05 February, 2010

Jere Gettle Does it again!


Baker Creek Opens A Store in Petaluma, California
Article by Sue Capella
For Jere Gettle, a seed of an idea sprouts quickly. That includes the Baker Creek Heirloom Seed catalog business he started 12 years ago at age 17, as well as his most recent venture, a California store where West Coast gardeners can purchase his over 1,200 heirloom seed varieties in person.
In March, Jere, who also owns Bakersville Pioneer Village in Mansfield, Missouri, home of his original heirloom seed store and authentic pioneer town, took off for California with his wife, Emilee, in search of a site for a new seed store.
“We drove along the coast from Southern California to Northern California looking for the right space,” says Jere.
petaluma-seed-bankIt wasn’t until the couple hit Petaluma, a San Francisco Bay Area suburb, with a charming historic downtown, that they knew they’d found it. There at the hub of the town’s main boulevard was a “For Lease” sign in one of the tall, arched windows of a towering 1920’s Roman Renaissance Revival‑style building. Jere was immediately taken with its elegantly curved fa├žade topped by an elaborate, classical balustrade, but more importantly, the building’s character and history perfectly complemented the heirloom seeds he travels the world to collect.
In June, just two months later, after making their way through mounds of required paperwork, Jere and Emilee opened their new heirloom seed and gardening gift store in the grand Petaluma building, which was once the Sonoma County branch of the Bank of America, and aptly named their new business the Seed Bank.
Jere had the locals buzzing right away as he brought in Amish workers in plain clothing and traditional hats to help him set up shop as well as fellow Missourian Greg Clemens to hand paint huge vegetables and gigantic letters spelling RARE SEED on the building’s mammoth windows.
The Petaluma location proved to be ideal, within a one‑hour radius of half the Gettles’ California mail‑order customers, and on the corner of a busy intersection frequented by Northern California tourists heading to the coast or the nearby Napa Wine country. Scenes from the 1973 movie American Graffiti were shot right out front and kitty corner, across the street is a statue of wrist wrestlers, the town is home of the World’s Wrist Wrestling Championships.
From the late 1800s through the 1940s, Petaluma was known as the “World’s Egg Basket” for its innovative and extensive chicken farming industry. Today, high‑tech companies, antique shops, and fine restaurants abound, but there is still a prominent farming community, as well as an ever-growing local interest in buying and eating locally grown food.
Jere is excited to have this additional venue at which to get the word out about the wonderful attributes of fruits and vegetables grown from heirloom seeds, which, of course, readers of Jere and Emilee’s Heirloom Gardener magazine already know, namely the more vibrantly colorful, more nutritious and better tasting produce these non‑hybrid, non‑GMO (genetically modified organisms), non‑treated, non‑patented seeds yield.
Jere also hopes to use the California store to mail out seed orders when winter ice storms cause power outages at his southern Missouri location. He and Emilee plan to visit the new location at least twice a year to meet customers and participate in store events. The building’s spacious interior, complete with marble accents and large ornate rosettes studding the high ceiling, affords lots of room for holding garden‑themed talks, demonstrations, and other events. Lecture subjects planned include collecting heirloom seeds and organic, raised‑bed gardening.
In addition to over 1,200 heirloom seed varieties from 70 countries, including 190 varieties of tomatoes, 150 varieties of squash and more than 100 melons, the Gettles’ new Seed Bank carries locally made garden tools, garden‑themed artwork, gardening books, and organically produced items, including locally grown garlic, locally made jams, jellies and honeys, as well as a locally produced line of dried herbs and spices, herbal salts, sugars, and essential oils by Marin County‑based Allstar Organics.
The store has the feel of a bygone era, and Jere plans to add to its authenticity by having employees dress in period clothing from the mid‑twenties and early thirties, when the building was constructed.
“I want customers to feel they’re stepping back in time, getting back to the land,” Jere said.
“Everyone’s been really positive,” he adds. “They’re really excited to have these seeds in the area. People are really friendly and very interested in organic gardening and buying local non‑GMO seeds and food.” (Jere and many locals hope to see the measure to ban GMOs back on local ballots.)
In the spirit of supporting organically grown foods, the Seed Bank will donate heirloom seeds to local schools, non‑profits, and community gardens. Jere also plans to provide a West Coast help line, a phone number locals can call for answers to their heirloom seed and gardening questions.
“Even though seeds cost little money, they are something of value,” he stresses, and he hopes to encourage local gardeners to keep a collection of their heirloom seeds for future generations. (Heirloom seeds are generally seeds that have been preserved and passed down through families. They have usually been passed down for over 50 years, some dating as far back as Thomas Jefferson’s garden and beyond.)

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