Help Save America's Oldest Seed Company

I’ve written here about the D. Landreth Seed Company and their African-American heritage seed line before and I’ve recommended shopping at their booth at the Chicago Flower & garden Show the past two years, in particular if you were interested in growing heirloom potatoes. Moments ago while visiting the company’s Facebook page I came across a status update that reads,

“We are in danger of losing Landreth due to a garnishment to repay a note. We need to sell 1 million catalogs to get rid of all of our debt, please help the oldest seed company in America!”

Wondering if it was a joke I scrolled lower and saw a posting by Barbara Melera, the company’s owner, that reads,

“My husband & I took over Landreth Seed Co rougly 8 years ago and took a company from bankruptcy back to a healthy standing, we had to finance it with notes. We are in danger of losing this company due to needing an extension on notes, please see our garnishment notice. We need to sell 1 million catalogs to get completely out of debt. Consider purchasing a catalog & thanks for all of the support!”


The status update links to this Google Doc. I’ll copy and paste the full text below.  If this information is correct not only are we in danger of losing America’s oldest seed house, we’re also in danger of losing one of the few women-owned seed companies in the country. I really am at a loss for words so I’ll just paste the content of the Google Doc Mrs. Melera posted on Facebook and link to the page where you can buy a catalog and hopefully save this institution.

Update: The response by gardeners across has been amazing. The seed company’s website slowed down as word has spread across the Internet. If you can’t load their website try calling 1-800-654-2407. They have a very small staff so you may get a busy signal.  Also, check out the #SaveLandreth campaign I started on Twitter to organize gardeners and help get the word out. See the comment below about the question of GMO seeds.

Update 2: I’ve replaced the embeded letter with a text version, below provided to me by Barbara Melera, for fear that the Internet would crash my Gmail account. :0)

Update 3: See the posts written by two friends of mine here , here and here.

To All of Our Customers & Friends

All of you know the story of Landreth and most of you know me, Barb Melera. My husband, Peter, and I have been working to restore this historic American company for the past 8 years.

We set about to restore this Company because it is the most historically important American small business in existence. It is the only American company, still operating daily, that existed when this country became a nation. Its founders were honorable men who helped establish and guide the agricultural and horticultural industries of this country in the 1700s, the 1800s and the 1900s. Landreth exemplifies American business and the ethics and integrity that built this nation.

On Wednesday, August 31, 2011, the Company’s accounts were frozen by a garnishment order initiated by a Baltimore law firm. If this garnishment order is not satisfied within the next 30 days, Landreth will cease to exist and a part of America’s history will be lost forever. I need to sell 1 million 2012 catalogs to satisfy this garnishment and the cascade of other indebtedness which this order has now initiated.

If you want to help save this piece of America, if you love gardening and heirloom seeds, if you care about righting the injustices of a legal system badly in need of repair, then please help Landreth. Please purchase a Landreth catalog, and if you can afford it, purchase several for your friends. Please send this link to everyone you know, One million catalogs is a big number, but with the internet it is achievable. Please help us to save Landreth.

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  • I'm going to reach out to Barbara and see if she has any further information. In the meantime I'm going to place an order for a seed catalog since I wanted one anyway, because it will be similar to the commemorative catalog linked above.

  • In reply to MrBrownThumb:

    Just finished reading the entirety of the letter. She has 30 days to settle the company's debt or it's over for D. Landreth Seeds.


  • So bummed to hear this! I hadn't been planning on buying a catalog, even though I really like the one I have, because I tend to browse and order exclusively online, and I'd rather use the money for seeds. But, heck, $5 only sets me ahead 30 seconds to when I might need to mve into my car, so it's so on!

  • In reply to gardenfaerie:

    Well, when I emailed with a while back she told me the catalog would be similar to the commemorative catalog that she ran out of and has all the old timey info from previous catalogs. So, for the novelty it will be worth it.

    Just dawned on me that this might mean she won't have a booth at the CFGS any more and where will I buy my seed potatoes from now?

  • In reply to MrBrownThumb:

    You can still get their seed potatoes mail order (let's just assume they'll stay in business!). Alternatively, a local IGC has a various seed potatoes at really reasonable prices (like 69 cents for a pound of the 'Red Norland' I really liked). They don't have 'Peruvian Purple,' but I could send you a list of what they have, get what you want, and bring 'em to CFGS for you. What with being your Minion and all.

  • In reply to gardenfaerie:

    But how will people be impressed by my seed potatoes from MI? I like to say "Oh, MY potatoes? Just something I picked up from America's oldest seed company." How am I suppose to feel bougie without heirloom potatoes from Landreth

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    (2003 From a letter sent out to past customers, the D. Landreth Seed Company name was purchased by Peter and Barbara Plantholt Melera, a professor of biochemistry and molecular biology and a venture capitalist, respectively. They have resurrected the name as a mail order seed company and marketing as the "Oldest Seed House in America." ) Anyone who is against GMO seeds should probably consider and research this.

  • In reply to Lisa Trout Langhirt:

    Thanks for the comment, Lisa. I've met Peter once and have met and spoken with Barbara on a couple of occasions in person, on the phone and through Email. I'm aware of her history and her background and I feel comfortable enough with it to support her and her seed company.

    While you don't explicitly state that her seeds may be GMO that's what I gather this letter is getting at. Do I understand that correctly? One of the things I don't like about the GMO debate is that it seems to be centered on being anti-science and I find that scary. While I don't support GMOs I support anti-science fear mongering even less.

    Let me relay a story I once heard Barbara tell in person. When she and Peter bought the company she gave him busy work in the cellar and told him to clean up stuff down there. After he was done she discovered that he had tossed the company's supply of 'Boston Marrow' pumpkin seeds and they wouldn't have any to sell. So, she started asking around trying to locate the seeds. One of the persons she talked to about the seeds was Aaron (I believe that's his name) from Seed Savers Exchange. Aaron got back to her a while later and told her that he'd gotten her a supply of seeds to restock with. She, of course, was thankful (as I'm sure Peter was) to have the seeds, but she forgot to ask him how he was able to procure the seeds so he clued her in. The seeds came from pumpkins that were grown from seed that had been saved from the 'Boston Marrow' seeds his grandfather had purchased from the D. Landreth Seed Company.

    Now, knowing that there are wholesale seed sellers that many of favorite seed companies buy from here in America and overseas, it seems silly for her to go through the trouble of finding the seeds when she could have been bought by some giant seed wholesaler to begin with.

    I've blogged here before about hybrid seeds, heirloom seeds and other seed companies. One such post you can find on this blog deals with Burpee and people's fears that Burpee Seed is selling GMO seeds. I have spoken with a lot of people in the industry and everyone agrees that it would be virtually impossible for a retail seed seller to knowingly sell GMO seeds, as I feel that snippet of letter you posted implies. There's a lot of red tape involved and the cost would be huge. Individual seed packets wouldn't cost $2-3 dollars.

    Here's my post on Burpee Seeds that I mentioned above.

    For everyone else reading: If you'd like to contribute to this discussion you can get through the "wall" of this site and log-in with your Facebook account. You don't need to register and create a ChicagoNow account.

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    In reply to Lisa Trout Langhirt:

    Thank you for raising the issues you did in your post to Mr. Brown Thumb and for providing me with the opportunity to clarify these issues. First, my husband, Peter, and I did not purchase a name, we purchased an operating company that had been operating for 219 consecutive years. The Company had more than 300 customers, a hand full of which had been customers for more than 100 years. There were 4 employees, 3 of which had been with the company for more than 15 years. The Company, annually, produced a little catalog and was in the process of constructing a one-page website. Its inventory, at the time of purchase, included about 400 different heirloom flower, vegetable and herb varieties, but the bulk of its sales were grass seed. Several of the corn and pea varieties were old varieties, but were 'coated seeds' meaning they had been treated with a fungicide to prevent the growth of mold when the seeds were planted. We immediately elimiinated all of the 'coated seeds' by throwing them away. Since then we have added approximately 500 varieties of heirloom flower, vegetable and herb seeds. None of these seeds is GMO. In our tenure as stewards of The D. Landreth Sed Company, the organization has never purchased nor sold GMO seeds. You may peruse our website or our catalogs to verify this. Second, the moniker, "America's Oldest Seedhouse" was introduced by Landreth on its 1900 catalog cover. It is not our marketing, This phrase has been used in Landreth's advertising and catalogs nearly annually for 111 years. Third, my husband is a molecular biologist whose life work has been focused on researching why cancer cells rapidly become resistant to multiple drug regimens. He grew up farming grain in upstate New York. I started growing zinnias at 5 and have had a garden ever since. In the 18 years I was in venture capital I funded many hi-tech companies including the company that created Dolly the Cloned Sheep. My husband and I own the farm he grew up on in Upstate New York where we have an organic, raised bed garden.

  • I just read about this company in the book Bucolic Plague, by Josh Kilmer-Purcell, and have every reason to believe they share the same kind of values as readers of this site... and are to be supported for keeping this heirloom company out of the hands of the GMO folks, at a time when others are rapidly being swallowed up.

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    I, in no way, meant to come across as a "fearmonger". My "snippet" of info. was a copy and paste of their biography on or It (understandably?) & simply raised the question in my head whether or not they were GMO seeds. I was time pressed, and should have worded it differently I guess. I apologize to the company if they are of the opinion that I was "fearmongering". I think it's great that she got a chance to reply herself. To do the research myself would have taken more time then I had at the moment. And that is why I said to research it because of the question that it raised in my head. If it raised the question in my head, I'm sure it will do so in others. I am NOT anti-science, but I AM anti GMO. That's MY CHOICE and I should always have the right to make that choice, Many people who want to live by a natural, organic diet have the right to make a CHOICE in whether or not they buy GMO seeds, produce, or any foods for that matter that do not meet their own standards of safety for their own reasons. People who are cancer survivors, or ANYONE for that matter, who want to scrutinize everything they put into or on their own bodies as nutrition always should have a choice to do so. I'm glad that it did answer my question though.....(although I apologize that it wasn't in the form of a question.) That's really all I wanted. If anything, they will sell MORE catalogues as a result of people knowing that they are NOT GMO. (But that is of course, my opinion, not an EXPERT one at that!) : )

  • In reply to Lisa Trout Langhirt:

    Hi Lisa, I didn't mean you specifically I meant in general when it comes to GMOs the discussion is usually fear mongering and seems to be anti-science. I appreciate you raising the question by thinking out loud. Being anti-GMO is great in my opinion, and something that more people should think about, and yes, you bringing this up did lead to something useful. Some seed companies, both big and small, end up at some point being put on "lists" by watchdogs and Internet activists because of ties they may have to wholesale seed sellers or different people and usually the person in charge of the company doesn't bother to address the issue themselves. I'm glad your question lead to a reply by Barbara to serve as an example to other companies for who this happens to.

    Thank you for the comment.

  • Not to distract from the issue at hand, I wanted to respond to what you're saying about GMOs, anti-science, and fear mongering. The problem with getting good science on GMOs is that the seeds are patented and are not/will not be submitted for independent research. That is, of course by design. There was early independent research on GMOs, especially in Europe, where, when well-documented, damning findings in test animals were very negative as regards health effects, including organ damage, shortened life spans, high infant mortality, and sterility in subsequent generations, scientists were fired and studies were halted. A recent study showed GMO genes in the blood of pregnant women and their babies, negating industry claims that they pass through the digestive system without affecting the organism.

    Federal government agencies (headed by appointed former biotech industry executives,) accept the findings of short-term animal studies conducted by the companies that make GMOs. Such studies are hardly unbiased, and studies that last only a few weeks are hardly sufficient, especially considering that the majority of damage demonstrated in early studies done in Europe showed the most devastating effects in the offspring of test subjects. There is scientific, fact-based, research-based reason for concern and, and that's before even getting into the issues regarding the harm pesticide-resistant industrial monoculture does to pollinators, soil, and the environment, contamination of non-gmo crops, the development of pesticide-resistant superweeds. Not only are the herbicides used on GMO crops harmful to beneficial insects, there is evidence that the pollen from GMO crops kills not only the insects that harm crops, but also kills other beneficial insects including pollinators. On the contamination of non-gmo crops: In Mexico, where literally thousands of varieties of heirloom corn varieties are grown, the importation of gmo corn from the US has contaminated local crops.

    GMO manufacturers sue farmers, and win, when their crops are inadvertently contaminated by their patented seeds. There are many fact-based reasons to be concerned about GMOs that go far beyond fear mongering and pseudo-science.

    This brings me back to the main topic. As biotech firms continue buying up small seed houses, it becomes ever more important for gardeners to be thoughtful about their seed purchases and support independent seed producers, if we want them to survive. Supporting seed suppliers who do not sell GMO seeds is a worthy endeavor.

    I ordered a catalog and some seeds. Landreth catalogs are beautiful, and I hope enough folks will rally around this company and help this national treasure to survive.

  • In reply to ssgardengirl:


    I agree with everything you're saying about GMOs and why we should be worried about them and work against them. What I mean about being anti-science and the fear mongering is that for a lot of people there isn't a distinction between GMO and hybrids when there should be. A lot of people may not know that they're not synonyms and other seem to ignore making the distinction between them when they create those "safe seed lists" you see floating around the Internet that purport to warn gardeners about what seed companies are safe to buy from because they carry "non-hybrid" seeds. The focus on "non-hybrid" -there's nothing inherently wrong with hybrids they happen in nature all the time-in the Internet activist GMO seed debate not only creates confusion, but they unfairly paint some seed companies for carrying something that's completely natural.

  • Ahhh. . . gotcha! I didn't even realize people were lumping GMOs and hybrids in the same category. I agree - there's absolutely nothing wrong with hybrids. In fact some gardeners, especially new gardeners, may find hybrids a little easier to grow than some heirlooms.

    I happen to prefer heirlooms in most cases, but hybrids are definitely lightyears different than GMOs. I have no problem buying seeds from companies that also sell hybrids. The ones I have a problem with are companies that are producing GMO seeds, regardless of whether they also sell hybrids and heirlooms - those same companies that are snatching up small seed houses and taking choice and diversity out of the gene pool as much as they can get away with it.

    Nature has been creating hybrids for eons, and people have been cross-pollinating and selective breeding for hundreds, if not thousands of years to get the best characteristics of both parents in the next generation.

    I never realized people were confused about GMOs/hybrids! Growing up gardening, I sometimes take what I know for granted, as if everyone else knows it too. Sounds like a good topic for #seedchat, if it hasn't already been covered. :)

    So anyway, come on y'all - pony up and buy a catalog from Landreth! :)

  • In reply to ssgardengirl:

    There's an older post here on this blog titled something like "hybrid seeds are no the enemy" that addresses the GMO and hybrid confusion that I first encountered online a year ago that echos what you said about them. I think in large part the confusion comes from the word itself. When you think of hybrid, and you're not familiar with it on gardening, your mind conjures up scary images of scientist in lab coats splicing DNA together or you think of crazy looking creatures like the Liger, a hybrid of a lion and tiger.

  • This seed company profited for decades by selling and supporting slavery in America. Let it go bankrupt! Start a new business with a new name!

  • In reply to digit:

    I get what you're saying and where you're coming from, but we've all profited from slavery in America. Do we all deserve to fail?

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