeds (Hulbert, OK)
Clear Creek is a small, family-owned business specializing exclusively in open-pollinated, heirloom seed varieties, including flowers, herbs and vegetables. They also offer several variety packs for even more value, like the Pollinator Pack and the Salsa Pack.
They have a smaller selection, but as a small company, they are able to provide warm, highly personal customer service, great prices and fast delivery.
Southern Exposure Seed Exchange (Mineral, VA)
Southern Exposure Seed Exchange offers more than 700 varieties of vegetable, flower, herb, grain and cover crop seeds. They emphasize varieties that perform well in the Mid-Atlantic and Southeast, and offer many unusual Southern heirlooms, such as yacon, amaranths including peanuts, southern peas, naturally colored cotton, collards, okra, roselle, turnip greens, corns for roasting and meal, and butterbeans.
Fedco Seeds (Waterville, ME)
Fedco is a cooperative business where consumer members own 60 percent, and employee members own 40 percent. Because the cooperative doesn’t have an individual owner, profit isn’t its primary goal, so their seeds and other products are quite affordable.
Fedco evaluates hundreds of varieties of hybrid, open-pollinated and heirloom seeds and plants at multiple sites, identifying the ones that are particularly productive, flavorful and suited to the northeastern U.S. climate.
Renee’s Garden Seeds (Felton, CA)
Renee’s Garden Seeds is a small company run by gardeners for gardeners. Renee Shepherd personally hand-picks and sells only the varieties that are very special for home gardeners, based on great flavor, easy culture and exceptional garden performance. All their seeds are time-tested heirlooms, the best international hybrids or fine open-pollinated varieties tested and guaranteed for every major U.S. climate zone.
The individually written seed packets offer beautiful watercolor portraits, with personally written descriptions, complete growing instructions, a quick-view planting chart, growing tips, harvesting information and cooking ideas.
Peaceful Valley Farm & Garden Supply (Grass Valley, CA)
Peaceful Valley is a seed company dedicated to organic food production that carries a large assortment of veggie seeds, cover crops, native grasses, pasture and lawn seed, wildflowers, fruit trees and berries, potatoes, onions and garlic. They also offer a great selection of gardening tools, pest control, season-extending products, composting supplies, growing, propagating and irrigation equipment, and books.
Peaceful Valley offers special pricing programs for farmers, school gardens and landscaping businesses.
Johnny’s Selected Seeds (Winslow, ME)
Johnny’s is a large, well-known employee-owned seed company that has more than 1,200 varieties of hybrid, open pollinated and heirloom vegetables, medicinal, culinary herbs and flowers, including a few varieties they have developed and patented themselves. If you are homesteading, farming or market gardening, they offer large quantities of seed, as well as a variety of cover crops to keep your soil in good shape.
Johnny’s also has high quality gardening tools, equipment and accessories, cover crop seed, soil amendments and organic pest control products. Their extensive site and catalog is full of detailed growing instructions and helpful tips, even if you don’t buy seeds from them.
Territorial Seed Company (Cottage Grove, OR)
Territorial Seed is a large, family-owned company whose mission is to improve people’s self-sufficiency and independence by enabling gardeners to produce an abundance of good tasting, fresh-from-the-garden food. They trial and evaluate all their seeds at their farms, and the live plants that they offer are raised in their farm greenhouses. They offer hybrid, open-pollinated and heirloom seed varieties.
Territorial’s germination standards are higher than prescribed by the Federal Seed Act and their farm is certified USDA Organic, Biodynamic® by Demeter USA, and Salmon-Safe by Salmon-Safe Inc. They have a 100% satisfaction guarantee.
Seeds of Change (Rancho Dominguez, CA)
Seeds of Change was acquired by the Mars company, which has supported GMOs in their food products. Unfortunately, since the demand for healthy, organic products is so high, many organic brands (like Annie’s, Erewhon, Horizon, Plum Organics, and more) have been bought out by large industrial food corporations (like General Mills, Coca-Cola, etc.) who want a piece of the market.
It’s up to you to decide if you want to continue to purchase these brands, despite their new ownership.
However, ownership notwithstanding, you should know that Seeds of Change offers 100% certified organic open-pollinated, hybrid and heirloom seeds, and they grow all their own seeds on their research farm or within their network of organic farmers. They have also signed the Safe-Seed Pledge.
The reason I mention them here is that, because they have the marketing power of a large corporation behind them, you can get their seeds at Home Depot, Lowe’s, Walmart, Whole Foods, and lots of other retail chains. Seeds of Change is the only organic, open-pollinated seed company available at mainstream stores nationwide, which makes organic, open-pollinated seed accessible to anyone—including the majority of people who haven’t considered the value of organic, open-pollinated seeds before.
So if you don’t shop online (like my mom), or you’re new to gardening and don’t know where to start, you can easily pick up Seeds of Change organic, open-pollinated seeds for your garden while you are out running errands.
What seed companies do you like? Let me know in the comments!
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