By Makiah Josephson, Slow Food USA Communications Coordinator
This Great Lakes farm achieves seed innovations for northern climates!
Nature and Nurture Seeds is a certified organic farm-based company offering heirloom vegetable, flower and herb seeds. This Southeast Michigan-based company has a vibrant community that tends the Earth and believes in healthy food for all. They provide nourishing seeds to help people connect and get inspired — including by generously donating seeds for 400 Plant a Seed kits we sent for free to school and community gardens! Mike and Erica from Nature and Nurture Seeds shared with the Slow Food USA team the story of their seeds and their plans for the future.
How did you get into growing seeds?
We were inspired by Dr. John Navazio in 2001 to start breeding tomatoes after learning that our favorite variety was a hybrid that might become unavailable due to the trade secrets that large seed corporations keep. It opened up a whole new world of seeds for us and inspired us to research and grow seeds that have been traditionally grown in the Great Lakes Bioregion. We also saw the need for more regional seeds, community seed projects and seed companies due to too much consolidation in the industry.
How did your business start?
We started out in 2001 as an organic landscape gardening service in Ann Arbor, MI. We recognized the demand in our community for a gardening service that used organic methods, was based on ecological principles and provided home vegetable and fruit gardens. We also grow organic shiitake mushrooms and have an edible plant fruit nursery. We always had a passion for farming and gardening and had a long-time dream of farming. In 2013, we started Nature & Nurture Seeds and acquired 80 acres just outside of town and moved our whole operation there.
What’s your connection to the seeds you grow?
We like to offer varieties of seed that have stories we can share and have cultural significance to the area. All of our seeds are heirloom or open-pollinated, all of them are grown using organic methods, and many of them are certified organic. We also trial and taste hundreds of varieties each year, sharing our love of food and seed diversity with farm interns.
What’s the story behind some of the seeds you provided for Plant a Seed school and community garden kits?
Dazzling Blue Kale
Seed grower and breeder Frank Morton (from Wild Garden Seeds) was very unhappy with the productivity and lack of cold-hardiness of most of the strains of Lacinato kale strains available to him in the U.S. So Frank acquired Lacinato seeds from as many sources as possible and conducted a large trial comparing them for productivity. He chose the most productive strains and began breeding them for cold-hardiness and various colors by crossing Lacinato with Redbor kale and selecting the offspring for desirable traits. Hank Keogh (part of the Wild Garden Seeds team) did some additional crossing and selections to create Dazzling Blue – a Lacinato type of kale with pink veins in the leaves which contrasts beautifully with the blueish color of the leaves. Dazzling Blue is incredibly tender, tasty, productive and cold-hardy kale!
Ole Timey Blue Collard
Collards are remarkably heat and cold tolerant. One spring planting may feed you for a whole year! Ralph Blackwell’s family, of Alabama, has been growing Ole Timey Blue collards for over 100 years. His mother used it to make a dish similar to sauerkraut. The plant is gorgeous — leaves are blueish with striking pink/purple veins. We love the flavor of Ole Timey Blue, especially during cool weather when the flavor is especially sweet and tender. Collard greens highlight the connection between human and plant history. Collards originated in temperate Eurasia and were brought during colonialism to West Africa, where food traditions are rich with wild and cultivated greens.
What are your business goals and plans for the future?
Let’s face it, making a living farming is very hard! Like most farmers, we have struggled to make it work financially. We are currently diversifying our income stream as well as trying to grow our seed company in order to achieve economies of scale so that we can continue this good work!
Erica is super excited about a collaborative tomato breeding project that she has been working on with folks at UW Madison, the Organic Seed Alliance, and Seedlinked with the goal of breeding open source, open-pollinated heirloom tomatoes that are adapted to the upper Midwest. Erica originally crossed Blush tomato X Juliet tomato which created a wide diversity of offspring from yellow, pink, red and striped in shapes from cherry to oval. Over the past several years, the offspring seeds from this cross have gone out to tens of farms and gardens across the Midwest to select the best tasting and most productive tomatoes for the breeding project. This year we will be making final selections and Erica is super pumped to be growing out the best of the best this year. If you want to taste these tomatoes, come on out to our tomato tasting at our Harvest Festival in August!