Turtle Tree Seed has been growing seeds in Copake, NY since 1998. In the early days, we grew nearly all of our own seed here, and we still grow most of it—well over 60% of our 380+ varieties. We choose which varieties we offer by trialing different varieties, and try to get seeds from as many reliable sources as possible in order to be able to grow to seed and offer the one which has been the best maintained. Not all seed is equal. We focus on open pollinated seeds, and because the breeding and monetary priorities of many larger seed companies often tend towards hybrids, many of the older open-pollinated varieties have fallen on hard times. Many have grown wild and uncared-for in large field seed growing where little or no selection was happening over generations.
As a small company, we can’t offer the breadth of variety that a larger company can, but what we can do is to take care of the varieties entrusted to us, cleaning up varieties that have drifted from the original, tightening the uniformity of other varieties, and most importantly, control what we are selecting for. Some varieties will need intensive selection and breeding help throughout their life cycles and through many generations, while some better selected varieties may just need some basic roguing at a few critical growing moments to keep the variety energetic and true to type. Each variety we maintain becomes a friend. Through the years we get to know it, and work to allow it to express its best, truest individuality as a variety through our care and maintenance.
Sometimes we also work on breeding new varieties, such as our new Robbin’s Red tomato. This new variety was a surprise project that came out of a wild and woolly trial of a variety that had been poorly selected—one plant was extraordinary, with out-of-this-world tomato flavor–and so our breeding work began to help reveal that flavor and stabilize a population out of that original selection. A more planned and organized breeding project, which resulted in our Red Sunset onion, came from a wish to untangle a good open-pollinated round red storage onion from a hybrid. After 10 years, we finally have something that we’re pretty happy about (although of course work continues on both varieties—when does it not?)
Another aspect that makes Turtle Tree unique is that we are an integral part of Camphill Village. One of the most wonderful things about being embedded in a Camphill community (for more info visit www.camphillvillage.org) is that we have a wide population of folks who are happy to do taste testing and kitchen trialing of our varieties. Over the years we’ve introduced variety trialing to our homes and kitchens as well as our gardens. While these can’t be as rigorous and scientific as the taste testing we do here, it does give a good snapshot into end-use, and how the different vegetables and herbs stand up to many different cooks and cooking methods.
Camphill Village is a place where people with developmental differences are living a life of dignity, equality and purpose. The mission of Camphill Village includes care of the earth and care for people who have vulnerabilities. Our inclusive team is made up of people with developmental challenges whose abilities are honored through our work, and who find meaning in the importance of growing and cleaning seeds that will touch the lives of many. Also joining us are young volunteers from the US and around the world who come to work with and learn from our team, as well as long-term volunteers and employees.
Turtle Tree Biodynamic Seed Initiative is part of a larger whole biodynamic farm organism, encompassing a small dairy for our own in-village use, several acres of vegetables, a 3 acre herb and healing plant garden which combines beauty with abundance, about 150 acres of pasture and over 400 acres of woodland and wetlands that we help maintain and preserve. Turtle Tree Seed provides an essential element to this farm organism – the ability to be self-sustaining in terms of seed, and the possibility for many plants to complete their life-cycle on our farm from seed to seed. Our mission at Turtle Tree goes beyond growing, improving, and providing an outlet for carefully grown, selected and bred open-pollinated biodynamic and organic seeds, and improving and breeding organic/biodynamic systems-appropriate vegetable, herb and flower varieties. We are deeply aware that agriculture has the possibility to either harm or heal the earth, which is why we practice regenerative agriculture which sequesters carbon, maintains and expands diversity in the ecosystems on our farm, and provides for essential human needs without extractive, reductive farming practices.
Lia is the co-general manager and garden manager at Turtle Tree. She has been with Turtle Tree since 2009. She can be reached at email@example.com