Most of the produce vendors at the Ann Arbor Farmers Market sell seedlings or cut vegetables, but the Ann Arbor Seed Company, true to its name, focuses on the initial phase of plant life. Stacy Mates, who has been working at the company almost since its founding in 2012, stands flanked by a rack of seeds on one side and shelves of seedlings on the other.
“I’ve been involved with farming for most of my adult life, but this seed company does something that I’m happy to be a part of”, says Mates, with a passion in her voice that echoes the attitude of many other vendors at the market.
A young man strolls up to the tomato seedlings. “I was just wondering”, he says, “do you have a favorite?” “I have a few favorites,” Mates responds. “What kind of tomato flavor do you like?”
When he replies that he enjoys black tomatoes, she says, “Oh, ok, that’s helpful”, and combs through the tomato plants thoughtfully. “We have Cherokee Purple, which you might have had before…” He nods.
For the next few minutes, he asks her about the different tomatoes on the shelf, and she responds with ease, telling him about the virtues and shortcomings of each tomato, and how they compare to each other. He takes a business card from the seed rack, and leaves with a smile, saying that he’ll be back.
Ann Arbor Seed Company comes primarily to the Saturday farmer’s market from April through June, but their seedlings can also be found at Argus Farm Stop, and their seeds are sold at several local retailers. They also have an extensive online catalog.
“Our primary focus is the seeds, but a few years ago, we realized that not everyone wants to grow seeds, so we started using our seeds to produce seedlings,” she explains. “Not everyone has the capacity or knowledge to start from scratch.”
Mates finds that one of the most important parts of farming is engaging and educating the local community, and selling locally is very important to her, especially considering recent trends in the way seeds are sold.
“I think in the last few years, with seeds, there’s been a consolidation, and with that comes a loss. Being able to be part of a movement that is countering that consolidation and that loss, and knowing the power of where our food comes from…
It’s such an advantage that when someone asks, ‘how does this grow?’ I can tell them this really specific information that might help them figure out if it will grow where they want it to.”
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