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Buying Certified Organic Heirloom Seeds

organic heirloom seedsBuying Certified Organic Heirloom Seeds

Helpful definitions that clearly define seed labels and let you make the right choice for your needs. 


Yes we are Certified Organic!

We sell Certified Organic Heirloom Seeds.  The proof is the document listed here in blue, or you can get a copy at the bottom of this page.  This is how you can be sure the seeds you are buying are truly Certified Organic seeds.  Remember "natural" is NOT Certified Organic.  In fact, we think it is important to define some terms because there seems to be a great deal of confusion about organic heirloom seeds.  So, let's define a few things:

An Heirloom seed is:  Generally defined as an open pollinated variety that has resulted from natural selection rather than a controled hybridization process.  Some sources say an "heirloom seed" variety must be at least 50 years of age to be considered an heirloom and this topic still seems to be hotly debated.  Seed saved from an heirloom produces plants with the same characteristics as the parent.

Open Pollinated: Open pollinated seed varieties are those that result from pollination by insects, wind, self-pollination or other natural forms of pollination. If you save seeds from open-pollinated varieties and grow them, they will come true, meaning that the plans will produce plants with characteristics or traits like the parent plant from which the seeds were harvested (Assuming they did not cross pollinate with another of the same family.  To learn more about this we recommend these books that teach seed saving techniques and basic plant genetics.)

Certified Organic: When you see the phrase "Certified Organic" on a seed packet, it has distinct legal meaning.  It can ONLY be used for seed by growers who are in compliance with all the detailed rules and regulations specified by the USDA's National Organic Program.  While other countries have their own systems, in the US, organic regulations specify that the land in which crops are grown cannot have had prohibited substances applied for three years prior to harvest, and the operation must be managed according to an Organic System Plan that is approved and regularly inspected by a USDA accredited certifier.   Organic seeds are grown strictly without the use of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides; the use of sewage sludge, irradiation, and genetic engineering are also prohibited. 

Hybrid:  Hybrid / F1 or first generation hybrid occurs when a plant breeder selects two pure lines (plants that produce identical offspring when self-pollinated) and cross-pollinates them to produce a seed which combines desirable characteristics or traits from both parents.  Common traits plant breeders work to increase in hybrids might include, for example, disease resistance, uniformity, earliness or color.  Hybrid seeds are often more expensive due to the high cost in production. Seeds can be saved from hybrids; however, plants grown from that seed will not come true; in other words, they may lack the desirable characteristics of the parents.  An example of a hybrid is Sungold tomatoes.  Due to high demand, Sustainable Seed Company now offers a select few hybrid seed varieties. 

GE (Genetically Engineered)  Some people use the term GMO or Genetically Modified Organism.  Genetic Engineering describes the high-tech methods used in recent decades to incorporate genes directly into an organism.  The only way scientists can transfer genes between organisms that are not sexually compatible is to use recombinant DNA techniques.  The plants that result do no occur in nature; they are "Genetically Engineered" by human intervention and manipulation. Sustainable Seed Company does not sell GE seeds and we are highly opposed to this technology. 

"Natural":  Unlike organic, which has a clear set of standards, the FDA has never actually created any regulations for what "natural" actually means.  On food labels USDA allows the use of the term "natural" to be used in meat and poultry labeling on products that contain no artificial ingredients or added color. The product also must be only minimally processed. The label must explain the use of the term natural, for example, no added coloring; minimally processed.  There is not a definition for seed that we are aware of.   There is Certified Naturally Grown.  Certified Naturally Grown is based on the "Participatory Guarantee System" model of certification.  These requirements are much less strict than Certified Organic.  So currently, the word "natural" or "100% natural" means a whole lot of nothing on a seed label. 

"100% Non-GMO" (Genetically Modified Organism):  We have seen this pop-up recently on many seed sites and we have had many phone calls asking us about this.  We don't believe anyone can say this with a clear conscience or be "100%" correct.   First off, how do they know this?  Did they test the seed in a genetic lab like Genetic ID as reputable seed companies do?  Ask them!  Do they even know which crops have genetically engineered counterparts and could have possible contamination?  Do any of us?  Many crops are being developed that we are not aware of.  A number of GE crops have already been introduced, but there are many others that are being grown and tested all over the world.  Wheat is one that is being tested, but still hasn't been currently released. 

If seed companies making these claims were testing, they would discover that different samples of corn, for instance, could give very different results from the same bag depending on which seeds were sampled.  In other words, you could open a 50# bag of corn, take a sample and get GE contamination.  However, the next sample may not contain any contamination at all depending on the percent/level of contamination and a number of other factors.  We have seen this happen more than once.  So, how could you claim that this seed (or any seed) is "100% GMO Free"?  You will notice we say "Please be aware that a negative test result, while not guaranteeing genetic purity, greatly improves your chances that the seed is not contaminated with Genetically Engineered traits .  PCR Analysis tests are costly, but we are committed to our stance on GE contamination in our seed."   However, we would never claim that it is "100% GMO Free" How could you?

Even if the seed company grew their own seed (VERY few do these days) you still could not say that you were "100%" sure there was not any GE contamination.  For example we know that GE corn pollen drifts for miles on the trade winds. Trucks spill small amounts of Genectically Engineered soy and other crops along roadways regularly.  GE Canola is now found growing in the wild.  Planes drop-seed hundreds of acres from the sky in the case of Genetically Engineered rice.  We now have entire forests of Genetically Engineered trees.  Scientist do not completely understand the level of GE contamination in our environment and what effects it has.  This topic is hotly debated and the idea of a seed company making a blanket statement that they have "100% GE free" seed is absurd. 

Treated Seed:  These seeds could be treated with pesticides or fungicides.  You would not necessarily know that the seeds were treated unless you bought certified organic seeds.  Current rules for the USDA certified organic program  prohibit the use of treated seed.  So just because it says "all natural" or even "untreated" what does that mean?  Who certifies that?  As you have just read "all natural" or "natural" literally means nothing other than fluff or fancy words on a seed packet.  Many seeds that are imported into this country are treated/fumigated for pest and disease in quarantine.  Those seeds then go on to be put in pretty packages with all sorts of words and pretty pictures that basically mean a whole lot of nothing! 

So now you have a little education about seeds.  We trust you can make better informed choices and buy from certified heirloom organic seed companies.  All legally certified organic seed companies will have a copy of their organic seed certification.   Ask for it!

Need proof we are Certified Organic?  Click the link below for a copy of our USDA Organic Seed Certification. 

For customers needing the Organic Certificate for their own records, click here  to download a pdf.

Comments on Buying Certified Organic Heirloom Seeds

Debe Hudson 04-30-2013 09:27 AM
Your information here is very helpful. But, I have talked to many organic and many natural plant grower and the natural plant growers say their practices are more stringent because some chemicals and pesticides are allowed in the organic field at the present time. Is this true?

-- The word "natural" unfortunately means very little on a food or seed label. But don't take our word for it. Do a Google search for "natural vs organic," and several articles will come up talking about the higher stringency of certified organic. ~SSC
Shawna Daniels 04-26-2013 10:02 PM
Aloha! I am absolutely thrilled with your seeds! Never had better germination rate! Everything is growing so quick and healthy! Always recommending you to everyone I know and meet at our local farmers market. The prices are outstanding and because of this we are able to plant and give away a considerable amount of free vegie starts at our booth at our local farmers market. Keep it up! We love your seeds! Aloha!
Denise Santoro 07-21-2012 08:20 PM
I have a question on the fall garden collection. Are the seeds packaged separately in the reusable bag or are they all mixed up. I am a fairly new gardener and only know a couple seeds on sight. Is there a guide? I'd also like to get this as a gift for friends but not necessarily if there's no telling which seed is which.

-- The Fall Garden seeds come in their variety-specific packets, complete with planting instructions. The packets are separated into two stacks to go into the reusable bag. ~SSC
John Ellis 01-11-2012 11:15 AM
I have a question: On your site you recommend planting Cayuse oats as a natural trellis for peapods. I have ordered both and wanted to ask: Do you need to plant the oats earlier than the peapods or at the same time? If earlier, how much earlier? Thanks. Hope to hear from you.

-- Plant them at the same time. ~SSC
Mark Valleroy Jr. 11-28-2011 05:03 PM
Just recieved my seeds in the mail today! Great speed cannot wait to start my Australian Brown onion seeds the 1st of January:) under lights of course. Love the web page nicely done and thanks for the extra pack of cabbage seeds. A very satisfied customer!

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