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Baker Creek Seed Bank sprouts up in Petaluma

November 23, 2009 |  6:43 am

Each December welcomes the arrival of the Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds catalog, a veritable encyclopedia of time-honored, non-hybrid, non-genetically modified and non-patented seeds for the home gardener. The 124-page magazine-like publication is packed with enticing photographs of vintage vegetable, herb and flower varieties available by seed from the Mansfield, Mo.-based company. Most of the packets cost $1.75 to $2.50 and yield delicious, healthy food that you can grow again and again, should you be inclined to collect seeds for future seasons. 

Baker Creek's owner, Jere Gettle, a twentysomething from the Ozarks, started his heirloom-seed-saving venture while still a teenager. Wearing his signature farmer's overalls, Gettle recently greeted a gaggle of scribes at the annual Garden Writers Assn. symposium in Raleigh, N.C. He handed out colorful packets and catalogs, but Gettle's big news was not about discovering the source of rare squash or tomato seeds.

Baker Creek Heirloom SeedsInstead, he was promoting Baker Creek's new retail location. The Baker Creek Seed Bank opened in June in a historic building in Petaluma, Calif. Originally home to Sonoma County Bank, circa 1926, the Seed Bank offers one of California's largest selections of organic and heirloom seeds – 1,200 varieties in all – as well as traditional gardening products.

According to store manager Paul Wallace, Baker Creek chose to locate to Petaluma because 50% of its California mail-order customers live within a one-hour radius of the wine country location. "A huge percentage of our catalog and online sales come from Sonoma, Marin, Mendocino and Napa counties," Wallace says. "I guess it's because of the interest in heirlooms among like-minded people who believe in growing their own food."

What about customers in Southern California? "People come here from all over the world," he says. "One couple recently arrived from Orange County. He drove while she went through the catalog to choose her seeds."

Baker Creek's mouthwatering descriptions of Jenny Lind melons from the 1840s or St. Valery French carrots from the 1880s might just inspire you to make the drive north too. You can request a 2010 catalog at www.rareseeds.com or (417) 924-8917.

The Baker Creek Seed Bank is at 199 Petaluma Blvd. N., Petaluma, (707) 509-5171. Hours: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday; 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday; closed Saturday.  The original outlet, Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, at 2278 Baker Creek Road in Mansfield, Mo., is open 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday through Friday.

-- Debra Prinzing