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Finding a Better Way to Grow

The Good Seed Company in Whitefish hopes to jumpstart a movement of Flathead Valley residents growing their own food

WHITEFISH — About 20 years ago, a seed of curiosity planted itself in Robin Kelson’s mind.

It was then that her friends seemed to start developing cancer like never before, and Kelson, a scientist with a biochemistry degree from the University of Oregon and a master’s in biology from MIT, started exploring potential causes.

“I just thought, ‘This is worth looking into,’” Kelson said, sitting at her Whitefish home’s kitchen table last week.

Her training was in Western science and medicine, and she knew there were few answers to be found there, despite copious amounts of data. Eventually, Kelson left science and got her law degree from Suffolk University in Boston, and then began working as a patent attorney.

In that capacity, she watched patents on biotechnology stream in and had a realization.

“I got the picture that there’s a relationship between this growing epidemic (of chronic illnesses) and our immune systems,” Kelson said, “and that nutrient density of the food is critical.”

The idea that germinated for decades has now bloomed into The Good Seed Company, which Kelson now owns. The company sells heirloom seeds from farmers both local and in places with similar climates, such as Russia, to get others back into the practice of growing their own food.

It used to be that people did this naturally in gardens, she said. Hardy plants that grew well in Montana developed seeds that farmers and gardeners would swap, thereby increasing their overall genetic strength.

These days, a handful of massive, global companies control industrial seed production, wiping the soil of nutrients and adding back their own chemicals so they can have consistent growing conditions over thousands of acres, she said.

“We’re actually not getting the nutrients our grandparents got, and that’s from the soil,” Kelson said. “Chemical farming is like living on white bread, white sugar, coffee, and little sleep — your immune system is under stress a lot of the time.”

Kelson also got involved with Algae AquaCulture Technologies in Whitefish, which uses waste biomass and algae to produce four kinds of organic soil-regenerative additives and fertilizers.

She purchased The Good Seed Company four years ago when she heard it was closing. Originally based in the pristine Okanagan Highlands of northwestern Washington, the seed company built its seed inventory from 40 years of off-grid farming.

With good soil and good seeds, Kelson figured she could produce the nutrient-dense food of her grandparents.

The company selects the seeds for specific characteristics and saves them. The final and most important step is to share them, Kelson said.

“Mixing and sharing creates sustainability and resiliency,” she said. “We’ve lost that practice of sharing.”

The seed company hosts an annual Free the Seeds event, which has a seed swap and educational opportunities. The first year, about 1,600 people showed up, and the most recent swap saw more than 1,900.

People are trending toward local, organic food options, as well as growing their own food, she said, and the company’s seeds are a good way to get started.

The company also partnered with ImagineIf Library in Columbia Falls to create Flathead Grows, a public seed library. People are invited to drop off their own seeds and pick up those from other green thumbs around the valley.

Already, 150 packets of seeds have been taken, Kelson said, and 30 donated. Flathead Grows also hosts public educational opportunities, often held in the Columbia Falls Junior High garden. There will also be a fall seed workshop, where they’ll work on preserving the seeds from this spring.

The beauty in growing plants from these open-pollinated seeds is that gardeners can just save the seeds on their own and go from there, Kelson said, which she believes is a natural human impulse.

“I believe it’s in our genetics how to grow,” Kelson said. “Any way that the Seed Company can reduce the barrier for entry for someone to grow their own food, we try to do it.”

For more information on The Good Seed Company, visit www.goodseedco.net.

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