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What's Happening Around the Farm as well as a Soapbox for head farmer, Mike Dunton

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What I Did On My Summer Vacation . . .

Although intent of this blog is to convey information about the Victory Seed Company, our personal and work lives are nearly inseparable.  We quite literally live and breath the farm and preservation work that we do.  We would have it no other way. This means that from time to time, you’ll find a post, like this one, that is more personal in nature.

What I Did On My 2015 Summer “Vacation”

If you live on a farm, you know that it is generally very difficult to get away for any extended period of time.  Denise and I have been married for several decades, most of that time living here at the farm, and I can just about count on one hand the number of vacations we have taken that extended more than a few days.  Don’t get me wrong, we thoroughly believe in the restorative power of time away, but out of necessity, ours is usually taken in mini-vacations and day trips.

This summer we made the time to take a week-long trip with our youngest daughter.  It was an awesome trip for a number of reasons.  Firstly, it was great to travel and spend time with Denise and Hannah.  But as a hardcore “seed geek,” the destination was a very close second for me.

The 2015 Seed Savers Exchange Conference & Campout

Although we didn’t camp (we chose a nice, comfortable hotel room in beautiful and friendly Decorah, Iowa), we were able to spend many hours, spread over three days, on the campus / farm of the Seed Savers Exchange.  Being a longtime member, for me to finally make it out there to tour the facilities and fields was awesome. What a beautiful place and what great staff they have performing the day-to-day functions.  Additionally, 2015 marks the 40th anniversary of the organization.

The visit allowed me to meet up with folks that I have corresponded with over the years and to finally have the opportunity to put faces with names. One of the coolest things was to have the opportunity to visit with people who can be considered some of the “founding fathers and mothers” of the seed preservation movement. There were real seed preservation “rock stars” at the campout.  These folks, in no specific order, included Diane Ott Whealy (co-founder of SSE), Amy Goldman Fowler (philanthropist, preservationist, gardener, and accomplished author), Cary Fowler (work’s to protect the world’s food supply), Russ Crow (“THE” bean man), Pat Mooney (began working with Cary Fowler and Hope Shand in the ’70s on biodiversity and seed issues), and David Cavagnaro (seed preservationist, horticultural photographer, gardener, founder of The Pepperfield Project). There are many more but these are folks we got to visit with.

I have to share a quick story about an impressionable youth who had been a lifelong gardener and Mr. Cavagnaro. Back in the Fall of 1980, I was enrolled as a botany student in a university’s biology department colloquium series. The speaker that November 12th was David Cavagnaro and his presentation was entitled, “A Biologist’s View of the Garden.” That talk was one of the brief encounters that affected the course of my life’s path, and along with other influences, led me to the work that I do today. It was so cool to finally meet up with him again after nearly 35 years.

Denise and I also got the opportunity to spend time visiting with our good friends Sue and Craig LeHoullier. Living on opposite sides of the country, we rarely get to see each other and are limited to phone and email “visits.” It was so good to catch up and just spend time together. If you have spent much time on our website, especially if you are a tomato gardener, you should recognize his name by now. Along with being one of the major contributors to popularizing heirloom tomatoes and getting them into the mainstream over the past several decades, he is a gifted writer (his recent book “Epic Tomatoes” is an excellent read and reference tool). As an added bonus, we got to hear him deliver the keynote speech. I sure wish that I had his gift for public speaking.

Craig LeHoullier and Mike Dunton - 7/19/2015 - SSE Campout

Craig LeHoullier and Mike Dunton - 7/19/2015 - SSE Campout

We were only gone for a total of seven days in July, but it was an extremely activity packed and memorable time away from “real life.”

Quick Trip to Canada

Last month after we moved our youngest off to college, Denise and I decided to take a much needed, albeit short, road trip last month.  Since the Canadian border is only about a six hour drive from the farm, we decided to do some “international travel” and spend a couple of days exploring Vancouver, British Columbia.  It was a perfect trip with perfect weather and we both agreed that we need to go back in the future to spend more time there.

As a seed guy, even trips to big cities have some aspect involving plants, gardens, seeds and nature.  On the way up to B.C., we spent a day in Seattle “The Emerald City” taking in some sites that we have never been to.  We toured the EMP Museum (formerly known as the Experience Music Project), ate brunch at the top of the Space Needle, and took in the amazing sites at the Chihuly Garden and Glass exhibit.

If you are not familiar with the work of Dale Chihuly, you should check it out.  As I wandered through the exhibits, I daydreamed about how cool various sculptures would look in different gardens and beds back home on the farm.  Below are a few favorite photos.  The next morning we headed off to B.C.

Chihuly Garden (1) Chihuly Garden (3)
Chihuly Garden (2) Chihuly Garden (4)
Click Image For Larger View

 Before exploring the city of Vancouver, the first stop that we made was at the VanDusen Botanical Garden in Vancouver (one that I would recommend and one I hope to revisit!).  It was huge, right in Vancouver, and very interesting and beautiful.  I took a lot of photos there as well!

Mike at the Tillinghast Seed Co. building, La Conner, Washington.

Mike at the Tillinghast Seed Co. building, La Conner, Washington.

In extreme contrast to our life on a farm in a hundred year old house that my Great-grandfather built, our accommodations in B.C. were a corner apartment, with floor to ceiling glass walls, on the 27th floor of a tower within walking distance to everything.  The views were spectacular and the change of scenery, from natural to man-made, was appreciated.  I even found some cool seeds, open-pollinated varieties of course, in a shop in the city’s China Town District.

On the way back home to the farm, we made a (long) detour from the interstate and visited the site of the first mail order seed company in the state of Washington, if not the Pacific Northwest.

As a seed preservationist and horticultural historian, I spend a lot of time collecting and studying old seed catalogs.  They are invaluable tools for researching the histories and pedigrees of the plant varieties that we are actively working to protect.

If you look at most older seed catalogs, and even some modern ones like ours, it is common to find an introduction near the front of the volume that is often quite personal, detailed and a window not only into the life of the company and the people associated with them, but a glimpse into the times as well.  They are like the “olden day” equivalent of a blog post or that letter some folks include in their Christmas cards every year.  So as a byproduct of researching plant variety origins, I have become somewhat intimate with the histories of the companies and seedsmen that bred and introduced old plant varieties.

The Tillinghast Seed Company is an example of how a collection of old seed catalogs led to a better understanding of the company and its influence on the seed trade in the Pacific Northwest.  Time permitting, this is also the kind of information that I try and share.  You can find a link to a history of the Tillinghast Seed Company here.

Those are our vacation highlights from this summer.  Now it is time for us to buckle down, get the harvest cleaned, tested and packaged, and the catalog and website ready for the new year ahead.  I hope that your summer was also enjoyable, that you had time to get away from your day to day life and to explore some part of this awesome planet we live on, and that your harvest was bountiful.

We look forward to your support of our seed variety preservation work with your orders and to be of service to you in the 2016 garden season!

posted by Mike in Company News,Farm News and have No Comments

Our Visit to the Molalla River Academy’s Roots of Responsibility Garden

Wow . . . What a surprise Denise and I received this afternoon!

Although the primary mission of the Victory Seed Company is to preserve rare seed varieties and to keep them available to gardeners, we also believe that by sharing a portion of our time, talents and property, we are helping to make our world a better place.  Charitable work is a primary part of our lives, both personally and as an organization.  Your orders directly support this work.  You can read more on this subject by clicking here.

One of the projects that we help to support is the community garden at a local grade school.  Normally, Denise takes care of getting seeds up to the school but this time we were asked to both come and at a specific time.  We were expecting a small meet and greet.

When we arrived, we were surprised to see that the whole school was waiting for us with a beautiful banner that was signed by all of the students thanking us.

Our Welcoming Committee

Our Welcoming Committee

After a photo op, some of the kids rushed Denise requesting specific seed packets.  They were on a mission and asked for broccoli, cabbage, lettuce, kale, basil, peas . . . all the things that they could get started now using their new seed starting equipment.

Denise passing out seed packets.

Denise passing out seed packets.

The students, packets in hand, ran off to tables that they had previously readied with the materials necessary to get their seeds sowed.

Concentrating on the task at hand.

Concentrating on the task at hand.

Cell trays were filled with seed starting soil mix, seeds carefully sown and covered, and plant markers put in place.

The smiles say it all!

The smiles say it all!

It won't be long until these gardens will be full of fresh veggies.

It won't be long until these gardens will be full of fresh veggies.

 We garden with ... Victory Seeds®

We garden with ... Victory Seeds®

What was really cool was that we got to keep the banners that the kids made and signed.  It is now hanging up in our seedhouse.

Some of the crew holding up the banner that the kids all signed.

Some of the crew holding up the banner that the kids all signed.

Under amazing leadership, Molalla River Academy’s “Roots of Responsibility” Garden program is thriving. Working in the garden with children is not only good exercise, it is a perfect setting for teaching.  The students are learning about biology, nature, weather, food production, healthy choices, a sense of accomplishment, teamwork, responsibility . . . Basically important, core life skills.

Garden-based learning is not only fun for kids, studies have shown that their hard work growing fruits and vegetables directly leads to an increased probability that they will actually eat them! And as every parent knows, getting children to try new things or to choose healthy snacks is difficult.

We were so happy to see how excited all of the kids were and look forward to our next visit!

Additional Information:

posted by Mike in Company News and have No Comments

Remembering Carole . . . 1940 to 2014

One thing I love about working at the Victory Seed Company is that we have made so many friends over the decades.  So many folks have been supporting the work that we do here since our beginning and many of you probably remember the little notes that my Mom would write on your orders.  Some of you even got an opportunity to talk to her on the phone.

Although it may seem a little odd to some people to see an obituary on a company’s blog, hopefully you know us well enough to know that we are not a typical company.  We consider you all to be our gardening friends, our supporters, and our extended family.  So it is with sadness that I am reporting the passing of one of our family members, my Mom.

If it was not for my mother, there would be no Victory Seed Company.  Plain and simple.  Like mothers should be, she was instrumental in developing my character and encouraging my interests.  Mom was a hands-on, teach by example, kind of mother.  I give her credit for sparking my passion for gardening and the natural world.  She was an example of kindness, compassion, charity and humility.  Mom lit an entrepreneurial spirit in me and supported all of my life decisions.  She will be sorely missed.


Carole Blythe Dunton, 73, of Liberal, Oregon passed away at home on March 24, 2014 after a long battle with breast cancer. She was surrounded by loved ones as she drifted off to be with the Lord.

Carole was born on December 14, 1940 in Colton, Oregon to Walter A. Axmaker and Mildred Freeman Axmaker.  She is survived by her husband of 53 years, Lawrence Dunton; two children: Mike (Denise) Dunton of Liberal; Deborah (Charles) Sang of Bloomington, Illinois; eight grandchildren and five great-grandchildren. She is also survived by two brothers, two sisters and the many relatives of her large extended family.

When she was a young mother and homemaker in the early 1960s, she used her entrepreneurial spirit to help subsidize the family’s income by providing daycare services and custom seamstress work. As her children grew older she reentered the workforce and held various office, banking and bookkeeping positions.  After “retiring” in the late 1990s, she used her skills and talents to help at the Victory Seed Company that her son founded on the family’s farm.

Throughout her life, Carole loved to garden and to create beautiful landscapes.  She said that she felt closest to Jesus while working in her flower gardens. After her illness progressed to the point where gardening became too difficult, her creative talents were redirected towards making beautiful quilts which she shared with the special people in her life. Her memory lives on through these quilts.

Carole touched the lives of many people over the years; sharing her love of God and her passion for life. She loved being with her husband, children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. She also loved her animals, singing, sewing, needlework, crafts, cooking and baking. She was a devoted wife, mother, grandmother, great-grandmother, sister, aunt, cousin and friend.

A service celebrating Carole’s life was held on May 3rd at the Evangelical Community Chapel of which Carole was an active member.  Private entombment in the family’s mausoleum on the farm was held with immediate family members in attendance.

In lieu of flowers, donations may be made in Carole’s memory to the Evangelical Community Chapel (29079 S Highway 213, Molalla, OR 97038).

posted by Mike in Company News and have Comment (1)

Harvest in a Hurry

As nearly everyone around the United States will attest, it has been a very odd year weatherwise.  The week before last I was lamenting the early arrival of cool, wet, Fall weather and then this week we were setting record high temperatures.  But judging from the forecasts, it looks like our hot days are now behind us and wet weather is returning.

This creates many challenges when attempting to harvest the seeds that you all are counting on for your gardens next spring (and that we count on to support our continued seed variety preservation work).  The optimist in me is thankful that we are looking at impending periods of showers and not freezing temps.  We can put on rain and mud gear and continue our work . . . it is just not very fun.

All of this aside, we have all hands busily doing the harvest dance.  John is out in the field picking and documenting, the main part of the crew is squeezing tomatoes into containers to ferment, and I am trying to keep up with the washing, drying, and preparing the seeds for storage in preparation of germination testing and getting them ready for packaging.  And that is jut the tomato seed harvest.  Everything else is being picked and hauled into buildings and put on screens to finish drying.  It is always an exciting time bustling with activity.

A group of my immediate family members and cousins working on harvesting tomato seeds.

A group of my immediate family members and cousins working on harvesting tomato seeds.

I have posted several more harvest related photos on our Facebook page - Click Here. Folks at most other seed companies probably will find it funny how we do everything by hand.  Yes it is expensive and laborious.  But it is the only way that I can come up with to maintain our quality standards and maintain so many diverse varieties.  If folks think it is silly that we toil manually, I look at it this way, I do not have to pay for a health club membership and I think of the product we produce as something akin to a craft beer or a limited edition,, reserve or boutique wine. :)   Small batches, all by hand.

My break is over, the sun is finally breaking through the clouds, and it is time to get back out and wash tomato seeds for several more hours!


posted by Mike in Company News,Farm News and have No Comments

Click for Heirloom Tomato Seed Selection Save Seeds - Victory Horticultural Library matersearch.com - online tomato resources