Sarah Kleeger & Andrew Still, Adaptive Seeds
The Farm: 30 acre property about 40 miles Northeast of Eugene, cultivate 3-5 acres annually
What They Seed:
Seeds for rare and diverse open-pollinated vegetables, flowers, herbs and grains. Adaptive Seeds focuses on unique varieties that are well-suited to northern, short-season areas and are especially passionate about increasing access to certified organic seed for varieties that will perform well for small-scale market growers and homesteads. All of their seed is grown by them or a few regional friends who help with isolation needs. If they didn’t grow it, they say who did in the variety description.
Where You Can Find Them:
Retail: Naomi’s Organic Farm Supply (Portland), First Alternative Co-op (Corvallis), Down to Earth (Eugene), New Frontier (Eugene), Green Life Gardening (La Pine), Eastside Urban Farm and Garden (Olympia, WA)
Online: www.adaptiveseeds.com & www.seedambassadors.org
Wholesale: Larger seed packets can be purchased online
Catalog: available on request online
Andrew Still and Sarah Kleeger, founders and owners of Adaptive Seeds, pursued college degrees in their home state of California before starting to work on organic farms. In 2004 they moved to Oregon to continue their pursuit of small-scale organic farming. Over the winter of 2006/2007, they took their life savings and traveled to nine countries in Northern and Eastern Europe to share and collect seeds through “The Seed Ambassadors Project.” The Seed Ambassadors Project (SAP) began as a small group of Oregon-based seed stewards “with the principal goal to increase the diversity of locally adapted varieties in our bioregion & disseminate this resource in order to further local food system durability worldwide.” Adaptive Seeds naturally evolved out of SAP as Andrew and Sarah found themselves seeking more ways for their seeds to reach people. The seeds collected on that trip also became the foundation for Adaptive Seeds.
When they returned from their first Seed Ambassadors trip, Andrew and Sarah began growing some of the 800+ varieties they had collected. Through this process they were able to evaluate the seeds and see which ones worked best for their land and their tastes. They saved the seeds on the best varieties and sent out those seeds through the Seed Savers Exchange, but distributing the remaining seeds was difficult. It was important to Andrew and Sarah to get those unique seeds into the hands and gardens of more people, and realized a seed company would be the best way to achieve just that. This led to establishing Adaptive Seeds in early 2009, basically to be a more efficient seed distribution channel.
Then Sarah and Andrew decided they were ready to start their own farm. Almost immediately after their search began, they answered a ‘farmers wanted’ ad on a local list-serve and moved in just a few months later. The owners of the property not only provided the land but also the start-up capital to purchase equipment. “We feel incredibly lucky to have found this space and cannot imagine where we would be without their support.”
Originally they were inspired to produce staple crops for local consumption. “We thought there were already enough amazing veg growers supplying food locally, but small grains and dry beans were lacking, so that’s where we started. We were also excited to provide produce in the winter.” At a time when most farmers took winters off, they had a winter CSA with 60+ families. “Basically, we wanted to fill in what we saw as gaps in the local food scene.”
While they first thought that there were about 20 farmable acres to the property, they soon learned that only about half of the land was really usable – the soil was heavy and had poor drainage. “So after a few seasons of struggling with staple crops, in 2013 we decided to focus on the seedy side of things.”
“When we started the farm in 2009, Adaptive Seeds was a hobby, side-business if you will. We never thought we would be making a living from this.” Now they have two additional employees and are financially viable. They’re currently scaling up production to be able to offer more varieties in farmer-sized quantities, to make the biggest impact on the food system.
The farm has been Certified Organic by Oregon Tilth since early summer 2013. Since then all seeds that have been grown at Adaptive Seeds are certified organic. “In the fall of 2015, we added the Handler’s scope to our organic certification, enabling us to sell seed lots purchased from certified organic growers as certified organic seed.This means that now over 85% of our catalog is certified organic! The number of certified varieties in our catalog will only increase each year & we hope to become 100% certified organic in the next few years.”
Currently, they are trying to increase their efficiency in processing seeds; this is increasingly important as production and the business grows and has a larger impact on the community.
Advice to New Farmers:
Andrew and Sarah share the advice that was given to them by one of their first mentors: “Make sure you have a business plan and know how you’re going to sell what you grow. Anyone can grow a carrot, but can you sell it?”
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