With the kind of weather we get here in the far corner of the Pacific Northwest, it’s a wonder that backyard gardeners can get anything to grow. But what if it were possible to have a garden full of vegetables that have adapted to our unique climate?
That’s the idea behind Uprising Seeds, a Whatcom County seed company that specializes in producing organic seeds for varieties of veggies that are suited to the type of weather we get on the west side of the Cascades.
“I think people aren’t aware of how important the right variety is for success in their garden,” said Brian Campbell, who owns Uprising Seeds with his partner Crystine Goldberg. “You can pick anything in our catalog and know that it’ll grow well here.”
From carrots to calendula to chamomile, the company sells more than 150 varieties of veggies and flowers that most people probably haven’t seen before. Many of these varieties have been around for a long time, they just got lost among the sea of new and exciting hybrid plants that have flooded the market, Campbell said.
Even though Uprising Seeds offers some rare varieties, the bestselling veggie by far is kale.
“We sell more kale than anything else,” Campbell said.
Goldberg and Campbell started Uprising Seeds five years ago on a 3-acre farm in Acme. They had been leasing the farm and growing vegetables for three years, and decided to get into the seed business for political reasons. They were unhappy with the way large seed companies were controlling the market and even patenting seed varieties, Campbell said.
Plus the couple was already saving the seeds from the vegetables they were growing and actively looking for varieties that performed best in this climate. In the process, they began experimenting with plants that aren’t normally associated with this region.
“The kind of stuff that we get really excited about are crops that typically only do marginally well around here, like watermelons,” Campbell said, referring to his Blacktail Mountain watermelon variety. “We get watermelons every year.”
Last year was the first that Goldberg and Campbell didn’t grow vegetable crops and devoted the entire farm to producing seeds. In just five years of doing business, demand for seeds has risen beyond what they can produce on the farm, so they contract out some of the production to other farmers who are interested in organic seeds.
Still, their little farm in Acme produces more than half of the seeds that end up in stores from here to Eugene, Ore. Considering that they sold about 40,000 seed packets last year, that’s a lot of seeds for a 3-acre farm.
Recently, Uprising Seeds has seen a growing demand from small-scale farmers looking for vegetable varieties that can withstand the variable growing conditions of western Washington. To Campbell, this is a vote of confidence in his seeds. After all, when farmers buy seeds, there is no guarantee that the seeds will grow well.
“You can’t judge good seeds just by looking at them,” Campbell said. “So we spend a lot of time building trust.”
Now that the business has reached a comfortable level of production, Campbell would like to spend more time doing research and plant breeding, improving old varieties and developing new ones. There has already been some interest in growing grains here — something typically reserved for eastern Washington.
If watermelon and wheat can grow here, who knows what the next big local crop will be? That’s something Uprising Seeds is trying to find out.