Bell Urban Farm and Farmstand co-owner Zack McCannon is branching out and starting a new business venture collecting and selling heirloom seeds via Honeycomb Seed and Seed Bank. McCannon said starting a community-focused seed company and seed bank is a way to preserve pieces of peoples’ stories and family histories, give locals access to plants that will grow well where they live in Arkansas, and to create a viable business to keep the practice of sharing seeds going in the long-term.
“When you’re saving seeds, your garden looks a lot different from a garden sown with hybrid seeds,” McCannon said. “You get a lot more variation, I think that’s the key, and adaptability with pests and with climate change.”
In a greenhouse behind the Bell Urban Farmstand, farm manager Dylan Romine is test growing plants from heirloom seeds, such as herbs, eggplants, tomatoes that were planted in late January. The recent college graduate was working on her master’s degree in biology at the University of Central Arkansas when she started working at Bell Urban Farm.
“I have always had a passion for growing stuff, I always have a small backyard garden,” Romine said.
“And some of my research was on how big [agriculture] operations affect our stream ecosystems, so I kind of had that in my mind. I thought this was a cool, small certified naturally grown farm where I feel like I can practice these agricultural ways of growing things.”
In a few other spots on the farm, McCannon is test growing other seeds and has discovered a few interesting traits. He is growing Dazzling Blue purple kale plants that survived through winter in Arkansas.
“So they are good growers for a winter crop with some ground cover, but now that these [plants] have survived that frost, you have true information on this plant specifically, compared to another plant that didn’t survive the frost,” McCannon said.
Some plants being test grown on the farm also present unique characteristics, such as an heirloom tomato variety that produced some heart-shaped fruits. Honeycomb Seed and Seed Bank will also work with Arkansas-based volunteer seed saving organization ROOST Project to expand the seed collection at Bell Urban Farm.
ROOST aims to protect and improve heirloom seed varieties and has collected numerous seeds from the Ozark and Ouachita regions in Arkansas. ROOST has somewhere between 300 and 400 different varieties in its seed bank today.
“There’s only a certain portion of that amount you could even grow on one site, so you almost have to have partners,” ROOST Project Director Joshua Lockyer said.
“Some of these seeds have a deep history attached to them coming from farmers who could trace their history back to when their ancestors came over from Europe. … It’s about trying to keep the gene pool alive and in peoples’ hands.”
A seed library is a place where community members can get seeds for free or for a nominal fee and is run for public benefit. They preserve rare, open-pollinated or heirloom seeds and encourage gardeners to save quality seeds that are suitable for local growing areas, essentially loaning seeds to gardeners. Seed libraries are not a new concept in Arkansas.
The Central Arkansas Library System, the Saline County Library and the Faulkner County Seed Library offer free seed library programs that allow people to check out seeds for anything from garden vegetables and fruits, herbs, ornamental plants to flowers from a collection of seeds that are often donated. Honeycomb Seed and Seed Bank officially opens on March 4 and will operate Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. at 2011 Tyler St. in Conway. Seeds will also be sold online at www.honeycombseed.com.
Honeycomb Seed and Seed Bank will participate in a free community seed swap and will share open pollinated flowers, herbs and vegetable seeds in the Windgate Museum of Art at Hendrix College in Conway on Saturday from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. McCannon said he will promote the new company by participating in seed swaps, holding plant sales and seed-related fundraisers for organizations and buying seeds from locals via building “a network of small-scale backyard gardeners that can save seeds,” he said. Honeycomb will also grow seeds to seedling/plant stages as a service for gardeners; growers can bring seeds to Honeycomb or the company can provide them.
Read the article at Arkansas Democrat Gazette Online