Mike Dunton has farming in his blood. He can trace his roots to New England in the early 1620s and every generation has farmed, either exclusively or in conjunction with a trade. The Dunton Family Farm still truly is a family operation currently spanning 3 generations. In addition to the farm, they operate the Victory Seed Company, devoted to protecting open pollinated and heirloom seed varieties.
How long have you been farming? We purchased the farm from my Grandmother in 1988 so officially I have been a farmer for 26 years. For long time I worked off farm to keep the bills paid and buy down the mortgage. I was finally able to leave my high-tech corporate career to focus completely on developing the seed variety preservation work of the Victory Seed Company in 1999.
What do you produce? Open-pollinated, rare, heirloom (heritage) garden seeds. In particular, tomatoes have been a focus area for me personally for years, and beans and soybeans have been a close second.
Why did you get involved with CNG? I have been an organic gardener all of my life and I followed the grassroots organic movement. It just made good sense to be a part of.
What is special about your farm? My grandkids are the 6th generation to grow up here. In the late 1800s, my Great-great grandparents settled a couple of miles up the road from our farm. When my Great-grandpa married, he bought this piece of land to start his own farm. Working here I experience the results of their work on a continual basis and I feel blessed to have the opportunity to build on their work. I feel a deep sense of responsibility about my role as the current steward of the farm.
How did you choose your farm name? I can only claim responsibility for naming our seed company, and it comes from a couple of different reference points. The first being Victory Gardening during World War II. This was perhaps the final period in our country where vast numbers of people actively participated in their own food production cycle. The name is also in homage to my Great-grandparents, Victor Hugo Dunton (that's him driving the tractor), and his wife, Eda Vick Dunton. They are who built the house and started this, our family’s farm.
What was your most positive farming experience? When my son graduated from college and instead of choosing to head off into a career that took him farther away from the farm, he decided to work here permanently.
How do you include customers in your farming operation? I do not think of the folks that we supply as simply customers. They are much more than that. They are our gardening friends, our partners, our supporters. So, we include them by keeping in contact through email, blogs, newsletters, etc. Their feedback has determined how we do business, how the website is laid out, and when folks send in family heirlooms, they even help to determine what seeds we offer.
What unexpected customer interactions have been especially rewarding? When someone contacts us to help preserve an old heirloom that has been in their family for generations but fewer and fewer members are gardening so they might be the last. That is something that really makes my day.
What advice would you give to a farmer just starting out? Beside doing the farm work, you must consider that you are operating a business and that you have all of those complexities to handle. Be prepared to work and work hard. My typical work week consists of seven, 18 hour days. It is easy if you love what you do. It would literally be hell if you hated it.
Who are your heroes in the farming world? Thomas Jefferson is the first name that popped into my head followed immediately by Alexander W. Livingston. In the 19th century, A. W. Livingston was a famous developer of tomato varieties (see Livingston and the Tomato). When I first heard of him in the 1990s, it seemed he had been all but forgotten and his varieties all but lost. I created the “Seedsman Hall of Fame” and set to the task of rebuilding his tomato collection. Now fifteen years later, we are offering the most complete collection of his tomato introductions available anywhere. It is a labor of love and one example of the kind of preservation work we do.
Favorite vegetable – Since my trade involves vegetables, this is kind of like asking which is my favorite child. I may have one but I’ll never tell.
What's something you learned the hard way on the farm? Is there an easy way? Wish someone would let me know.
What would you be if you weren’t a farmer? Unhappy!
Favorite season? Why? Fall . . . It always has been my favorite. For me, you get that whole excitement from the changing of the seasons that spring brings, but in the fall, it is all about rhythms and routines. Harvest, canning and drying food to fill up the pantry, filling the woodshed with firewood, getting seed harvested and ready for the next year. The routine work allows for time to think, plan, ponder, and daydream.
What plans or hopes do you have for your farm in the future? My biggest dream is that the legacy of all of my ancestors will not stop with me. That our seed variety preservation work will continue after I am gone. That the farm will be preserved. That my grandkids will see the value of what this work provides to our world.
Connect with us through...
Our websites: www.VictorySeeds.com and www.DuntonFarms.com
Our Blog: www.VintageVeggies.com/blog
Our online horticultural library: www.SaveSeeds.org