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Ozarks Family Nurtures Heirloom Seed Heritage

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Debbie Gettle
Mother of Baker Creek Seed founder Jere Gettle

The aroma of freshly baked cinnamon rolls and yeast bread loaves filled the air at the Baker Creek Flour Mill when our family stopped by for a visit.  Debbie Gettle was behind the counter where she’s well-known for her baked goods.  “It’s an old, natural way of life,” she answered when I asked what she thinks of renewed societal interest in simple living, “we think we ought to get back to some of that.”
Debbie and husband Jim raised their family to farm and garden, first in the Northwestern US, then in South-Central Missouri’s Ozark hills.  Their children learned to help at an early age.  Debbie said her husband inspired the entire family to get involved, “Jim had a way of making it kind of fun.  Jere was particularly taken by it.”
Little Jere went from gardening as a toddler to seed trading as a teenager, eventually turning his hobby into a family and community business known as Baker Creek Seed. Jere Gettle shared, “I started wanting to be part of a seed company back as early as I can remember.  When I was a small child I would look through Gurney’s and Henry Field’s and other seed catalogs and dream about working at a seed company when I was like 4 and 5.  From then on out I knew that I always wanted to be somehow involved with a seed company.”  His interest shows in the museum-like display of vintage seed catalogs.  Even more so, he shares his enthusiasm with the public through trial and display gardens — with a new one under construction that should be done in time for May’s Spring Planting Festival.
Historical Seed Catalog Display at Baker Creek Seeds

The Gettle family has gone from growing most of its own vegetables to being able to travel the world in search of rare seeds.  In today’s catalog, you can find “Black Seeded Ice Cream” watermelon that would have sold via the 1927 Henry Field’s catalog, Kerala Red amaranth from India, and Turkish Striped Monastery tomatoes from outside Istanbul.  Then there are heirlooms saved from the Ozarks and other distinctive US regions.  Gettle elaborated, “Any mountainous area, the Ozark region has a lot of different heirlooms, the Appalachian mountains, but everywhere used to have their own varieties that were grown and passed down and different cultures brought varieties here and other places. It’s just fascinating traveling and having people bring stuff even into the store here and tell the story of the seed that was brought in. So it’s always exciting to hear the stories and learning the histories of the seeds.”  Both the old-fashioned printed catalog and its online counterpart are a joy to read…just to learn the stories behind the seeds.
Jere Gettle
Founder of Baker Creek Seed
We asked Gettle why families getting into gardening should seek out heirloom seeds from small and regional seed companies like Baker Creek.  He responded with enthusiasm, “One thing is just the flavor.  The different old varieties, if you buy from one of the smaller seed companies or even get seeds from your neighbor, if you just talk around your town you can find people to trade with as well.  The importance is the flavor.  The nutritional value is almost always higher; the few studies that have been done have shown that.  You’re passing on and preserving history. It’s really exciting to be able to pass on something that might have been in your family or that might have been in your town or country.  And bringing varieties back and reeducating people about the seeds. Having the ability to save your own seed each year, you don’t have to worry about where your seed comes from unless you want to.  If you want to buy seed every year you can, but you always have the ability to save your own.”

The annual Baker Creek Seed catalog has become not only a primer on heirloom seed varieties and a storybook of sorts, but a family album now featuring Gettle with his wife Emilee and growing daughter Sasha.  Learn more about the Spring Planting Festival coming up May 5 and 6 in Mansfield, Missouri at RareSeeds.com.

 Tomorrow:  more sights from a family visit to Bakersville…

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