Foundroot is a Haines-based seed company that produces and sells Alaska-grown seeds. They’re working to create a more stable food supply by cultivating seeds specifically for this region. This year is the first time they’ve produced enough seeds in their own garden to sell commercially.
Nick Schlosstein is filling packets with tiny arugula seeds. He’ll mail these to locations across Alaska. You may know Schlosstein and his wife Leah Wagner from the Haines farmer’s market, or have tasted produce from their garden that’s served up at the Fireweed or Sarah J’s. But the biggest part of their business is this: online seed sales for Alaska gardens.
“Talking to a lot of people who begin gardening in Alaska, or even have been gardening for a long time, they have a lot of difficulty with even plants they should be able to grow relatively easily,” says Schlosstein. “But a lot of that has to do with them not purchasing seeds that are adapted for our short season. We’ve been a a place where new gardeners can get seeds that should work well with their climate.”
Foundroot is a seed company that’s committed to selling seeds that work in this climate. They’ve sold seeds to over 60 communities in Alaska. Wagner conceived of the idea when she was new to the state. She spoke to gardeners and farmers about their challenges, from cool nights and early fall rain to microclimates.
“A huge part of growing seeds in the place that you’re sowing them is they become bio-regionally adapted over time,” Wagner says. “So these seeds not only were selected for their attributes that make them better for Alaska gardens, but as we collect them in this place and grow them in this place they continue to become better for our home.”
Wagner says seeds that thrive in unusual climates are less popular and tend to disappear from catalogues, but hardy, Alaska proven seeds are abundant in Foundroot’s inventory. Foundroot doesn’t sell anything that hasn’t grown successfully in their own garden.
The company mostly sells seeds they source from outside the state. But by breeding seeds here, they can increase gardeners’ chance of successful crops–they know the seeds will work locally. So they’ve been collecting seeds and resowing them since they started six years ago. This season is the first time they have commercial size and quality seed crops from their garden in Haines. Wagner calls it a “seed to seed” enterprise. Plants that grow from the seeds they sell will produce viable seeds themselves.
“What’s different about us is we only sell open pollinated seeds,” Wagner says. That means the plants will “breed true” or produce seeds that grow the same plant. This isn’t true of hybrid seeds, for example. That’s good for growers because they don’t have to buy more seeds, they can simply collect them from the plants they’ve got.
“You can collect the seeds from everything we sell. A huge part of our model is teaching people how to save their own seeds. And create a level of self reliance and food security around that concept.”
Food security is when people have access to enough nutritious food to maintain healthy lifestyles. According to the University of Alaska in Anchorage, nearly 15% of the state is food insecure. In cultivating these seeds, Foundroot is lowering one of the barriers to food security. They’re making it easier for home gardeners to produce their own food.
“In Alaska you feel it a lot deeper you know,” Wagner says. “Just to ship to bush villages in the state is cost prohibitive for some people. So for them to make one order and then be able to produce their own seeds in the first season would be huge for food security.”
Almost all of the food in Alaska is imported. But Foundroot is chipping away at that one packet of Alaska grown seeds at a time. It’s a small company with big goals. But if there’s anything you can learn from a seed, it’s that big results come in tiny packages.
Look for Foundroot seeds on March 1st at the Port Chilkoot Distillery as part of the First Friday art walk. Find their seeds at www.foundroot.com