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How a city was built, starting with a hobby: Baker Creek--a seed house that is changing the course of history.

"In the middle of nowhere" is hardly an exaggeration. From U.S. Hwy 60, go north for a mile-and-a-half on one-lane Hwy. 5. Then turn onto London Road, a country byway that one could easily miss. The blacktop soon ends and London Road turns into a gravel lane, winding through the farm country and dense oak woodlands of the lovely Ozark Hills. After a few more miles you turn onto Baker Creek Road, another quiet gravel byway leading through a grove of dense, shady woods where squirrels frequently cross the road. Baker Creek Road gets more and more bumpy as you progress. Just when you're almost certain that you're lost, you look up on the next hill ... and there it is!

"It" refers to Bakersville, the "pioneer village" that has sprung up on Baker Creek Farm, headquarters of Baker Creek Heirloom Seed company. For two days each spring, several thousand visitors, many of them local, but some from as far away as Mexico, converge at the farm during the Spring Planting Festival, an event featuring lectures and presentations, vendor booths, gospel and folk music shows, craft exhibits and auctions. In addition to the Spring Planting Festival, the farm also hosts the smaller Summer Garden Show, and the still-smaller event known as Heritage Days. The company also publishes the Heirloom Gardener magazine and is experimenting with a quarterly newsletter called the "Bakersville Sentinel," which is distributed at no charge in the local area.

Baker Creek Farm was the site of the one of the first government-granted homesteads in Missouri, over a century and a half ago. The 176-acre farm was bought 15 years ago by James and Debbie Gettle, who settled there with their children, Jeremiath and Jessica, whom they homeschooled.

Jeremiath (Jere in casual contexts), who has been gardening almost all his life, joined the Seed Savers Exchange (SSE) at the age of 16. He introduced to the SSE several new and old seed strains, including a discovery of his own: a potato-leaf variation on the "Cherokee Purple" tomato, a "sport" as geneticists would term it. At the age of 17, he printed his own black-and white seed catalog, which circulated 550 copies the first year. He filled orders from his bedroom in the family farmhouse.

In the first two years, the number of varieties listed in the catalog more than doubled. The catalog's circulation numbers increased even more exponentially: the 2000 catalog circulated 25 times more copies than the 1998 catalog did. The business was now well into the black, and the Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Store was built on the Gettles' farm. (Now you can understand why it is located in the "middle of nowhere.") The Spring J Festival and Summer Show were ( soon established.

In 2002, the Baker Creek seed-collecting junkets began. Jeremiath Gettle and his friend and business partner Andrew Kaiser have taken a few of these trips so far, collecting heirloom and land-race field and garden crop varieties from Asia and Latin America. That same year, preparations began for a magazine. The publication, Heirloom Gardener, made its debut in the spring of 2003 and soon became nationally known, attracting thousands more to the spring and summer events at Baker Creek Farm. Among the said thousands was one who would be of particular significance to Jeremiath's future. This woman, a published author, 21 years old, was Emilee E. Freie, of Middletown, Missouri.

As it turned out, Emilee had a lot in common with Jere. They were both Christians who had been homeschooled. Both lived on rural Missouri farms (with chickens, at that). They had similar interests, including writing, gardening, seed preservation, plant photography, anachronism, and more. Then there were other, incidental similarities: Both their mothers were artists, for example, and both their fathers had the same first name!

If you are skilled at interpreting the literary technique of foreshadowing, you have probably figured that this storyline would lead to a ring and a piece of paper. If so, you are correct. Jeremiath and Emilee were married on August 13, 2006 in the town of Mexico, Missouri. Their honeymoon location was wisely picked: they went to Northport, Michigan, and spent some time visiting the U.P. and nearby parts of Ontario. They experienced temperatures in the 70s for daytime highs, while the folks back home m Missouri boiled in a heat wave of such brutal proportions that it ought to have made Chris Horner rethink his Panglossian denial of global warming.

Emilee soon took an active position in the business. At first this was mainly typing and organizing in the seed store, but in the spring of 2007 she opened an herb shop, the London Apothecary, directly across from the seed store. She has also remained revolved in the seed business.

Jere began to take speaking engagements, one as far away as Virginia, and received notice from many writers and interviewers. (For his interview with COUNTRYSIDE, see the July/August 2003 issue.)

As if Jere and Emilee didn't already have their hands full, they now have a new baby. Sasha Gettle, their first child, was born in October, 2007. As it happened, her birth occurred as the October 7th Heritage Day show was under way. Whether Sasha's arrival was expedited by the jostling, gravelly texture of the Baker Creek and London Roads, or perhaps by the stress and hectic rush of preparation for the Heritage Day events, God only knows.

Potentially parturient roads notwithstanding, Baker Creek Farm is the best place to raise a family in the whole U.S.--or darn near it, anyway. The banes and banalities of urban and suburban living are far from sight and mind So are many of the banes and banalities commonly associated with rural living. In fact, water is unchlorinated (it comes from wells and springs), and rich in minerals; the air is free of smog and pollution problems, and indubitably rich in oxygen owing to the abundance of trees. Even when crowds flock to Bakersville for the events held there, you will scarcely ever hear a curse word, and seldom see a smoker light up a cigarette (despite Missouri's smoking rates, which are the second highest in the nation). When I asked a staff member whether or not there was a problem of theft in the seed store and lecture hall ("barn") where many antiques and other valuables are displayed, she replied that there was nothing of the sort. Another employee affirmed the absence of such problems as well.

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Bakersville, unlike Rome, seems indeed to have been built in a day. Obviously it was not put up in a literal 24-hour day, but it was in fact a short time in being established, and it is still being put up, actually. Many of the buildings-the warehouse, the herb and medicinal remedy store, the mercantile store (which is subinfeudated to local auctioneer Mike Nocks), the new Deputy Music Depot--were built in late 2006 or 2007. Lest one momentarily forget that Bakersville is built on a farm, a reminder of this truth is placed prominently in front of the hay-bale opry where live music is performed. This reminder is a chicken house, with live chickens--a flock of them--residing therein. In the enclosed outdoor run area adjacent to the chicken house, some healthy specimens of sorghum grow, giving the birds something to peck. Poultry have always been a part of Baker Creek Farm, and by no means is their role on the farm diminishing. A contraire, Jeremiath plans to add still more poultry breeds to the farm. Many of the poultry breeds at the farm are rare Asian fowl. One of these breeds, the Golden Pheasant, is brightly colored and has a characteristic tail feather longer than the birds' body. One of these tail feathers, about 40 cm long, adorns the hat of Jean Perry, the clerk at the seed store.

The warehouse is among the least conspicuous buildings in Bakersville, although it is probably the largest, being a 4,000 sq. ft. structure built of corrugated metal. One reason the warehouse is so inconspicuous is that it is set so far off from the rest of Bakersville's buildings, one might not realize it was part of Bakersville. Nevertheless it is, and a very important part, at that. The warehouse is the site of the seed bank, where Baker Creek Seed stores seed varieties it is preparing to introduce for sale. (The company has a grow-out system for some if its seed, in which the seed is sent out to selected farms around North America, and the farmers grow it out to seed for the company.) Just east of the plain white warehouse is a seed garden, where Baker Creek Seed grows some of its own seed as well.

The core of Bakersville, however, is the Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Store. This is where seeds are retailed, and where most of the company offices are. The inside of the store is decorated with many curious objects, ranging from antique pitchfork and saw-heads hanging on the wall, to a plastic spider and slice of faux kiwi fruit on the windowsill of the shipping office. Over 1,000 varieties of vegetable, herb, flowering annual, and cover-crop seeds are sold at the store, as well as books on farming, gardening, health, and certain aspects of politics. (Emilee Freie Gettle's own book, The Hope Chest Organizer, does not directly pertain to any of these subjects, and therefore is not sold in the store.)

Various members of the company's staff have offices in the building, most of them being located in out-of-the-way places, in restricted-access portions of the store. Myrna Stark, managing editor of the Heirloom Gardener works in a small, brightly lit office at the back of the building- the very back of it, in fact. Outside the Heirloom Gardener office window stretches a spectacular view of the lush, verdant fields and forests characteristic of these hills.

Although the seed company is legally distinct from the Abundant Acres business (which sells already-started tomato, pepper plants and the like during the spring months), the two businesses are very closely associated; one might even say "intertwined." Randel and Pam Smith, the couple who operate Abundant Acres Plants (www.abundantacres. net), also work for Baker Creek Seeds, and are quite actively involved in the happenings at Bakersville.Randel regularly writes features in the Heirloom Gardener under a pseudonym. Baker Creek Seed supplies all the seed needs of Abundant Acres, with a special arrangement. You see, it's not only Andrew Kaiser who works in Bakersville, but his father, David Kaiser, as well. In fact, David is the one pictured on the company's billboards, and the 2007 Baker Creek Heirloom Seed catalog cover painting shows David chasing a skunk on a bright moonlit night. (The 2006 cover painting depicts Jere riding a giant frog and carrying a giant strawberry as a backpack, while Emilee watches admiringly from inside a gargantuan pumpkin, and Andrew struggles to climb a similarly immense cowpea vine. Both paintings are the work of Debbie Gettle.)

The catalog is filed with depictions and descriptions of things that the first-time reader might never have known existed: beans that grow in pods as long as your arm; purple cauliflower; a cucumber variety that looks like a lemon; mustard that forms heads resembling Romaine lettuce; a radish the size of a watermelon; tomatoes that turn white when ripe and others that stay green as a leaf; golden watermelons and slow-bolting cilantro. The catalog even lists vegetables, fruits and herbs whose existence is not commonly known. When was the last time you heard of a cassabanana or a jilo? How about mizuna, kohlrabi, kiwano, shiso, roselle, cape gooseberry, cardoon, scorzonera, spilanthes, or hyacinth bean?

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Demystifying such arcane plants (at least arcane in the U.S.) is one of the themes of the Heirloom Gardener magazine. Information is key to preserving these rare cultivated plants and the history behind them, for as Francis Bacon famously wrote, "Knowledge is power." If you have no idea what to do with a kiwano or cardoon, then it might as well be useless. If you do not know what part of the spilanthes plant carries the medicinal virtue, then it would not help you if there were 10,000 hectares of it growing just outside your door. The magazine, in addition to articles on growing and using unusual and foreign plants, also features articles of a more general interest such as gardening techniques and how-to, herb gardening (herbalist and writer Jim Long is a regular contributor to the publication), and historical pieces by writers such as William Woys Weaver, Kelly Norris, and Wesley Greene, and other garden writers such as Doreen G. Howard.

Perhaps because he is so busy, Jeremiath Gettle himself has not written an article in the magazine in almost four years, not counting the editor's commentary and update with which he begins every issue of the periodical. In these commentaries he discusses personal and family happenings as well as the events and developments of Bakersville. Jere frequently makes reference to Emilee; his descriptions of her almost invariably contain the adjective "lovely," or if not, one of its synonyms.

A story about Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds would not be complete without mention of the political stances taken by the company. Although the company does not have an official political statement, there is a generally understood set of views held by the said company: pro-life, environmentalist, anti-war, bio-ethically minded, and slightly libertarian. The political involvement began with a campaign to oppose genetic engineering and seed patenting. The influence of Jere Gettle's rallying is credited with playing a large part in generating the barrage of consumer complaints which caused the FritoLay and Kellogg's corporations to discontinue the use of GM ingredients in their production in 2003. The bio-conservative stance, which includes opposition to genetic engineering and seed patenting, is the main aspect of the company's political involvement, but other points of activism include environmentalism and opposition to the ongoing Iraq War. The seed catalog contains quotes from Scripture and excerpts from America's Founding Fathers, many of which bear striking application to the current political landscape. One of Benjamin Franklin' s "common sense" sayings, "There never was a good war or a bad peace," is included as is the even more prescient statement by Benjamin Harrison, "We Americans have no commission from God to police the world." Harrison may have been paraphrasing John Quincy Adams, who stated "America does not go abroad in search of monsters to destroy."

You have probably heard of Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Co., and perhaps seen the catalog, of which roughly 100,000 were distributed last year. You may be a subscriber to the Heirloom Gardener or a regular buyer of Baker Creek Seed. And now, when you look at a packet of Baker Creek Seed, you will remember how it all stared, with a 17-year-old Jeremiath Gettle selling seed packets to farmers in the area, an activity that led him to the Seed Savers Exchange and eventually to start the company that we know today. Whenever you see a picture of Jean with her trademark hat, you will know that the incredibly long feather therein is that of a Red Golden pheasant. When you hear about the 19th century homesteading program in the Midwest, you will know where Missouri's very first homestead was located. If you purchase a Kellogg's product, you will remember that it is flee of genetically modified ingredients, and that it wasn't always that way When you see a Baker Creek billboard in Southern Missouri or plant some seeds in the freshly tilled soil, you will recall how, as David puts it, Jeremiath Gettle "built a city starting with a hobby."

Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Co. and Heirloom Gardener magazine can be contacted at 2278 Baker Creek Rd. Mansfield, 0 65704; ph 417-924-8917: or http://rareseeds.com.

Seed Savers Exchange, 3094 North Winn Rd., Decorah, IA 52101; 563-382-5990; www.seedsaver.org.

BY JEFFERY GOSS, JR.

MISSOURI
COPYRIGHT 2008 Countryside Publications Ltd.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2008 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Company
Author:Goss, Jeffery, Jr.
Publication:Countryside & Small Stock Journal
Geographic Code:1U4MO
Date:Jan 1, 2008
Words:2672
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