New local source for heirloom seeds

With gardening as with other enterprises, it's wise to buy as many supplies as we can locally to keep tax dollars at home and support our communities. Besides boosting the local economy, it also makes good gardening sense.

A new opportunity for doing just this has recently presented itself.

John Fendley has entered the local scene with his Sustainable Seed Company. The appeal to us in Sonoma County is that he actually grows crops and produces seed right here for nearly half of what he offers for sale. And ninety percent of his seed is grown on the West Coast.

As he selects the best open-pollinated heirlooms for his business, he's also selecting varieties that will be fruitful and succeed in our own gardens.

Last year, he grew over 150 varieties of heirloom tomatoes on an organic vineyard in Forestville and saved the most outstanding varieties — those that demonstrate they're well adapted to cool, foggy nights.

"If they don't perform here," he says, "we eliminate them and save seed from only those that produce healthy Sonoma County hardy heirlooms."

Fendley doesn't import seed from other countries because he wants to sell heirlooms he knows are well adapted to our area here on the Pacific Coast. He also wants to follow in the tradition of earlier generations of Americans and American farmers who bought local — not just their food but their seeds as well.

Although his company is young, Fendley is working with the USDA seed bank and the Luther Burbank museum to obtain seeds from crops Burbank developed and information on varieties once proven to be well adapted to our area. Many of Burbank's seeds have been lost from circulation since his death in 1926.

"This year," Fendley says, "we were very excited to release Burbank Barley for the first time since 1933!" Eventually, he hopes to have enough seed for both retail and wholesale buyers.

Grains are only a minor crop Fendley is developing. He's producing more than 750 varieties of vegetables in addition to herbs, flowers, and cover crops — all beautifully represented in color photographs in his catalog along with peripherals such as garden supplies and educational materials.

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