Owner: Jere Gettle
General manager: John Brazaitis (pictured)
Location: Mansfield, Mo.
History: Jere Gettle, began collecting heirloom seeds at a young age. By age 12, he had so many he began selling them at swap meets. He printed his first seed price list and began mailing seeds to customers in 1997 at the age of 17. This year, Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Company printed its 20th anniversary seed catalog, which includes more 2,000 varieties of seeds.
According to manager John Brazaitis, that’s only a small segment of what is available worldwide.
“In the last 10 years, this company has grown from 12 full-time employees and a number of seasonal workers to approximately 50 full-time employees.”
Heirloom seeds have been passed down, one generation to the next. In the United States, some varieties have been passed along for 1,500 years among Native Americans. Others, like tomatoes from European cultures, are usually about 150 years old.
Products and Services: “Our biggest mission is to educate people about growing their own food.” John explained. “Our second mission is to preserve old varieties of seeds for the future, many of which are dying out. We have about 80 acres here with seven large trial gardens. We do grow outs to test the purity of all our seeds when they come in, to make sure they are what they are supposed to be. We also network with more than 250 small farmers who grow seeds for us.
“We have our 2-year-old greenhouse, which is 100-foot by 100-foot, that we use for all of our seed starts and we have our pet plants, too. Those are our tropicals and seed starts that are ready for gardens.
“We have a farm-to-table restaurant with a world-recognized chef and a bakery where Jere’s mom makes fresh bread and cinnamon rolls. We have an apothecary operated by Jere’s wife, Emilee, and a pioneer village complete with a jail. The first Sunday of each month, March through October, we have a Heritage Days Festival. Our Spring Planting Festival, our biggest annual festival, is held the first Sunday and Monday each May.
“We’ve done a lot of automation in the last few years. For the first many years, seeds were hand packed and orders were all filled by hand but now they are being done through a new automated system. We can fill an average of 2,000 orders a day during our busy season and that can go up as high as 2,400 orders.