Jere and Emilee Gettle have turned the grass-roots practice of raising heirloom vegetable seed into what passes for big business in the back-to-basics world. Their Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Company, founded in 1998 when Jere was 17, has expanded to become something of a green giant, with a seed catalog distributed to over 300,000 gardeners, a tourist-friendly, old-time village in the Ozarks; and other seed-outlet properties in Petaluma, CA and Wethersfield, CT.
The Gettle’s publish a quarterly magazine, Heirloom Gardener, hold garden festivals, supply free heirloom seed to third world countries and are active in the anti-GMO (genetically modified organism) movement. While their image focuses on nostalgia right down to overalls, bonnets and horse-drawn manure spreaders, their business model is cutting edge, appealing to health-conscious, environmental, anti-corporate, locavore and sustainability cultures.
This first book in a planned series is not only an exceptional vegetable gardening primer but a glimpse into the obsession that has sent Jere around the world looking for unique and hardy vegetables. His plainly-written, common-sense lessons in gardening and tending of individual crops from amaranth to watermelon will entice gardeners to consider heirlooms beyond the tomato. Contrary to good business practice, he gives detailed instructions on harvesting and saving one’s own seed, the practice at the very root of heirloom culture.
Visual bonus: The Heirloom Life Gardener is generously decorated with photos of Yugoslavian finger fruit, Chinese lantern ground cherries, cosmic purple carrots and weird, warty squash bigger than your dog. Put that in your still life!