When we say leave your mark we mean two things: first, it’s an invitation to use your Rustico item and watch as your new leather keepsake develops unique marks over time. Next, we invite you to leave a positive mark on the world and people around you.
And that’s exactly what a Rustico Mark Maker is: Someone who has defined their purpose, pursues it, and makes an impact on the lives around them. Our Mark Makers have been individuals, groups of people, and even brands. We’d like to introduce our newest Mark Makers, the Seed Geeks. They’re a fun, passionate couple from Missouri who have set their sights on clean eating, raising awareness about what’s in our produce, advocating for conserving seed history, and living an overall sustainable life.
Can you tell us a little about Seed Geek's history and mission?
Our main focus is that we are an heirloom seed company. Basically, we're family owned and our mission is to promote seed saving and sustainability and to really preserve the different varieties, the heritage varieties, of seeds. We got started and our first date was back in 2009 with the documentary, Food Inc. which was a life-changing event for us. We really started looking into where our food was coming from and what was being used in food production. So we basically decided to start a garden. My partner, Marc, and I got ambitious and we don’t really like to start things small, it’s either go big or go home and we don’t like to go home. We converted our whole backyard which is just under an acre.
Can you share a little bit behind the name, Seed Geeks?
Yeah, that’s kind of a funny one and well, first of all, it took us two years to figure out what to call ourselves. So my husband and I both come from a tech background. He was actually in network security and had been out in Silicon Valley before moving to the Midwest. He previously worked at Oracle and at Stanford. I was doing web development, coding, and project management and was working for a dot com startup here in the Midwest for the last eight years. So being out here now we’ve basically spent a lot of time disconnected and out in nature. We used to be heavily involved with computers, especially during the dot com boom. So that background of ours led to the name Seed Geeks. We wanted this new endeavor to be about living a more balanced life and bringing in technology as a way to help the world of agriculture.
For instance, our urban farm in the city has an irrigation system set up on trip lines with a timer and that irrigation system is actually hooked up to the National Weather Service so if it’s predicted to rain, it won’t water and it just knows that automatically. Little things like that such as automated technology brings all of those helpful things from technology making our process easier, but more intentional. We love to bring technology in where it fits. So the name was a mutual decision between my husband and I and we both thought it fit what we wanted to do really well.
Are the two of you originally from Missouri?
We are. Both of us were born and raised in Missouri and as I said, my husband moved away and escaped to California for a while, but you know everyone comes back to the Midwest. 😉
Can you elaborate on the term heirloom seeds?
Yeah, sure, so heirloom seeds are seeds that are open-pollinated, which means they’ve been handed down for fifteen or more generations. So basically an open-pollinated seed is a seed just very simply that's pollinated by wind or in a pack. This means it's pollinated naturally if you have an open-pollinated seed and it's not grown next to a seed or in close proximity to a plant with the same species, it could cross and basically, that seed will grow true-to-type and you can save it and grow it the next year. That's the reason that heirloom seeds or open-pollinated seeds are important is that they are the only seeds that you can save and grow the same thing next year. So those seeds get handed down generation after generation so the tomato that you might be growing today could be from one that your great-great-grandparents once grew hundreds of years ago since they could have had that same variety then. So it comes with all that culture and all that history, and these seeds have built up a resilience since it’s been grown in so many different places and by so many different people. That’s why we focus on them - because they are more sustainable. When you get into seeds, there are basically heirloom seeds and there are hybrid and genetically modified seeds. Those are the three varieties. But all of ours are open-pollinated so you can save them and pass them down generation to generation.
How does one tell if a seed is open-pollinated or GMO?
Well, you’re mostly just relying on the seed source, whether that’s the seed company or the person you’re getting them from. Typically, when you’re looking at a seed catalog, you’ll either see just the variety name and it might say heirloom next to it, or it might have the letter “OP” which mean open-pollinated or it might have a name like “S1 Hybrid” which means it’s the first generation of the hybrid. A hybrid is basically just when breeders go in and they take one particular tomato and they breed it with another particular tomato and that combination creates a very specific tomato. But if you save the seeds from that hybrid, the characteristics are going to be more like one or the other parent - it won't necessarily be like the one you’ve just saved.
On your site it says, “since the 1900s, 75% of the world's edible plant genetic diversity has been irreversibly lost. In the U.S. this figure is a staggering 95%. Once a seed variety is lost, it is lost forever,” Can you talk more on that?
There used to be so many varieties of any of these edible fruits we like to consume, but over time somewhere along the line either a parent didn’t hand them down or we weren’t aware of them. What’s happened over the past 15 years or so is that some varieties get selected by grocery or by larger industries for their ability to ship or their ability to store longer or their color or perfect shape. So these are the ones that have been saved and keep being grown over and over again. Meanwhile, you’ve got some of these amazing open-pollinated heirloom varieties that are not necessarily as resilient, and if you try to shift them from California to Minnesota, they're probably going to get banged up and not be in very good shape by the time they get to Illinois. They’re just not bred for that. By choices that we’ve made in the food industry, a lot of these varieties have been forgotten about. So when we talk about one-set seed variety, what’s happening is that no one knows what that variety is anymore and no one knows how to source seed for it. Nobody’s growing it anymore and it’s not in circulation or production. It’s sad because there used to be so many varieties of say apples for example and now you go to the store and you see maybe four or five for sale.
Take the carrot, too. All the carrots in the store are orange and we have a mental image of what a carrot should look like. But did you know the first carrots were actually purple? The reason for that was because they were so much higher in certain antioxidants that gave them that color. But over time we collected the variety that was orange and decided to pass those down and that’s what we have today.
Can we help preserve the seed history and the genetic diversity in different seeds?
Absolutely! I think you can preserve them whether you're a gardener or not. Obviously growing heirloom varieties, saving those seeds, telling your kids about them, and getting your kids involved in gardening if you have that opportunity. Also, just supporting your local farmers, going to local farmer's market, and asking them about it because that's where you're going to find a lot of those really unique varieties. There's a lot of people who are growing those and you'll find things that you've never seen before. You'll have flavors that you've never experienced before and it’s going to seem so much fresher than what you're going to get at the grocery store nine times out of ten. Obviously, if you have the ability or the desire to grow it yourself, that's clearly an excellent choice but, even if you can't do that yourself, we all have the opportunity to vote with our dollar and to kind of keep the varieties alive by what we choose to purchase and consume.
We saw that you grow flowers and herbs. Has that always been something you wanted to do or was it something that you wanted to do as you grew?
It’s a big part of it. It’s part of having a balanced building space. When we first started, it was only on edibles. And I think a lot of people do that when they're home gardening and they only have X amount of space. You know, if they're really focused on growing food, they're like, “Well I don't want to put a bunch of flowers in here.” I think what we found, at least when we were doing the urban farm, and the larger scale farm is that all of these flowers helped bring in all of the beneficial bugs and bees for pollination. Not just honey bees either. We’re beekeepers as well and we keep honey bees and it’s obviously a concern for us to have a lot of natural sources for the bees to gravitate to.
So everything we do with our growing is certified organic. Everything we’ve done has been without pesticides So bringing in new and beneficial bugs was important and we had to integrate a pest management system to bring in the good bugs that we wanted around.
What is responsible seed stewardship?
It’s making sure, to the best of our ability, that we are preserving seeds and these open-pollinated varieties that we talked about. Protecting them from getting lost. It’s tough to look through a seed catalog from a company you've purchased from for years and you look one year and it’s not available anymore and it’s because someone stopped buying it. So even with seed companies, even though they follow market trends, there are times where you can't find the seeds you used to buy. Without realizing it, they might not be meeting the needs of their clients.
Seems like you guys do it all! We read you have chickens on site as well.
We do a lot of it. We do canning and all sorts of things as well. We found that, once we started, we wanted to do a lot of things. As we’ve started and been able to save ourselves some time in some areas we’ve made room for other things we wanted to do. It’s a lifestyle and we’ve found that all of these things really tie into each other. The chickens help take care of food waste which turns into compost and that lends itself to sustainability. It’s a lot of work to keep up with everything, but we find it very rewarding.
What advice do you have for those who want to learn more about organic seeding and want to do more to live a sustainable lifestyle?
If we’re talking about gardening and you want to grow your own food and things like that, then just experiment. It doesn’t have to be perfect. I think especially when it comes to sustainability that people can get overwhelmed like “My food is this and my water is this and there are toxins bombarding me all the time." It’s not about doing everything 100%, but it’s about trying to be better and better. Any little bit you can make is an impact. It might simply be attending the farmer’s market and sourcing your food more locally. All those little things start to add up. So experiment with one thing at a time and don’t overwhelm yourself.
So, in the small amounts of time you find yourself not working, what do you enjoy doing for fun?
Well, like I said, this is kind of a lifestyle and I know it sounds so cliche and I don’t want to even say it, but we love what we do and we do it for fun as well. Part of my “fun of the work” is soap making. I find a lot of room for creativity in the soap-making process. Mike’s big project at the moment is getting us a system for solar out at the farm and that’s totally fun for him. He gets to geek out and do all the research for that and check out solar panels and see how it all works. Beyond that, we really just like to relax when we can and be on the farm enjoying the quiet. Of course, I find the farmer’s markets to be tons of fun. I will hate the day I don’t get to do some of them myself. I also like to read a lot. It calms me. I read a lot of self-development books and things like that so I find that enjoyable also.
Do you have any upcoming projects that you’re excited about?
Oh yes! It’s a huge project and it’s been going on for a while. So two years ago we purchased 48 acres of land about an hour outside of the city and we’ve been in a transition to moving out there. Now things are starting to move. There’s a quote that says something to the effect of "give me five hours to chop down a tree and I’ll spend the first four hours sharpening my axe.” Well, we’ve basically spent the last two years sharpening our axe, so to speak. With this property we purchased, there’s no water, no utilities, no roads, no nothing. It’s been challenging to get it going, but things are really starting to move right now. Our big project is building out this farm and we plan to break ground for a building there this summer. It’s going to allow us to grow more seeds and it will help in our organic certification. It’s a major game changer for sure.
For those reading this blog, or those who come across your site, what do you hope they take away?
I hope that people are inspired to make any little change to live more sustainably or even just to have more awareness of where their food comes from or where seeds come from and why that’s important. I just hope that people leave inspired.
We're inspired by Angela and Marc’s story, their commitment to preserving seeds, and sustainable farming. You can learn more about them here and be sure to follow them on social media. We’re always on the lookout for future Rustico Mark Makers, so if you have a story you think we should follow up on, contact us here.