Oregon farmer Andrew Still’s big beard nearly muffles his low, soothing voice. In fact, just about the only thing that gets him to raise the bass a few octaves is the topic of seeds. In 2007, he and his partner, Sarah Kleeger, took their savings and headed to Europe for the winter with the goal of finding and trading rare seeds. They met with farmers and attended seed swaps, returning with over 800 varieties, including the Pancho leek from England, a beautiful blue-green leek that grows quickly.
In the years since, they’ve tested those varieties for climate compatibility, flavor and more, while continuing to expand and refine their collection. “After a couple years of doing that, we realized we had to start a seed company just to get rid of all the seed we had accumulated,” jokes Still. He and Kleeger founded Adaptive Seeds on their 10-acre farm in Sweet Home, Oregon, in 2010. They grow some produce to sell at local farmers’ markets, but the majority is grown just for seed, which is saved, sold at local shops, through an annual catalog and at adaptiveseeds.com. “It’s our goal to re-diversify agricultural production and gardens in general,” says Still.
Kleeger and Still focus on heritage and open-pollinated seed varieties suited to the Pacific Northwest. Open pollination is the key. It means plants are pollinated by insects or other natural mechanisms, allowing plants to slowly adapt to local climate. It also means you can save—and grow—the seeds from each generation of plant, a necessity for maintaining crop diversity. In contrast, you can’t grow the seeds produced from hybrid plants you see in many catalogs. The hope is that by spreading these seeds they’ll be saving foods like the Lower Salmon River Squash, a light pink squash with incredibly sweet flesh that’s in danger of extinction. The duo has helped nominate this squash to be added to Slow Food’s Ark of Taste, a way to raise its profile and hopefully ensure its survival.