Monday, December 19, 2011

On Our Way to Renee’s Garden Organics

This past year, I've been working hard to source seeds for our new USDA certified organic seed packet line which will be introduced next July.

It's been an interesting challenge to find the quality and diversity of seed varieties that I want to offer for our brand. The big American packet seed companies that carry certified organic seeds all get the same old standard varieties in bulk quantities from one of two large producers. I want to go farther afield and offer newer and more interesting, flavorful varieties that are great in the kitchen along with herbs from their authentic countries of origin.

Prototype of organic packet design
One alternative was to buy seeds from a myriad of small growers which is a path some smaller organic packet seed companies take. However for Renee's, I have always focused on sourcing high germinating top quality seeds, free from weed seed or seed-borne diseases grown by people who really know what they're doing. So I prefer to get our seed from established sources - seasoned professional seed growers who have experience and the capacity to produce the quality of seed we want to put in our packets. Of course, many varieties we already carry are certified organic, so we are making those packets reflect that status.

Tasting and evaluating new organic carrots
Originally, I expected to find certified organic seeds available from some of the well-established growers in Germany, France and Italy that we buy conventionally raised seed from regularly. As it turns out, they all do indeed have great certified organic varieties available, but their seed is certified organic according by the European Union standards.

Unfortunately for me, the American USDA's National Organic Program standards operates in the US only, so European certified organic seeds cannot be considered certified here. The European organic standards and the American organic standards have never been, as the bureaucrats call it, "harmonized," so that either certification could be accepted in both the US and Europe.

According to industry officials I talked to, the "harmonization" process will eventually happen (the certification standards are very similar), but since the process involves government programs in both the US and European Union, this will probably take a long time!

 Organic dutch cauliflower
That said, with a lot of searching and trial growing, I have been able to find a reasonable number of varieties from some of my favorite sources in Italy, France, Germany and Holland that they have also taken through the USDA certification process so I can offer them in our organic line. I'm also contracting for some varieties from small certified organic farmers I've known personally for years and am working with a larger organic seed producer that grow seed for really special heirlooms.

Ready to stirfry: organic mustard greens
The design of our new organic packs packets is completed and Mimi Osborne, our Renee's Garden illustrator, is busy working on the new watercolors of the herbs and vegetables that will go in the line. We plan to have about 65 different varieties. Last summer, we grew out and evaluated most of the tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, melons squash, etc. that will be in the new organic lineup. Right now, Mimi is working from the harvests of our extensive late summer/fall garden crops.

This weekend, I was able to harvest a bevy of organic varieties and take digital photos for her to work from: five varieties of lettuce, baby beets, two varieties of carrots, two varieties of radishes, broccoli, broccoli Raab, cauliflower, fennel, mild mustard greens, spinach, chard, kale, parsley, dill, cilantro and chives. Early spring will produce many more.
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