The following is adapted from a note I published on Facebook in February 2012. Since I’m still getting questions about Territorial Seed and Monsanto, I’m publishing it here to make it more widely available.
It’s seed catalog time! The dripping seed lust of gardeners at this time of year, flipping through pages filled with new introductions and old heirlooms, is exercised though countless Sharpie-circles around countless tempting pictures of vegetables.
When the seed catalogs start arriving in the mailbox, I start talking about Territorial Seed, from whom I buy about half my seeds. And inevitably that’s when someone emails me or says something on Facebook like this:
“Don’t you know that Territorial Seeds is owned by MONSANTO!!!! (AKA – The Devil)! How can you support them?!?”
Ok, that’s a bit of an exaggeration – just – but I have had multiple readers contact me expressing concern about my support for Territorial Seed.
People are under the impression that Territorial Seeds and other beloved seedhouses are owned by or otherwise eager to peddle Monsanto seed onto unsuspecting home gardeners. While this story line has found a lot of play on various websites, it’s inaccurate and, I believe, does a lot of harm to very ethical seed houses who are doing everything they can to provide the best product to their customers while making business decisions that allow them to stay in business.
So, if you will allow me, I’d like to take a minute to provide a bit of back story.
What Really Happened
Territorial, Johnny’s, Fedco and most other seed houses had an established relationship with a company called Seminis. Seminis was a dominant, well-regarded independent seed company specializing in vegetable and fruit seed. They were (and remain) huge - breeding, trialed and growing out more vegetable seed than anyone else in the world. And a lot of these seeds were for vegetables varieties you probably love: golden acre cabbage, gypsy pepper, celebrity tomatoes – we’re talking quality varietals.
Monsanto bought Seminis in 2005 and left a lot of good seed houses in the awkward position of having to either find immediate alternate seed sources for the seeds Seminis was providing (which is many cases didn’t exist because Seminis was so much larger than any other seed grower) or do business with what was now, overnight, a Monsanto subsidiary.
Some companies, like Fedco, dropped all Seminis/Monsanto varieties more of less immediately. This left gaps in their seed offerings but their customer base was very supportive. (See more here.)
Many, like Territorial and Johnny’s, began to phase out their relationship with Seminis, maintaining their product inventory while beginning to seek out new seed sources that would allow them to divest of their Monsanto relationship. (See more here.)