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2021 State of the Seedshed

Woo-ee! What a wild, wild year this has been! 2020 taught us a lot. It ripped the band-aid off of many a gaping wound in this country, and shed light on many of the usually-hidden structures that underpin our food system. And the dawn of 2021 has proven no different, with an armed and violent mob laying siege to the nation’s capitol. We are living through history in a time of great reckoning.

I’ve seen the quote “We are not all in the same boat, we are all in the same storm,” attributed to several people. Thank you to its author, for it is an astute assessment of the impacts the pandemic continues to have on all of us. For us at SRSC, the storm has hit our individual Co-op growers in varying ways. While Idaho agriculture brought in record profits in 2020, aided in large part by government handouts that accounted for an average of 40% of Idaho farmers’ incomes, most in our grower network were not able to access these benefits.

However, as a cooperative, we experienced exponential growth this year as folks in lockdown turned to gardening as a way to assuage their fears and find sustenance and pleasure in the midst of so much uncertainty and suffering. In some months, our sales were up over 500% and our tiny staff struggled to fill orders with sustained respect for the seeds under our care, while complying with social distancing and quarantine guidelines.  

Unlike the seemingly endless global supply chains many of us have taken for granted until the pandemic gave us a glimpse into their potential fragility, the “products” of our Co-op are real, living beings, grown out of the soil of this particular place. They have life cycles, seasons where they sleep, sprout, flower, and procreate. They are wholly dependent on natural cycles of light and dark, warm and cold, wet and dry—as, of course, are we, though sometimes we forget.

The seeds help us to remember.

They also teach us patience. When we run out of seeds of a particular variety, we can’t just call up the broker, who phones Tokyo and orders some more from the manufacturer. Instead, we must do what the seeds ask of us—to wait until the right time of the year and press them into moist soil, where they will live out their generous lives and (hopefully) turn one into many, filling our larders again.

When the pandemic—also a wholly natural phenomenon—caused five times as many people to look to gardening and SRSC as a source of locally-grown seeds than ever had before, the careful math Reiley performs every year to determine how much seed of a variety we should encourage a grower to grow got all skewed and we ran out of seeds of some varieties we weren’t planning on running out of for several years.

So we arrive in 2021 in an interesting predicament. On the one hand, several of our most popular seed varieties are out of stock. Cassie and Reiley are licking their wounds after months of intense, sustained stress attempting to keep the Co-op functioning in the chaos. Like many of you, we are feeling the fatigue that has come from a year of isolation, toxic politics, struggle, and stress that can make the day-to-day difficult.

On the other hand, SRSC had its most successful year ever, sending over 100,000 packets of seeds out into our bioregion. We welcomed 11 new growers into the Co-op, bringing the total to 54, and further strengthening our capacity for resilience as new and experienced growers alike deepen their seed-saving skills. We are sending over $80,000 directly to local farmers to honor their important work stewarding seeds and soil on their small-scale, biodiverse farms. We moved out of the Seed Shack and into a new office with bright, sunny windows and plenty of space to socially-distance from each other while we care for, pack, and ship the seeds entrusted to us. And we hired three awesome new employees, who are making our workload more sustainable while bringing a wealth of creativity, passion, and skill into the Co-op.

Planting seeds is such a wholesome activity. It’s radical, and exquisitely apolitical. It’s an antidote, a prayer for nourishment amid the chaos of the world. And while we are not all in the same boat, we are indeed in the same storm, and we are committed to the journey for the long haul with all of you. This coming year, as always, we re-up our commitment to deepening our service to the seeds and the communities who grow, eat, and save them. We welcome advice and guidance for how we can best be of use.

Thank you to all who work in service to the seeds with us, from our growers and employees to our wholesale partners, to those who educate us and all those who plant these seeds. Together, we are growing a breathtaking model for doing business, rising from an acknowledgement of the sacredness of the earth and the seeds, grounded in an ever-evolving understanding of the structural inequities that persist in our communities and a commitment to work to uproot them. Together, we are building a robust regional economy that can joyfully sustain us well into the future. And we’re growing it one seed at a time.

In seedy solidarity,