“If you want to control something, control its food!”
For Sarah Bradshaw of Wise Woman Seeds, this perspective coincides with a strong sense of justice she has held since childhood. Saving, swapping and now growing and selling seeds grew from the environmental justice and stewardship work that Sarah was a part of from an early age.
Wise Woman Seeds is a small independent seed company that takes pride in the old and interesting varieties of vegetables and fruits they have saved and grown through a network of dedicated gardeners over the years. This includes Styrian pumpkin (a rather ugly superfood with very nutritious seeds), sweet potato squash (commercially bypassed because of looks—bigger, longer, weird looking—but one of the best squashes on the market for flavour), and Kandy King corn (grown by a dedicated farmhand in Coldstream who supplies these corn seeds to Sarah each year in exchange for his garden seed needs).
“I didn’t set out to start a seed business. I was very involved, and still am in the Shuswap Seed Savers and their big swap event [i.e. the very well-known Shuswap Seed Swap in Enderby running for 27 years now!]. It began with a seed library but with high demand and packaging costs we started selling the seeds instead of giving them away. Every year it got bigger until finally we realized it just needed to become a business.”
Early on, Sarah was struck by a Lillooet-based farmer she met who shared her journey to become 100% seed independent. “I thought, what a great goal. What a wonderful thing to have a farmer do! But there is a transition time [to seed independence].”
For example, when moving from hybrid seeds (bred for specific traits like quick growth) to open pollinated seeds (that adapt over time, to regional specificity), it can take 3 to 5 years to get production up, which is time a farmer can’t always afford. Wise Woman Seeds can reduce this transition time with access to their regionally specific/adapted seeds. What’s more, Sarah works with farmers and market gardeners to make this transition (from off-the-shelf hybrid seeds to open pollinated) in a shorter time.
In terms of the impact of COVID-19 on this local seed business, Sarah says, “The last two years have been frustrating.” She would normally sell all her seeds in 8 weeks, travelling around to the various Seed Swap events and different trade shows. “I was a big fish in a little pond. COVID forced me into the online world—now I am a 6-week-old salmon smolt trying to make it in the Pacific Ocean.”
With the help of the REACH program offered through Community Futures (North Okanagan), Sarah has been able to pivot. “REACH helped me gain tools to move my business forward, to know how to do proper market research and understand where my audience/customers are and to meet them there, instead of trying to do all the online things.”
Sarah is proud to share that the new Wise Woman Seeds website is up and running with online ordering. She sells a large variety of seeds well adapted to our region (and across the different ecosystems and climatic zones within the region) and of incredible diversity (i.e. choose from 100 tomato varieties).
You can also find her at “Garden Like a Guru”, hosted through the Wellness Academy on Facebook, that features videos tailored for the home grower.
Learn more about Wise Woman Seeds: