Vibrant Living: Healthy Soils, Seeds, Food, and People
Doctor Prepper interviews Stephen Scott, Owner of Terroir Seeds, LLC, the home of The Underwood Gardens.
In addition to being a soil-building advocate, Stephen is an Heirloom Seedsman, amateur chef, artist and co-owner of Terroir Seeds. With his wife Cindy, Stephen has been involved in the family business and seed activities for more than 20 years. Their heirloom seed company focuses on the “Cycle of Terroir*“––from the soil, to the seed, to the food you eat; providing heirloom seeds, education and information for all phases of the cycle––and how they relate to and strengthen each other.
The Underwood Gardens location is at an elevation of 5,000 ft.––about the same as Denver CO, the nation’s highest elevation for a major city. Stephen mentioned that you can build the soil almost anywhere to support a garden for your family. There are literally thousands of specialty seeds in the inventories of seed banks and vaults. Typically, a good nursery can find a special seed for whatever condition of plant you want to plant and grow.
Stephen told how he started Underwood Gardens with heirloom and legacy seeds from a Chicago grower who had brought many of the varieties to the US from their European home. He related the story of how he selected the name Terroir Seeds for his company, and tells the story of the company’s journey from a store to a gardening center. He tells some of the experiences that brought them to Chino Valley.
Stephen explains how the expectations of prepping and gardening, can be related to learning how to drive a vehicle.
He also debunks some of the myths about seeds, seed saving, and the life of seeds. When you buy the correct kinds of seeds, you can save the seed from the crop and never buy seeds again. Stephen believes in a world of healthy soil, seed, food and people. Everyone has a fundamental need for vibrant food and health, which are interrelated. He suggests that we get started with what we have, learn more about how to raise a garden, and create a truly valuable skill that will feed you and your family well––no matter what the situation!
Heirloom seeds, heirloom vegetables and heirloom gardening are becoming increasingly popular today. Many people are turning or returning to home gardening for a variety of reasons, and heirloom seeds figure prominently. Some of these include an interest in fresh, local and healthy foods, others need to stretch the family food budget, some need additional exercise––preferably outdoors, and still others are searching for the lost flavors of the family garden when they were growing up.
All of this interest has created some confusion as to what an heirloom seed truly is. Some think that the term “heirloom” is the same as “organic”. Other folks think that anything that is not organic or heirloom means that it is GMO. To make matters worse, some larger seed companies sell both heirloom and hybrid seeds that are certified organic, further confusing the matter.
Here are a few definitions to help you better understand what an heirloom seed is compared to a hybrid or genetically-modified seed.
- An heirloom is anything of value (though not necessarily economic) to a person, family or group passed down from one generation to other. Examples are furniture, China, silver or seeds. An heirloom is generally considered something worth passing down. An heirloom seed, therefore, is seed from a plant that has been passed from one generation to another, carefully grown and saved because it is considered valuable. The value could lie in its flavor, productivity, hardiness or adaptability. Many heirlooms have been grown, saved and passed down for more than 100 years. Some have history reaching back 300 years or more. To have been saved and preserved for so long, these seed varieties have shown their value to many people and families for an extremely long time.
Most heirlooms have been saved and selected because they have the best flavor and production in home and small market gardens. We get the benefit of this long development cycle, as only the best producing, most flavorful, most memorable and most dependable varieties have made the selection throughout the years. Delicate, weak or fickle varieties are no longer with us.
- Open-pollinated is another term sometimes used interchangeably with heirloom. They do not mean the same thing, as an open pollinated seed is simply a variety where the seed can be harvested from the plant, saved, replanted, and the same variety will re grow year after year. This is how we have the heirloom varieties that we have today is because they are open-pollinated. All heirloom seeds are open-pollinated, but not all open pollinated seeds are heirloom, as there are new open pollinated varieties being introduced that are obviously not old enough to be considered heirlooms. An example of this is the Oregon Spring tomato developed by Dr. Baggett, Oregon State University through traditional plant breeding for early germination and productivity in the cool Oregon spring.
- Organic certification is the process of certifying a crop grown to a strict uniform set of standards. The certification process includes inspections of farm fields and processing facilities, detailed record keeping and periodic testing of soil and water to ensure that growers and handlers are meeting the standards which have been set. The USDA sets the standards, and the criteria for meeting those standards. The certifying agency such as Oregon Tilth, CCOF, QAI and OCAI verifies that the grower is meeting the standards set by the USDA. In short, “organic” means only that a crop was grown to a specific set of standards.
- A hybrid seed is produced by artificially cross pollinating two genetically different plants of the same species, such as two different tomatoes or two varieties of corn. The cross pollination is done by hand, and a seed that is saved will not grow true to either parent. Thus the farmer or gardener has no choice but to purchase new seed each year. Hybrids are typically bred for commercial use and profit to change the characteristic of the resulting plants, such as higher yield, greater uniformity, more even ripening, improved color and disease resistance. Flavor has only recently begun to be addressed when selecting characteristics for new hybrids.
Hybrids originated in the 1920s and 1930s for small local commercial growers who shipped their produce less than 50 miles to market, and needed more consistent production for a steady supply of fresh produce to the markets. Taste and freshness were still important than, as many people living in the city were recent transplants from the country, and still remembered what fresh produce tasted like. This is completely different from the hybrids of today with the selected characteristics that have resulted in the iconic colorful yet flavorless supermarket tomato that looks and tastes the same year ‘round.
- Genetically Modified Organisms or GMO seed have been altered using DNA from completely different species and organisms to give different traits such as resistance to herbicides and acceptance of chemical fertilizers. Some GMO corn, for instance, manufactures its own herbicide in its root structure. Some DNA donors have come from fish, frogs and bacteria. The major crops that are genetically modified are corn, cotton, soybeans and wheat. Sugar beets and alfalfa have recently been deregulated, and potatoes are being studied. Most common garden vegetables are not yet genetically modified simply because the financial return in the market is not present yet.
Two of the better known benefits of heirloom seed include adaptability and flavor. Some varieties of heirloom tomato have been known to adapt to a specific location within as little as 2 to 3 growing seasons, showing better vigor, better production, better flavor and increase disease resistance. This is a result of saving the seed and replanting it year to year. Many people come to heirlooms in search of flavors that they experienced as a child. One of the leading characteristics of heirloom varieties is defined by the depth of flavor that they produce. This single characteristic has been one of the major reasons for the preservation of specific varieties over great spans of time. This is probably one of the biggest reasons for the resurgence of heirlooms in home gardens in the past 10 years, as once people experience the amazing range and depths of flavors that heirlooms offer, they are hooked. Taste is once again becoming a viable characteristic in variety selection for the home garden instead of only production quantity, uniformity, and disease resistance.
People are celebrating the fact that taste trumps volume. It’s the classic quantity vs. quality conundrum, with quality making a comeback. Stephen and his wife Cindy work to achieve this by challenging conventional gardening practices, providing successful agricultural methods along with the finest heirloom seeds, all while inspiring the power of individual choice and action.
Both Stephen and Cindy are committed to work for a world where the food we grow is good for us, our health and our communities!
Watch these videos for more information:
- Heirloom Gardens From Seeds
- Benefits of Heirloom Seeds vs GMO Seeds Video
- The Tale of Two Seeds- Heirloom vs Hybrid Seed Production
- Home Seed Saving and Storage
*Terroir: noun, the specific conditions of soil and climate of a place where a food is grown that imparts unique and special qualities or characteristics to that food. Also known as the “sense or taste of place”. Origin: French: literally, ‘soil, land’.
James Talmage Stevens, Author
James Talmage Stevens (aka Doctor Prepper™) began his career in the preparedness industry from the days of his youth. His family lived with his Grandparents immediately following the end of WWII. He learned the basics on the Pace farm in rural Guilford County (NC). Farm chores and gardening were standard fare––plowing the back 40 behind a stubborn mule was substandard! In 1974, upon finishing graduate school with 4 young children and no prospects for a job due to economic conditions during a national economic slump, James reverted to his past experiences on the farm and chronicled in his notebook, along with some hand-me-down recipes from his mother and grandmother. Noting there were no viable books that dealt with all the basics, i.e.: a broad range of food products, he began to utilize his analytical skills, organizing handwritten notes, recipes, and food lore into one volume of information. He spent his spare time while job-hunting, and Making the Best of Basics was created. Before going to press, the subtitle Family Preparedness Handbook was added to distinguish Basics… from the emergency preparedness genre of the existing Civil Defense and governmental agency information.