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Seeds of Exchange

Updated: 2015-09-16T16:47:48.656-04:00


On Sustainability


This is a subject that means so much to me on both a personal and professional level. But let me start with an introduction: My name is Bob Allison, and I’m the Food Director for Seeds of Change. I’ve spent close to 21 years in the food industry, most of it in developing markets such as Africa, India, and the Middle East, and in my travels I’ve seen a lot of great and not-so-great examples of sustainability. That’s why I’m so proud to be a part of a company like Seeds of Change: To be able to use my experience to further the vision of a more sustainable future for all. And to do whatever I can to help further the Seeds of Change mission: “Preserving biodiversity and promoting the use of sustainable organic agricultural practices.”There’s been an awful lot written about sustainability lately -- which is terrific -- but sometimes it gets a little difficult to navigate. So I hope I can shed some light on what we’re doing to further sustainability at Seeds of Change. We really focus on two main areas. The first is our 1% fund, where we directly contribute 1% of our net food & seed product sales to help support sustainable organic agricultural initiatives. In 2007 we supported local initiatives like helping the OFRF (Organic Farming and Research Foundation) to develop a newsletter that will foster the improvement and adoption of organic farming practices. At the same time, we also supported global initiatives like working with partners such as Conservation International in the Bahia region of Eastern Brazil. This program helps to strengthen the role of traditional organic cabruca cacao farming (the source of organic chocolate) and the establishment of permanent preservation areas -- which in turn leads to greater biodiversity conservation and sustainable livelihoods for the people of the region. On a side note, the program also focuses on areas of strategic importance in biodiversity corridors used by indigenous wildlife.The second area we focus on is our business practices, including immersing our Seeds of Change associates in our mission. We’ve implemented several initiatives to help reduce the carbon footprint of our products, such as environmentally friendlier packaging, making and selling only certified organic products, and sourcing as many locally grown raw materials for our food products as possible. We use only recycled paper in our office, print our seed catalog on 100% post-consumer waste paper, and help our suppliers become more environmentally conscious. On a more personal note we also want to give our associates the chance to get more involved, so we’ve introduced the Seeds of Change associate volunteer program. Each year our associates submit a sustainability recommendation to the business, which would allow them up to two weeks of paid leave to partner with their favorite organization to advance our mission. This year one of our associates is helping the Trio Montessori School in Espanola, New Mexico to assist the students and teachers in implementing a rainwater harvesting project. Not only will the project aid the irrigation of their gardens, it will teach the students more about organic growing in the arid climate of northern New Mexico.Now don’t get me wrong: We don’t view these achievements (if that’s the right word) as the end-all and be-all of sustainability. We know all too well that there is much work still to be done. In fact, there will always be work to be done –- and we try to remind ourselves of this from time to time -- that there isn’t a sustainability finish line lurking up ahead somewhere when we can all say “we’re done.” Working towards sustainability is a constant process.We should know. Seeds of Change has been in the “sustainability business” ever since we were founded back in 1989. And as we grow and flourish, thanks to the support of loyal customers like you, our funding and support for sustainability and biodiversity projects around the world will in turn grow as well. So you see, it’s true what they say: We’re all in this together.[...]

The Journey from Field to Plate


Hello, my name is Marc Cool and I’m the Seed Director at Seeds of Change. I’ve worked for 20 years in the seed industry and came to Seeds of Change a year ago. It’s exciting to join such a well-known, established company that’s at the forefront of sustainability and the promotion of healthy, organic products. I’m proud to be able to add my specific seed knowledge to the team.

As you know, Seeds of Change originally began in 1989 as a seed company, hence our name. We now sell both organic seeds and organic foods. What’s the relationship between the two? The answer is quite simple: Most of the food we eat begins as seed and is grown on farms, in our case organic farms. Our customers who garden are also actively involved in the link between seed and food because they too grow their own food from seed.

Because of this link in the food production chain between seed and food, we decided it was a logical choice for us to work in both. Moreover, we wanted to take the principles that our long-term organic gardening customers have used -- the same principles we’ve used on our own farm in New Mexico since the beginning -- and bring those practices into the processed food industry.

By using our seeds -- which have been collected over many years and which represent significant biodiversity -- we are able to begin breaking away from the monoculture of food. Because of that monoculture, a lot of processed food tastes the same. But we’re working to deliver superior taste and quality by starting with a greater diversity of superior seed varieties.

To that end, we have an ongoing project in the company to make this link even stronger. We call it “Seed to Food.” Under this project we’re doing research into the nutritional content of different seed varieties so we can choose the healthiest to raise and use in our organic foods. This research is still in its early stages, but it’s already showing some exciting prospects! We’ll select our best seed varieties for production and use these to deliver truly tasty, beautiful and nutritionally advantaged foods. We believe the taste and quality of these foods will make them far superior to other offerings.

An important element in this, as was mentioned in the previous blog by Karen Castiello, is the fact that we believe in delivering this superior taste and quality without adding large amounts of salt, oil and sugars. These external “taste additives” are easier to use in food processing than relying on internal variety characteristics to deliver the taste. But since we’re also a seed company, we have the resources and knowledge to develop “Goodness from the ground up” built right into our own seed varieties. When we have such a seed variety to include in our food products, we call it a Signature Ingredient. Some examples include a few of the herbs we use, as well as varieties of carrots, broccoli, onions and tomatoes coming in the near future.

We’re also looking at the entire food production chain, from breeding to crop production to food processing -- including transport, storage, etc. -- to ensure we’re using the best sustainable practices that we can. As this road is a journey, not a destination, we are constantly learning, improving, and figuring out new stuff along the way. There are very few companies going the depth and distance that we are in this sense, and this makes us especially proud as we feel we are truly contributing something important to society.

It’s exciting work, and I’m having a great time as a part of the team developing such superior food products -- starting all the way back in a seed field and ending up on your plate.

It's the Journey, Not the Destination


At Seeds of Change, we have a philosophy “It’s a journey not a destination.” This applies to organic and to the broader movement that we are a part of – sustainability. We try to build this attitude in the way we work and live each day. I call it “Changing the room that you are in.” We can’t change everything at once. We can change the part of this world that we are in.

This week, as part of a program in Boston where we are encouraging folks to use the MBTA and are providing free bicycle taxi service during the weekend, we are asking people on the T to state what they would do to make the world a more environmentally sustainable place. The response has been remarkable. Hundreds of folks have posted their thoughts on our posters. The thoughts range from personal pledges to wishes for a better world.

Some thoughts from the wall:

“Pedestrianize all major cities”
“Grow my own vegetables”
“Create a green revolution among our children”
“Do my part in conserving energy and recycling”
“Plant more trees in my backyard”
“Ban food companies from putting bad stuff in their foods”
“Recycle, recycle, recycle”
“Treat animals on farms more humanely”
“Buy more organic foods and produce”

and two of my favorites:

“Require everyone to work from home at least once a week” and “Smile more.”

What about you? What will you do to make this world a more environmentally sustainable place?

Going Beyond Organic Food Standards


Hello, my name is Karen Castiello, and I’m responsible for Food Product Development at Seeds of Change. I’ve been with the company for two very exciting and fast-paced years, but I’m new to the organic industry. Truthfully, I had never heard of Seeds of Change until I went for that first job interview. But as I researched the company, its mission to promote sustainable agricultural practices intrigued me. I grew up on a small farm in the Midwest, so I have a real appreciation for what a difficult lifestyle farming can be -- and farming organically makes it all the more challenging.What I’d like to talk about today is how Seeds of Change is striving to be 100% organic in as many products as possible. That might sound obvious since all our products are already certified organic. But you may be surprised to know that the USDA Organic Standards state that up to five percent of the ingredients in an organic food product can actually be non-organic. These non-organic ingredients usually consist of USDA approved synthetics and natural, non-organic ingredients that do things like keep a salad dressing from separating or aid in thickening or firming.The synthetics are used in very small amounts. Nonetheless, Seeds of Change has chosen to avoid using the allowed synthetic ingredients whenever possible. This means product developers like me have to seek out alternative organic solutions, and we challenge our ingredient suppliers to do the same.Occasionally we have to make some compromises: our salad dressing might separate a little more than if we’d used synthetics. But it will taste great, and we’ll sleep better knowing we went the extra mile to make each product as truly organic as possible. We’re not yet at the 100% organic mark in every last product, but it’s a goal we’ll be able to achieve in the very near future.Another objective at Seeds of Change is to create food that’s nutritionally responsible. That means minimizing the use of salt and sugar, limiting the amount of fat in our products to nine grams per serving or less, and using whole grains whenever we can.Reducing the fat, sugar and salt means a greater reliance on herbs, spices and ingredients that create savory notes such as mushrooms, concentrated broths, eggplant and even figs. To find ways of layering flavor complexity into a dish, we’ve done research on various ethnic cuisines and regional cooking practices. We’ve even, on occasion, asked our mothers for advice. (I tried to convince my boss that attending cooking school in Italy was an absolute necessity but it seems he’s going to take a bit more convincing.) Once again, it’s more work to create dishes this way, but we believe it’s the right thing to do. And we think our customers feel the same way.Finally, there’s the challenge of finding interesting organic ingredients in a commercially-available organic form to create a dish. It’s one thing to gather the necessary ingredients to create an organic meal for your family; it’s quite another to source ingredients in the quantities necessary to create organic meals for hundreds, even thousands, of families.To that end, our ingredient buyer has been challenged to find things like South American peppers, multiple colors of amaranth and quinoa, and a variety of vegetables that you typically can’t find outside of a farmer’s market. Luckily, over the last couple years we’ve noticed a real increase in the number of commercially-available organic ingredients, and more and more interesting options are presenting themselves. There are some pretty incredible red carrots and blue and cranberry-colored potatoes in the Seeds of Change seed catalog that I just know would make a great snack or entrée. It’s just a matter of finding a grower who’s willing to plant them. (Which takes us back to that first train of thought: It’s not easy being a farmer — and it can be even harder when someone’s trying to convince you to plant blue potatoes!)So that’s[...]

Sowing the Seeds of Change


Mark Koide, PresidentWelcome to the first installment of the new Seeds of Change Weblog. We’ve come a long way since our founding in 1989 as an organic seed company, eventually expanding to offer not just seeds but also a wide range of garden tools, plants and a full line of gourmet, certified organic foods. Call me nostalgic, but as I sit down to write this first blog, I’m reminded of a similar milepost for our little company: Our very first seed catalog. Maybe catalog isn’t the right word. Sure, it was made of paper and it contained a 17-page list of organic seeds for sale. But that’s where the resemblance to anything you’d call a catalog ended. Packed into the other 25 pages – by far the majority of the booklet – were essays decrying the fouling of the earth by petrochemicals, Ph.D.-penned research papers laying out a wholesale reorganization of the plant kingdom, scholarly articles on bioremediation, and throughout, a passionate call for gardeners, farmers and society as a whole to embrace organic principles, preserve biodiversity and restore the symbiotic relationship between mankind and the soil.Heavy stuff. True, it’s not the kind of catalog most companies produce, but Seeds of Change has never really been like most companies. The brainchild of a group of organic gardeners, plant explorers and seed collectors who also happened to have acquired a Ph.D. or two in microbiology and botany, Seeds of Change didn’t begin so much as a commercial enterprise as it did a crusade.First mission: Foster biodiversity worldwide by creating the largest organically grown seed stock in existence, thereby reintroducing countless traditional and heirloom fruits, grains, herbs and vegetables back into the food chain – varieties in danger of being lost from cultivation forever. Second mission (not necessarily in that order): Through education, research and hands-on consulting, help gardeners and farmers to convert to sustainable, organic methods of cultivation, eschewing chemical fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides.Digging deeper in that first catalog, one quickly sees that the early Seeds-of-Changers didn’t stop there. They conducted field trials on their research farm to identify the tastiest, most nutritious and hardiest strains of organic crops (something we still do with vigor today). They researched the nutritional composition of traditional and heirloom varieties, identifying which yielded the most amino acids, vitamins and minerals. They even instructed gardeners on how to save their own seeds, further cementing their business-as-unusual model.The craziest thing of all might be this: It worked. Who in their right mind, back in 1989, would have predicted the sea change we’ve experienced 18 years later? Now, don’t get me wrong, Seeds of Change can’t take credit for such a monumental shift in world consciousness. And there’s still so much work to be done, especially in light of the current state of the world.Nonetheless, we are proud of the role we’ve played thus far, and of our continued dedication to the preservation of biodiversity and the advancement of sustainable farming practices. To this day, we’re still the only company to offer both organic seeds and organic foods. And one of the only organic food companies to operate our own research farm. Not surprisingly, the knowledge we gain from these enterprises helps fuel our passion and our ability to make the most delicious certified organic foods available.To help tell the deeper story about these and our other endeavors, I’ve asked a variety of members of the Seeds of Change family to contribute to our new blog. In the coming months, you’ll hear from Karen Castiello about how we go above and beyond USDA organic standards in sourcing the ingredients for our products; Erica Renaud, the manager of our research farm, will report on the latest developments at the farm during the early-fall harvest; and Marc Cool, the head of our seed[...]