Stellar Seeds is an independent, family owned seed company established in 2000 that focuses on providing growers with high quality, open-pollinated, GMO-free seed. Owned and operated by Patrick Steiner and Colleen O’Brien, and located in the West Kootenay’s of BC, Stellar Seeds offers organically grown seeds that are naturally more resilient to pests and pathogens, and are capable of performing well in many growing conditions. Many of the seeds offered have been grown by Patrick and Colleen on their property in Johnson’s Landing, Kootenay Joe Farm. They partner with other local, organic growers who supply the remainder of the seeds that Stellar Seeds offers. Some of these farms include Saanich Organics (Saanich Peninsula), The Homestead Organic Farm (Peachland), UBC Farm (Vancouver), and Left Fields (Sorrento). They offer an array of seed varieties, many of which are heirloom varieties that have been favoured by farmers and growers for many years because of their reliability, great flavour and unique appearance.
Throughout the past 15 years of business, Stellar Seeds has operated on a lot of heart, soul and sweat providing wholesale orders to stock seed racks in more than 30 businesses across British Columbia and Alberta. Selling seeds in this manner provided Stellar Seeds with about 50% of its income, but took an immense amount of time and effort. This past Fall, as Patrick spent time reevaluating the viability of this seed business, he realized he was putting in most of his efforts to complete these wholesale orders, but this wasn’t proving to be the greatest net income. As a result of this re-evaluation, Stellar Seeds is now experiencing a transitionary period where Patrick and Colleen are prioritizing a more balanced way of life between family, farming and operation of the seed business. With small children at home, a market garden that has become a staple at the Kaslo Farmers’ Market, and the desire for a more balanced life, Stellar Seeds has been scaled down for 2016 to more of a part-time business. Stellar Seeds will supply about 8 stores across the West Kootenay’s with seed racks this year, while the remaining stores across BC and Alberta will no longer carry their seeds. By making this change in retailers, the time investment required by the seed company from Patrick throughout this past winter has lessened, meaning a shift in focus to new priorities has been possible. Stellar Seeds will aim to increase its net profits more through direct to consumer sales like Seedy Saturdays and Farmers’ Markets, rather than through wholesale orders. Over the next few years while Stellar Seeds navigates through this transitionary period, and focuses more on local advertising throughout the Kootenay’s while developing relationships directly with customers and local businesses, folks can expect to see less seeds available for purchase. A great variety of seeds will still be available, but as a whole customers can expect to find less than what has previously been offered in recent years. As the restructuring of the business becomes more stable and viable, the goal is once again to increase the amount of seeds offered, so customers will continue to enjoy Stellar Seeds as a prominent seed supplier in the Kootenay’s.
Recently Stellar Seeds has become a founding member of the new BC Eco Seed Co-op which became officially incorporated at the end of 2014, and is entering its second year of seed sales to the public. The focus of this Co-op is to provide vegetable, herb, grain, flower and cover crop seed that is ecologically grown, open-pollinated, regionally adapted, held in the public domain, and GE-free. They offer certified organic seed and seed that is not certified organic, however all seed suppliers must follow certain growing principles. The purpose of this Co-op is to provide bulk seed packages to farmers and growers, rather than small seed packets. In doing so, the aim is to offer a different service to those seeking seeds, and not to compete with small seed businesses here in BC, who typically offer smaller packet quantities. The Co-op is still in its infancy, with about 8 members. Some of these members are multi-farm members (co-ops themselves) or own their own small seed companies. The Co-op is still limited in the seed it has to offer, but is confident it will become stronger in the future. They have a goal to not only be selling from their website, but also to have seed racks available in certain stores throughout BC and to be attending some Seed Sale/Swap events as well. The Co-op is in the midst of working on a grant opportunity for marketing to check out the viability of expanding their sales outlets. Stellar Seeds experienced a great first year of seed sales (2015) through the Eco Seed Co-op, and Patrick believes becoming a member of the Co-op can provide a great economic opportunity for farmers producing seed. Not only does the Co-op offer an economic benefit to members, it also offers benefits through building connections with other member seed producers. “One of the neatest things for me, as a member of the Co-op, is meeting with the other members via phone conference every two weeks for planning and discussion. Collaborating on ideas, successes and failures has proven to be a benefit to Stellar Seeds and has helped me with the operation of my seed business,” says Patrick.
Patrick and Colleen are excited for the 2016 seedy season, which is already upon us! Folks looking to get their hands on seeds offered by Stellar Seeds, can find them at the following events over the next few weeks: Rossland Seedy Saturday (February 20th); Kaslo Seedy Sunday (February 28th); Castlegar Seedy Saturday (March 5th); Slocan Valley Seed Exchange (Sunday March 6th); and Nelson Seedy Saturday (March 12th). Pop by a local seed event near you, to stock up on great local seed (the best kind!) and to say hello to these fine folks from Stellar Seeds!
Those interested can also order seeds, and find more information, through Stellar Seeds online.
Written By: Miche Warwick, Kootenay Food Communications Liaison
Image Credit: Patrick Steiner, Stellar Seeds