FAQ

We as seed keepers are stronger if we work together

What makes North Circle Seeds different from large seed companies?

The four largest seed companies in the world; Bayer, Corteva, Chem China and BSF, control over 60% of global proprietary seed sales. In the US, and industry monopoly is defined when four or fewer entities control 40% or higher. The seed industry continues to exceed this benchmark not only across the entire global supply, but across crop types as well. For example, even before the Big 4 merged, three firms (Monsanto, Syngenta, and Vilmorin) controlled 60 percent of the global vegetable seed market.

Large Industrial seed companies sell patented GMO hybrids, where it is not only hard to save reliable seeds, but actually illegal. They have adapted a monocrop system where hundreds of thousands of acres only has one species growing at a time, and each GMO species is “married” to a chemical herbicide. 

Soil Health Matters! The crop won’t die when herbicide is sprayed because of a resistant trait or traits, but all other life will including vital soil microbes. Soil in these systems are severely damaged now and ample amounts of chemical fertilizers are needed to supplement crops from what soil microbes would have been able to naturally provide from feeding off plant root exudate. Then, the fertilizer leaches out of the soil because the damaged soil can not hold water as well as healthy soil.

Not only is a monocropping system bad for soil health which thrives from a diverse ecology, it is also a contributing factor to losing over 96% of diversity of our cultivated seed crops in the last hundred years. This matters because it directly relates to the loss of biodiversity, farmer’s income and loss of cultural continuity. The fact is that we, the small seed companies like North Circle Seeds, True Love Seeds, Adaptive Seeds, Prairie Road Organic Seeds and many others that are popping up all across the country, represent a fraction of a fraction of the impact of our seed systems. We follow the principles of the Open Seed Source Initiative which is ‘dedicated to maintaining fair and open access to plant genetic resources worldwide in order to ensure the availability of germplasm to farmers, gardeners, breeders, and communities of this and future generations.’ The relatively small amount of Open Source Seed Initiative seeds and collective work in the public commons comprises something like .01% of the seed sales in the world. This is why seed keepers must work together and not only help increase diversity of our seed, but maintain diversity among each other reflecting the needs of our growers and diverse communities in a positive and mutually beneficial way. 

Why breed organic seeds?

We choose to breed, select, and sell organically bred seeds for certified organic or non-chemical (sustainable) farmers to collectively develop a seed supply that ‘holds up’ to organic systems in our region. These seeds are hardier and will withstand the pressures of disease and pest damage way better than seeds produced in conventional systems that use chemicals as part of the breeding.

Rowen White, Mohawk seed keeper and others I know have a saying, that we sell the packaging around the seed, as you can never 'sell' life. At some point, most of us purchase at least some seeds for our gardens. North Circle Seed's role and intention is to celebrate seeds as life, honor the growers, their origins and their seeds' origins. 

Why a seed collective? How does it work?

Instead of a single person growing all the seeds, the responsibility of growing for seed is taken on collectively by farmers and growers in Minnesota. There are many reasons for forming a regional collective of seed keepers: regionally adapted seed, mitigating the risk, providing a new revenue stream for Minnesota farmers, closing the loop of sustainability (as some may save tomatoes, others will save pepper, corn, beans but collectively and locally we save all the seed we need). The seeds are also chosen by the experienced seed keepers themselves in our region. These elite varieties can be sold in a competitive market. At the end of each year, we will process and clean the seeds together and have a feast and share about our experience. In 2019, our Field day is Oct 12th from 10am - 4pm. More information is available on the events page.

How do the grower contracts work?

Each seed grower has an individual contract and is paid based on the amount of seed they grew in the previous year. Each contract is based on the grower’s individual circumstances and created with the grower to ensure that prices can be negotiated each year based off fair market prices. The growers share the profits.

How do I become a grower for North Circle Seeds?

Let’s have a conversation to see if growing for the collective makes sense for you. If you have land that is naturally isolated from GMO corn and are experienced corn grower, please reach out! Some of our growers are certified organic and some are sustainable growers practicing soil health principles going beyond certification requirements. We never spray chemicals on the land that we grow for seed!

Why is North Circle Seeds a for-profit business? Why not just give seeds away?

A true sustainability model achieves economic, ecological and social equilibrium. Too often, the economics are left out of the equation, but this is critical for the next generation of growers to follow to return to a better and healthier way of living.  Growing for seed is a value-added market, similar to selling flowers or pickling cucumbers. A head of lettuce is valued at $2-4 where as the amount of seed a person can market from one lettuce head could potentially be over $100. Some people say to never sell seed as seed is sacred and money is dirty, as well as people who say to never give seed away for free as it has value. We are doing the best we can in a flawed economic environment to provide value for the seeds as well as respecting them by not spraying poisonous chemicals on them.

In the end, selling a diverse amount of seeds provides more opportunity for seeds to be locally grown and adapted. Providing value through money helps us achieve a certain level of independence by affording us the time to save seeds and support that does not depend on outside funding and interests.

What makes North Circle Seeds different than other brands? Can I save the seed from the packets I buy?

We sell only open-pollinated seeds that can be saved and will grow true-to-type. We encourage saving your own seed and host a number of seed saving, cleaning and storage workshops listed on our events page!
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