“Unfortunately, it’s not enough in agriculture to be very hardworking and capable. You also have to be unique,” said Eric Kampe, a founding partner of the Ann Arbor Seed Company. “Seed work was something I thought I could do. And we’re still doing it.”
Kampe and his wife, Meredith, founded the Ann Arbor Seed Company with their first season in the fields in 2012. Kampe graduated from the University of Michigan with a degree in Computer Engineering. But after working in engineering for a few years, he began to look more closely at organic farming.
“I started working on an organic farm when we were living in Boulder, Colorado,” Kampe said. “At the time I was just looking for something that was a little bit more environmentally focused. It was sort of luck or chance that the farm that I worked on was also a seed farm.”
While working on organic farms in Colorado, Kampe grew produce for the Boulder farmer’s market, but would “pack sell” seeds, meaning that he would grow and package seeds for individual gardeners. He was also contracted to grow larger quantities of seeds for national companies. Working with seeds made Kampe realize his passion for agricultural work and inspired the idea for the Ann Arbor Seed Company.
“I guess I came to the conclusion that all the world’s problems can be solved in a garden.”
Kampe moved back to Ann Arbor, drawn to the foodie community of the town and Southeastern Michigan as a whole. He found that people in Ann Arbor are more cognizant of what they’re eating, care about where their food comes from and are interested in organic food production.
“They care about where their food comes from and they care about the field worker and their ability to make a living. That’s critical. That’s huge. We can’t do the work without that.”
Kampe also expressed gratitude for the community of farmers and growers in Ann Arbor, saying that he didn’t have the same sense of camaraderie back in Colorado. He remarked that there is a great community of food growers, and is friends with dozens of other farmers in the area. Growers share ideas, successful methods, and equipment. This strong and supportive community has helped his business.
The Ann Arbor Seed Company is focused on offering organic vegetable seeds for gardeners and their catalog includes a variety of seeds. The Seed Company grows exclusively seeds from plants that were pollinated by natural methods, like the wind, birds, bugs and other natural mechanisms.
“What I can do is make a good selection on several varieties and then start on the very long work of improvement,” Kampe said. “So the seeds that I grow are open pollinated, which means the seed saving is all done naturally.” Growers that buy seed from the Seed Company can save their own seed from plants they cultivate. This increases the amount of organic seed and organic produce and is different from the practices of large companies that patent the seed varieties developed.
Kampe’s illustrates his passion for organic and non-GMO (genetically modified organisms) gardening through the Ann Arbor Seed Company — he and his wife grow, pack, market and sell all the seeds. Kampe has a simple answer for why he’s so dedicated to seed work and food.
“I really fell in love with seed work. Growing food, growing produce is really beautiful and amazing and difficult. Seed work has all those aspects to it, but there’s so much to it, so much more. You get to see the full life cycle of plants. I kind of fell in love with that.”
About the Author: Rebecca Lerner is a Planet Blue Ambassador and assists with efforts to promote sustainability. She is a U-M student studying English and Screen Arts and Culture and is working as a writer with the Graham Sustainability Institute.
Sustainability Series & Guide: This series is designed to demonstrate how local businesses and organizations highlighted in the University of Michigan (U-M) Sustainability Guide contribute to sustainability in the Ann Arbor area. The Getup Vintage and other organizations were selected as examples of how the broader Ann Arbor community contributes toward sustainability efforts.