If you’re looking to buy seeds for your vegetable garden from socially responsible seed companies that are not associated with GMOs, Bayer/Monsanto, or any of their subsidiaries, look no further…
While there are hundreds of great seed companies out there that offer organic, heirloom and open-pollinated seeds, the following ten companies were selected not only for their commitment to heirloom and non-GMO seeds and our positive experience with their seeds and service, but also because they each have something special about their business practices that fosters greater sustainability for people and planet.
For example, some specialize in rare seed preservation, or they are employee-owned, or they focus on breeding seeds that are adapted to a particular climate. The larger companies on this list carry organic, heirloom and non-GMO seed varieties, as well as onion and garlic sets, seed potatoes, asparagus crowns, berry plants, fruit trees, tools, soil amendments, and more.
- What is an Heirloom Seed?
- Why Choose Heirloom Seeds?
- What About Patented Seeds?
- The Safe Seed Pledge
- The 10 Best Seed Companies for Heirloom Seeds
- Seed Savers Exchange (Decorah, IA)
- MIGardener (Port Huron, MI)
- Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds (Mansfield, MO)
- Botanical Interests (Broomfield, CO)
- Peaceful Valley Farm & Garden Supply (Grass Valley, CA)
- High Mowing Organic Seeds (Walcott, VT)
- Johnny’s Selected Seeds (Winslow, ME)
- Clear Creek Seeds (Hulbert, OK)
- Territorial Seed Company (Cottage Grove, OR)
- Southern Exposure Seed Exchange (Mineral, VA)
- Runner-Up: Seeds of Change (Rancho Dominguez, CA)
What is an Heirloom Seed?
A seed variety is typically considered an heirloom if it is open-pollinated, and existed more than 50 years ago. Heirloom seeds have been grown and saved generation after generation because they have unique and special characteristics that people want—like a string bean with a pretty, purple-speckled pod instead of plain green, or a lumpy, bumpy orange tomato that bursts with flavor, for example.
These desirable seeds are often passed down through families, but a few seed companies and organizations have also helped preserve heirloom seeds and make them more widely available.
Why Choose Heirloom Seeds?
Heirlooms Have History
Because heirlooms are old, many of these seed varieties have interesting histories. For example, ‘Black Watchman’ hollyhock was grown in Thomas Jefferson’s garden at Monticello (and it’s mentioned in texts as early as 1629). By growing heirloom seeds, you are preserving important, historic plant genetics, and you get to enjoy rare or unique foods and flowers.
Heirlooms Are Time-Tested
If so many people have bothered to save a particular plant’s seeds for posterity, you know it must be really special. Heirlooms have been saved and planted across time because of their exceptional flavor, beauty, or hardiness.
Heirlooms Can Be Saved
All plants need to be pollinated in order to produce seeds. But unlike hybrid seeds or GMOs, all heirloom seeds are naturally open-pollinated by wind or insects. This means that, with care, you can save their seeds and they will grow true to type year after year.
Heirlooms are Guaranteed Non-GMO
All heirloom seeds are non-GMO. GMO stands for Genetically Modified Organism, and means the seeds have been genetically altered in a lab using recombinant DNA technology, often implanted with genes from unrelated species they could not naturally breed with. For example, some GMO corn has been altered with genes from bacteria that help them resist certain pests. So, by definition, certified organic or heirloom seeds cannot be GMO.
What About Patented Seeds?
The Plant Patent Act was enacted by the U.S. Congress in 1930. It was introduced primarily to encourage plant breeding and increase plant genetic diversity. by ensuring that breeders could make a return on their sizable research and development costs. Because of this Act, farmers and plant breeders nationwide were able to develop the huge variety of apples, berries, stone fruit, citrus, roses, lilacs, and more that we enjoy today.
The two most common types of plant patent are:
Plant Variety Protection (PVP) – Plant Variety Protection patents are like copyrights. Like a copyrighted piece of writing, anyone can enjoy it, reproduce it for themselves and their friends, use it as inspiration—but to publish it, sell it, or put it on a greeting card requires permission (and maybe money). Similarly, gardeners and farmers are free to save and replant PVP seeds for personal use, but they may not sell them.
Utility Patents – Utility patents are more controversial. A utility patent is granted by the United States Patent and Trademark Office based on a unique and specific attribute of an individual plant variety, like resistance to a specific disease. A plant variety with a utility patent can only be used for crop production and cannot be used for seed saving to resell, give away, or replant, for 20 years from introduction. Utility patents have major ramifications for seed diversity and the livelihood of subsistence farmers who depend on saved seed, but do not really affect American gardeners.
More and more small and midsize seed companies are developing their own patented seed varieties that have wonderful traits like extra disease protection, unique growing habits, or unusual flavor or coloring. But don’t worry: No one is concerned about whether a home gardener saves 5o cents worth of patented lettuce seed from one year to the next for personal use.
Seed companies know that home gardeners are not trying to make money from someone else’s research and development. These patents are exclusively to protect the holder (for 20 years only) from farmers, plant breeders, or competing seed companies stealing and profiting from their hard work.
The Safe Seed Pledge
The Safe Seed Pledge was conceived in 1999 when High Mowing Organic Seed Company led a coalition of nine other seed companies in drafting a statement about their stance on recombinant DNA genetic engineering. To date, the Pledge has been signed by over 370 seed companies worldwide.
Signing the Safe Seed Pledge is entirely voluntary and totally unregulated, but it’s a very safe bet that any company that has signed the pledge and published it in their catalogs and website is committed to the cause.
“Agriculture and seeds provide the basis upon which our lives depend. We must protect this foundation as a safe and genetically stable source for future generations. For the benefit of all farmers, gardeners and consumers who want an alternative, we pledge that we do not knowingly buy or sell genetically engineered seeds or plants. The mechanical transfer of genetic material outside of natural reproductive methods and between genera, families or kingdoms, poses great biological risks as well as economic, political, and cultural threats. We feel that genetically engineered varieties have been insufficiently tested prior to public release. More research and testing is necessary to further assess the potential risks of genetically engineered seeds. Further, we wish to support agricultural progress that leads to healthier soils, genetically diverse agricultural ecosystems and ultimately people and communities.”
The 10 Best Seed Companies for Heirloom Seeds
Each of the following seed companies provides organic, open-pollinated or heirloom seeds, and has taken the Safe Seed Pledge. They all have excellent quality seeds (no “PepperGate” here!) and great customer service, and each has something unique about their business that sets them apart.
If you have any questions about a seed company, either listed below or otherwise, just give them a call or send them an email! Most are very happy to answer your questions.
I recommend that you consider your values, your gardening needs and your local climate and bioregion when choosing your seed sources.
Seed Savers Exchange (Decorah, IA)
The Seed Savers Exchange (SSE) is a non-profit organization working to save heirloom garden seeds from extinction. Their focus is on preserving heritage varieties of seed that gardeners and farmers bring to North America when their families immigrate(d), and traditional varieties grown by Native Americans, Mennonites and the Amish.
SSE’s 8,000+ members grow heirloom varieties of vegetables, fruits and grains from all over the world, and offer them to other members in their amazing annual yearbook that has over 450 pages.
You can find almost extinct varieties of seed to try in your garden, and all the money you spend with the Seed Saver’s Exchange goes to helping protect seed biodiversity.
This is, hands-down, my favorite place to look for exciting new plant varieties for my garden.
MIGardener (Port Huron, MI)
MIgardener is a exciting, young seed company that has over 700 rare and unique vegetable, fruit, and flower seeds. All of their stock is open pollinated, heirloom and organically grown by small family farms—and most seed packets cost only $2!
They have their own organic fertilizer blend that people rave about, and are rapidly expanding into providing berries, asparagus and other crop starts. Best of all, they provide a ton of fun, free gardening education on their website and YouTube channel.
MIGardener is dedicated to preserving genetic diversity in seeds, and recently helped save the ‘Giant Crimson’ heirloom tomato from extinction, making these heritage seeds available to gardeners for the first time in 50 years!
Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds (Mansfield, MO)
Baker Creek is a family-owned business who’s mission is to promote and preserve our agricultural and culinary heritage. They offer a breathtaking catalog with over 500 pages of beautifully photographed plants, and website with over 1,350 varieties of vegetables, flowers and herbs—one of the largest selections of heirloom seeds in the U.S.
Baker Creek also carries one of the largest selections of seeds from the 19th century, including many Asian and European varieties. They also specialize in rare and hard-to-find heirloom seeds from over 75 different countries.
Botanical Interests (Broomfield, CO)
Botanical Interests is a well-known, 25-year old, organic seed company that carries over 600 varieties of seed, including hundreds of heirlooms vegetables, herbs and flowers. You can often find a stand of Botanical Interest seed packets at garden centers and natural grocery stores in the U.S. They are committed to organic gardening education, and their seed packets are some of the most interesting, useful and informative out there.
All of Botanical Interests’ products are sustainably made in the U.S., and they are both certified organic and Non-GMO Project verified. They have both a seed donation program and a seed fundraising program for schools, shelters, and churches across the U.S.
Peaceful Valley Farm & Garden Supply (Grass Valley, CA)
Peaceful Valley is a seed company dedicated to promoting organic food production that carries a large assortment of organic and heirloom vegetable and flower seeds, cover crops, native grasses, pasture and lawn seed, fruit trees and berries, herbs, potatoes, onions and garlic.
They also offer a great selection of gardening tools, pest control, season-extending products, composting supplies, growing, propagating and irrigation equipment, and books. They grow everything organically, and they want to help you to do so, too!
Peaceful Valley offers special pricing programs for farmers, school gardens and landscaping businesses.
High Mowing Organic Seeds (Walcott, VT)
High Mowing Organic Seeds is the company that initiated the creation of the Safe Seed Pledge—and they remain as committed to organic gardening and heirloom seed preservation as ever! In addition to drafting and signing the Safe Seed Pledge in 1999, High Mowing took the extra step of becoming Non-GMO Project verified in 2014.
High Mowing has over 700 organic seed varieties, including many heirlooms, most of which are grown on their 40-acre, certified organic farm in Vermont. They specialize in seeds for growing in cold climates. They have their own lab, and maintain rigorous testing and sorting standards, ensuring that you always get the seed variety you ordered, and that it has good germination.
Through their seed donation program, High Mowing also supports community gardens, school gardens, church gardens, food bank gardens, summer camps, and disaster relief groups.
Johnny’s Selected Seeds (Winslow, ME)
Johnny’s Selected Seeds is a large, well-known employee-owned seed company that was one of the nine original drafters of the Safe Seed Pledge, and they remain committed to safe, sustainable plant breeding today. Johnny’s has more than 1,200 varieties of hybrid, open pollinated and heirloom vegetables, medicinal, culinary herbs and flowers, including a few interesting varieties they have developed and patented themselves.
If you are homesteading, farming or market gardening, Johnny’s offer bulk quantities of seed, as well as a variety of cover crops to keep your soil in good shape. They also have high quality gardening tools, equipment and accessories, soil amendments and organic pest control products.
While Johnny’s Selected Seeds is a larger, one-stop-shop for organic gardening and farming, their extensive site and catalog is full of free, detailed growing instructions and helpful tips, even if you don’t buy seeds from them.
Clear Creek Seeds (Hulbert, OK)
Clear Creek is a small, family-owned business specializing exclusively in heirloom seed varieties, including flowers, herbs and vegetables. As a small company, they are able to provide warm, highly personal customer service, great prices and next day shipping.
One of the best things about Clear Creek is that all their seeds come in BPA-free, see-through, waterproof, resealable packages! You can instantly see how many seeds you have left, and they always stay dry (even when you accidentally leave them in the garden. Just saying…).
Territorial Seed Company (Cottage Grove, OR)
Territorial Seed is a large, family-owned company whose mission is to “improve people’s self-sufficiency and independence by enabling gardeners to produce an abundance of good tasting, fresh-from-the-garden food.”
They trial and evaluate all their seeds at their farms, and the live plants that they offer are raised in their farm greenhouses. They offer hybrid, open-pollinated and heirloom seed varieties that are particularly suited for the Pacific Northwest climate, or places with similar weather and rainfall.
Territorial’s germination standards are higher than prescribed by the Federal Seed Act and their farm is certified USDA Organic, Biodynamic® by Demeter USA, and Salmon-Safe by Salmon-Safe Inc. They have a 100% satisfaction guarantee.
Southern Exposure Seed Exchange (Mineral, VA)
Southern Exposure Seed Exchange offers over 800 varieties of vegetable, flower, herb, grain and cover crop seed. They emphasize varieties that grow well in the Mid-Atlantic and Southeast U.S., and specialize in unusual Southern heirlooms, including peanuts, southern peas, naturally colored cotton, collards, okra, roselle, turnip greens, corn for roasting and meal, and butterbeans. Over 60% of their seed varieties are certified organic and grown by small, local farmers.
Southern Exposure Seed Exchange is a worker-run cooperative where every worker has a voice in the decisions of the company and receives equal compensation. They have been very active in the fight against GMO contamination of our seed supply, and in 2011, joined 9 other members of the Organic Seed Growers and Trade Association in suing Bayer/Monsanto to protect organic seed.
Runner-Up: Seeds of Change (Rancho Dominguez, CA)
Seeds of Change is the oldest certified organic seed company in the U.S., but it was acquired in 2007 by the Mars company, which unfortunately uses GMO corn, soy and sugarbeet in some of their processed food products.
Unfortunately, since the demand for healthy, organic products is so high, many organic brands (like Annie’s, Erewhon, Horizon, Plum Organics, and more) have been bought out by large industrial food corporations (like Mars, General Mills, Coca-Cola, etc.) who want a piece of the market.
Only you can decide if you want to continue to purchase these brands after they have been bought by large corporations.
However, you should know that the Seeds of Change research farm still operates just like it did before it was bought by Mars. For over 30 years, they have unwaveringly offered 100% certified organic, open-pollinated, hybrid (non-GMO) and heirloom seeds, and they grow all their seeds on their farm or within their network of other certified organic farmers. They have also signed the Safe-Seed Pledge.
Seeds of Change wins “runner-up” because they have the marketing power of a large corporation behind them, which has both upsides and downsides for the environment and society. On the upside, Mars’ ownership of Seeds of Change means you can get certified organic seeds at Home Depot, Lowe’s, Walmart, Whole Foods, and lots of other common retail chains nationwide.
This makes organic, open-pollinated and heirloom seeds accessible to anyone—including the majority of people who might not have considered the value of organic, open-pollinated seeds before. So if you don’t shop online, or you’re new to gardening and don’t know where to start, you can easily pick up Seeds of Change organic seeds for your garden while you are out buying groceries or light bulbs.
You can find more seed companies that have signed the Safe Seed Pledge here.
There are so many great seed companies offering organic and heirloom seeds out there! What seed companies do you like? Let us know in the comments!
Updated: January 3, 2024