By Suzannah Schneider, Communications Manager and Certification Coordinator
It may be January, but June is never far from Certified Naturally Grown farmers' minds! Seed catalogs arrive in mailboxes this time of the year with an anticipated thud, each glossy booklet brimming with jewel-toned possibilities for the growing season ahead.
Harris Seeds Organic's catalog doesn't disappoint (just look at that constellation!), and we're proud to announce that they were among some of the first companies to sign on as a Business Ally of Certified Naturally Grown!
In this month of seed dreaming and crop plan scheming, we interviewed Brand Manager Daniel Eggert about how his work with Harris Seeds Organic supports the nationwide community of CNG growers.
Certified Naturally Grown (CNG): How did Harris Seeds Organic get started?
Daniel Eggert (DE): Harris Seeds was founded back in 1879 by Joseph Harris. Harris Seeds has been certified to handle organic seeds since the passing of the Organic Foods Production Act (OFPA) in 2002.
Prior to 2015, the company had a very limited selection of organic seeds, and mostly offered untreated seeds to organic and sustainable growers. After a change in management in 2016, a new president came in who wanted to have an entire line of organic seeds. At the same time, I was coming back from Australia where I WWOOF’ed on organic farms and homesteads. I had been working in the Harris Seeds call center before I left, and had planned on coming back in the same role.
Instead, the team asked me to take over as Organic Brand Manager and create the Harris Seeds Organic Brand! Since then, we've tripled the organic seed sales year after year, while creating a robust product offering that ensures success for small and medium-sized farms.
CNG: What are Harris Seeds Organic's core values?
DE: Harris Seeds Organic provides high quality organic and untreated seeds that have been proven all over the country for direct-market growers.
Whether it's uniform and productive hybrids, tried and true heirlooms, or funky and unique open pollinated varieties, Harris Seeds Organic provides small to medium size growers with successful cultivars that are sure to sell at farm stands, CSAs, and farmers markets.
- Our NY State-certified germination lab ensures that every seed we source and sell has been proven to meet our rigorous requirements. In fact, Harris Seeds was the very first company in America to test for good seed germination and print the results on every package of seed sold!
- Our passion is to strengthen sustainable agriculture to help alleviate food deserts around the world. We do this by donating and partnering with 1% For The Planet businesses, selling organic seeds that are proven to grow even in adverse conditions, and providing expertise and knowledge for the next generation of growers who hold our world's health in their hands.
- A lot of the problems we face as a civilization stem from agriculture. Climate change, food deserts, food waste, obesity, and diabetes - they all have a resolution through adjusting our food system with more sustainable practices.
CNG: How did you make the decision to support CNG as a Business Ally?
DE: It was a no-brainer to partner with Certified Naturally Grown!
CNG offers an option for growers who are passionate about growing sustainably but may not have the means or time to participate in the National Organic Program. Plus, the inspection process ensures that everyone within the program has a stake in the organization and acts with integrity.
Above all, Certified Naturally Grown allows the grower to market the hard work that goes into food produced without GMOs or synthetic chemicals.
CNG: How does Certified Naturally Grown support Harris Seeds Organic customers?
DE: CNG provides our customers with a marketable stamp of approval that really creates extra value for the produce they grow from the seed they buy. If CNG didn’t exist, these growers might get pushed out by the pseudo “natural growers” who are not following organic practices.
Now that's a leek!
CNG: What are some exciting developments at Harris Seeds Organic our CNG community can look forward to in 2019 and beyond?
DE: We are working on more organic seed productions for 2019 and will hope to introduce some new breeding lines of unique and productive vegetables. We are conducting research on marketable yields of popular crops. We are also working with breeders on disease resistance in cultivars.
Plus, we're 1% For The Planet members, so we contribute a portion of every order to support nonprofit organizations like Certified Naturally Grown. We are also partnering with Rodale Institute to help support their Agriculture Supporting Communities program.
CNG: I know it's like choosing a favorite child, but what is your favorite Harris Seeds Organic variety?
DE: So tough! If I had to answer, I say both Double Red Sweet Corn and Stocky Red Roaster Peppers.I picked Double Red Sweet Corn because it was bred and cultivated by one of my favorite breeders and the father of organic seeds, Dr. Alan “Mushroom” Kapuler. How many people can say they have eaten a fresh ear of red sweet corn?! The color is fantastic, it is high in nutrients, and is very versatile. Eat it fresh like sweet corn, let it dry and grind it into flour to make tortillas (hello, veggie tacos!), or feed it to the chickens to supplement their diet.
My other choice is the Stocky Red Roaster pepper and was bred by Frank Morton. He is another one of my favorite breeders. It is a phenomenally uniform open pollinated pepper that yields like a hybrid, with thick walls and sweet flavor. I've never grown any pepper this productive and easy to manage!
CNG: If you had a magic agricultural wand, how would you use it to improve farm systems in America?
DE: If only!
However, I don’t think we need a magic wand to improve farm systems in America. We just need a better understanding of soil health and management. Healthy soil creates:
- Higher yields
- More nutritious crops
- Greater ability for a plant to withstand pests and disease
- Higher carbon sequestration
- A better future for the next generation of farmers
In fact, I am currently in a training program with The American Farmland Trust that helps farmers better understand soil health.
CNG: Is there anything else CNG growers should know?
DE: I think I've ranted enough!
CNG is fulfilling a need for so many small growers. Thank you for being our Business Ally!