“We talk about food-to-table, but seed-to-table is just as important,” explains Brijette Romstedt-Peña, founder of the San Diego Seed Company, which is currently the only local seed distributor in San Diego and the only certified organic urban seed producer in the country.
Just 10 years ago, Romstedt-Peña, who is originally from rural Kansas, saw a need for locally cultivated seeds in San Diego.
“No one was supplying seeds that were specific to San Diego, or to the Southern California’s microclimate.”
She took it upon herself to take courses on seed production through UC Davis and created the company while working for an interior plant design company, a job she had landed as a first-generation college graduate after earning her degree from Cal State Marcos.
Two years ago, she began focusing on the San Diego Seed Company full-time with the goal of building a culture, community, and dialogue around seeds.
“We talk about food and where it comes from more often than we have in the recent past., but now I want that conversation to be about where your seeds come from,” she says. “And I want local seeds to be more available and more accessible.”
Local seed production is important because it increases genetic diversity of plant and food crops with traits that are favorable to local growing conditions or bioregions.
“When you produce seeds in the space they are intended to grow, the food crops can then adapt to the local growing conditions. It makes the crops more resistant to local pests and plant diseases, and better adapted to the soil structure and environmental conditions.”
Seed varieties are also important, because, for example, a watermelon might not do well in San Diego because it’s too dry, or too wet. There are different climates and diseases to take into consideration, which creates a need for bioregional seeds that are better suited to withstand the conditions of a specific region.
“If you want diverse crops available in the world, please buy local seeds. Support local, and community growth.”
Local seed production is a lengthy and arduous process, which is why there aren’t many other companies doing it. You must first grow the fruit well past its edible state in order to extract the seeds.
For example, beet seeds take 16 months to become viable. A zucchini will be about the size of a baseball bat by the time it’s ready for seed extraction.
The seeds must be dried, run through a clipper, and given a final cleaning before they’re ready to be packaged and distributed.
Urban farms have two advantages when it comes to seed production: They are far away from large GMO farms, and they’re closer to the consumers.
“There is no stress or fear about pesticides or GMO seeds being near your farm,” she said, explaining that San Diego Seed Company focuses on selecting seeds to grow in smaller urban spaces, with flavor and drought and disease-resistance in mind.
San Diego Seed Company currently offers 160 varieties of flowers, herbs and vegetables, including dry-resistant varieties. They also have eleven flower varieties meant to bring beneficial insects into your garden.
A large part of the San Diego Seed Company is rooted in education.
“We are not simply selling a product. I teach people how to not buy my product,” she laughed. “We are trying to get more people to put their hands in the dirt, so they start to care more about the dirt. I think growing has made me a better person and is beneficial for everyone. Even if it’s just a small houseplant or more than that. It’s important to us as humans.”
Romstedt-Peña’s personal five-year-goal for her farm is to make local seed cultivation and gardening even more available in her community through a public garden named after her mother.
Learn More & Visit San Diego Seed Company
You can read about each variety of seed, check out their grower’s library for information and tips, or order seed at sandiegoseedcompany.com.
Contact San Diego Seed Company via the website to arrange a visit to the farm or to sign up for a class like the upcoming Urban Farming 101 Three Part Immersion Program that starts on October 12th, 2019.
Follow @sandiegoseedcompany on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.