Baker Creek Keeps History Alive Through Seeds

Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds provides more than 1,600 varieties of seeds, including herbs, vegetables, and flowers. (Chiot’s Run)

More than 2,000 years of agricultural history are for sale at Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds. The Mansfield, Missouri company, which was founded by Jere Gettle in 1998, now offers more than 1,600 flower, vegetable, and herb seeds, making it the largest supplier of heirloom seeds in the United States.

Gettle and his wife Emilee have expanded the business—which was originally started by Jere in his bedroom when he was 17—to include festivals, seed collecting trips, and Bakersville, a village that is home to the store and other nineteenth century style attractions. Baker Creek brings together this rustic atmosphere with impressive technology, allowing the company to send out 430,000 catalogs and operate its six-hectare facility.

"It's a cross between the old and the new," Jere said.

Inside the warehouse, a complex system runs the order-filling process. Projectors, programmed with more than 150,000 lines of code, shine light on the seeds needed and show how many packets are in the order. It is no wonder this technology is required to sort through Baker Creek’s inventory—the warehouse is home to seeds from more than 75 countries, including Italy, Oman, Myanmar, Spain, and Thailand.

According to the upcoming documentary SEED: The Untold Story, over the past 100 years, 94 percent of seed varieties have been lost. Baker Creek is working to promote biodiversity. The Gettles have stated that “the company has become a tool to promote and preserve our agricultural and culinary heritage.”

Baker Creek has expanded beyond Missouri to include a “Seed Bank”, a 1920s bank converted into a retail location in Petaluma, CA, which sells more than 1,500 varieties of seeds as well as books, gifts, and food. Additionally, in Wethersfield, Connecticut, a town founded in 1634, Baker Creek has taken ownership of Comstock, Ferre, & Co., a historic seed vendor that dates back to the early nineteenth century. The Gettles are working to preserve the location’s historic character, including antique equipment and some of the seeds included in the company’s original catalogs. 

Margot is a senior at Duke University studying International Comparative Studies and Italian.

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