Monday, November 18, 2013

Palmer - Birthplace of Foundroot Seeds

Leah was one of the first people I contacted on couchsurfing before coming to Alaska. Her profile started with this:
 "I own a small vegetable seed company in Palmer, AK and spend most of my time exploring, collecting, and enjoying Alaska's bounty."

That was all I needed to read. We met at the Spenard Farmers Market. Her tent was full of buzzing gardeners asking questions about the heartiness of her seeds and a charming daughter father pair - the father being obstinately skeptical and the daughter desperately trying to convince her dad that starting seeds and then saving them is the way to grow an Alaska-proof garden.  I stood by silently and marveled at Leah's pointed, educated responses to all of the fretful man's questions. 

Leah and her partner Nick started Foundroot less than two years ago. When I complimented Leah on her beautiful display stands and well designed logo and fonts she shyly accepted the compliments with a "well it's come a long way in only a year." 

Foundroot is one of those stories you hear about a duo who sees something that need to happen in the world and decides, hey I can do that, and sets to it. When I asked Leah how she felt confident starting a company she said at first she didn't. She did a lot of research and started the company as a side job. Little by little she spent more and more time working on Foundroot and as her legs grew her need to work outside jobs shrank. Eventually Nick hopes to join her full time in the company and they are looking for land to purchase to start a farm where they can really start growing some seeds. 

The whole premise behind Foundroot is to source seeds into Alaska that will stand up to the specific conditions of Alaska. From there, Foundroots goal is to be put out of business, as they say on their website. But not by another company, by the people of Alaska. Eventually Leah and Nick hope to foster a closed loop seed saving system in Alaska. How cool!

As we pulled into Palmer past stock piles of broken down vehicles, a mini ferris wheel and all the scrap metal a welder could ask for, Leah cringed and apologized for the rustic surroundings. But really, that scene could have been anywhere in the US in my mind. We talked about the Alaskan mentality and the desire to move somewhere where you can really just do what you want - and if collecting old tires is your thing - then they do it! In all the strangeness of Alaska I almost found this setting to be most like home and most comforting - so far away from the Dan Ryan neighborhoods of the lower 48. 

On the way home to Palmer we stopped to get some coconut ice cream and blood orange Italian soda. We lounged in their woodsy yard eating our treats and getting to know each other. 

After treats it was down to business. Like any seasoned gardener Leah started with a map - leek here, carrots there. She even had a companion planting guide

All of Leah's seed that she plants and sells are non-GMO, 100% open pollinated seed - yay!

Nick decided to try his hand at a permaculture garden. Not only do permaculture gardens take companion planting into account but they also commingle different crops and the gardener must think about the growth rates of the different crops in his bed as well as their height and spread to ensure ideal growing conditions and continuous harvest opportunities. 

Nick and Leah's place was so warm and inviting and full of plants!

The aftermath of our floats

After planting some seeds and having dinner in town we drove over to Chugach State Park to take in some mountains. Despite being well into the night at this point the mountains were still golden and magnificent under the Midnight Sun of Alaska. 

My time with Nick and Leah was too short but the next morning I was off on another adventure to meet some new friends. 

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