"Jere" Gettle began Baker Creek Seed Company when he was only
17. Today, at 24, he owns one of the largest heirloom seed companies
in the nation and travels the globe collecting seeds and speaking
with other gardeners.
always had two passions — gardening and collecting.
Growing up on a Montana ranch, Jereremiath, known as “Jere” to
friends, planted squash and tomatoes and collected all sorts of trinkets,
including coins, stamps and seeds.
through an issue of Sunset magazine one day, young Jere came across
an article about a variety of seeds called “heirlooms.” The
different colors and rich history of the seeds were fascinating.
Next to the article was a seed catalog order form, which he immediately
filled out. Before long, Jere had ordered everything in the catalog.
He began branching out with his newfound interest and learned more
from Seed Savers. While other children his age were swapping baseball
cards, Jere was designing seed catalogs and selling heirloom seeds
at swap meets.
At only 17, Jere
launched his own venture, Baker Creek Seed Company, near Mansfield.
He produced a catalog filled with a wide selection of heirloom seeds
and colorful pictures. Over the next seven years, the company continued
to expand as business increased and Jere’s seed collection
grew. Today, the business has become one of the nation’s leaders
in heirloom seed sales.
it was just a hobby that turned into a business, ” Jere
In addition to his mail order and internet sales business, Jere
publishes a magazine, The Heirloom Gardener.
Baker Creek Seed
Company now sends out 60,000 catalogs each year and sells to some
of the world’s top chefs and businesses, including
Disney World. He now lists the world’s largest selection
of heirloom melons and 115 kinds of tomatoes. The company hosts
two annual festivals that attract thousands to its store at the
end of a dirt road. In addition to the catalog, Jere produces a
seasonal magazine, The Heirloom Gardener. He also spends
several months each year traveling to find additional types of
So, what’s so special about an heirloom seed?
an heirloom seed is one that has been passed down through families
and is usually considered over 50 years old,” says the Se-Ma-No
Electric Cooperative member. “Some varieties even date back
to Thomas Jefferson’s
garden and beyond.”
Heirlooms are different
than more commercially popular hybrid and gene-altered seeds in a
number of ways. Unlike other seeds, heirlooms can be saved each year,
so they can be passed down from generation to generation. In fact,
how many of them survived over time. Also, heirloom varieties are often
more colorful than their hybrid counterparts and have more nutritional
value. Finally, most heirloom fruits, vegetables and herbs taste better.
instance, there’s the Cherokee purple tomato — Baker
best-selling tomato. The fruit is dark red with streaks of purple.
As Jere describes it, the taste is “really sweet and really
tart at the same time,” nothing
like the average tomato. The tomato was originally developed by Cherokee
Indians and given to a Tennessee family during the 1880s, which
passed it down.
the Tigger melon. Although it’s
not the best-tasting melon, the appearance is unlike anything
else. The 1-pound fruit is vibrant yellow with bright red zigzag
stripes. The heirloom came from an Armenian market located in a mountain
combination of heritage, appearance, taste and nutrition that have
attracted scores of other people to heirlooms.
|Jere displays one of the unusual vegetables that can be grown
from heirloom seeds.
like people everywhere have suddenly had an interest in heirloom
Jere. “Once people taste the varieties, they usually
get into it big-time. The next year, they’re wanting
to grow more than they can handle because of the flavor and
the color, the different shapes and sizes, and the history.”
the past, heirloom seeds have been more popular in other
regions of the world, including Italy, Mexico and Thailand. The West
Coast has also been using heirlooms for the past 30 years,
Jere says. But he believes the trend is now catching on closer
the Midwest, we tend to be more like ham and potatoes, and everything
has to look just this certain way,” he says. “But it’s
changing here. Even in the last five years we went from people in
Missouri not even knowing what heirloom meant to people
off the street calling up and asking about heirlooms.”
are now festivals and conferences all over the planet where farmers,
gardeners and chefs gather to talk about heirlooms. Jere spends
many weeks each year attending these events.
This year, the
Ozarks will also be full of thousands of gardeners during Baker Creek’s
two annual festivals. On April 24 and 25, Jere will host the 5th
Annual Spring Planting Festival & Heirloom Growers Conference.
Then on Aug. 14 and 15, Baker Creek will again host heirloom fanatics
during the Heirloom Garden Show. Admission is only $2 and Baker
Creek offers free tent and RV camping during the festivals.
year, 2,600 visitors from 23 states attended the spring event.
More than 50 vendors in booths sold plants, books, food, herbal
soaps, honey, garden sculptures, herbs, garden tools and other
products. Musicians played bluegrass, cowboy and mountain music
while artists demonstrated old-time crafts and foods.
An employee of the Baker Creek Seed Store gathers packages of
seeds to fill a mail order.
festivals, visitors crowd into “The Big Barn” that
sits near the seed store, which Jere built specifically
for workshops and lectures. In the barn, they can learn from the
nation’s top garden speakers including
Amy Goldman, the vice president of the Seed Savers
Exchange — the group
that first taught Jere much of what he knows about
seeds. Lectures include topics such as vegetable history, seed
saving, market gardening, organic pest control and much more.
all the festival activities, Jere’s favorite part is meeting
new people. Many of Baker Seed’s visitors are from other
countries and come to the store looking for a link to their native
lands. While traveling to foreign countries like Cambodia and
Thailand, Jere meets a wide array of people in the villages that
dot the countries’ mountains and valleys. Somehow, heirloom
seeds have a way of providing a connection with collectors’ ancestors
and fellow citizens.
a connection to the past, and it connects you to different
people groups,” he says. “The main
thing I like to do is raise ethnic-type vegetables
because many of them are endangered and it’s
fun to get the different cultures growing them
again. It’s great when people first get
to America and find something from home or
something they remember their grandma growing,
amazed it would be here.”
connection — the moment when people realize
the significance of a mere seed — that
makes collecting heirlooms more than a hobby.
For directions and information or to request a seed catalog, call
(417) 924-8917. Or, visit Baker Creek Seed Company online at www.rareseeds.com.