top of page

Methow Valley Seed Collective: Firmly planted in the Methow Valley

Written by: Marcy Stamper

Methow Valley Seed Collective Packet

For dedicated gardeners, the annual spring ritual of buying seed packets and planning the harvest is imbued with hope and exhilaration. But many people – even professional growers – rarely give much thought to where those seeds come from. 


In fact, very few seed companies grow all (or even any of) their own seed – most buy from people like Anaka Mines, who started growing vegetable and flower seeds professionally in 2013, when she founded Twisp River Seed.


“I didn’t know anything about seeds till I started,” said Mines, who runs the Methow Valley Seed Collective with Cailyn Brierley and Kyle McKnelly. “It never crosses people’s minds that the vegetable seeds growing in their field were harvested from a flower,” Mines said.


In 2021 Mines teamed up with Brierley and McKnelly, who grow vegetables and flowers at Hoodoo Blooms, another farm on the Twisp River, to form the seed collective. The partnership allows them to grow additional plants for seeds and to expand options for retail sales.


When Mines first launched her business, she sold all her seeds to seed companies through wholesale contracts. Although today the collective has some retail sales through stores in the Methow Valley, Okanogan, Wenatchee, Chelan, and Leavenworth, as well as online, the wholesale market still constitutes the bulk of the seed business.


Without a significant retail infrastructure, it’s not practical to pack all those small packages of seeds, since it’s time-consuming and just not cost-effective. It’s also inefficient to grow hundreds of varieties of seeds to sell only a few ounces of each, Mines said.


Yet in other ways, the seed collective offers many advantages over larger commercial growers. Because of the small scale and the fact that the growers harvest everything by hand, they know their products well and maintain a high degree of control over seed quality. 


The best proof that the seeds will thrive and supply an abundant yield is the fact that the plants were grown in the Methow Valley and produced seed in the valley. Because the seeds are grown using organic methods, they are adapted to thrive in an organic system. They take up the necessary nutrients and build resistance to disease simply from growing in Methow soil.


“There’s no real pest control – the plants just have to deal,” Mines said. Although not all the plants make it, those that do get stronger over time, she said.


The collective focuses on plant varieties that are well adapted to the conditions in the Methow Valley (and the similar climate in the inland Northwest) – specialization people won’t get from large seed companies, Mines said. Big seed growers focus on yield and uniformity, as opposed to plants that will flourish in microclimates like the Methow.


Today, the seed collective produces about 150 varieties of seeds for vegetables, herbs, and flowers. They grow different crops each year and regularly try out new types for hardiness, productivity, resistance to disease and, of course, taste.


Many of the seeds aren’t what you’d find on the racks in an ordinary garden store. There’s the Pingtung long eggplant, a slender and tender variety from Taiwan that grows well in the Methow climate and produces an abundance of fruit. Then there’s the Three-Root Grex Beet and Abundant Bloomsdale spinach. Flower seeds include Benary’s Giant White Zinnia, Echinacea Purple Coneflower, and Kiss Me Over the Garden Gate, an annual that can grow to be 8 to 10 feet tall, sporting elegant pink flowers at the tips. 


Colorful bundle of beets

Low-tech harvest techniques


Harvesting seeds is anything but straightforward, since it requires different techniques and timing depending on the plant. 


For annuals like lettuce, the farmers allow the plant to go to seed. But many vegetables – such as carrots, onions, beets, and cabbages – are biennials, meaning they must be planted in year one and grown out in their root or vegetable form. Then they must be properly stored through the winter and replanted in the spring of year two for harvest in the fall. 


Mines harvests carrot roots in the fall and picks the nicest ones to overwinter. She plants the roots again in the spring and harvests the seeds at the end of the second growing season. Beans require an entire season to ripen and dry before the seeds can be harvested.


Some biennials (like parsnips) are hardy enough to overwinter in the field and be allowed to flower the next year so that they produce seeds, but the Methow Valley Seed Collective harvests and stores most of them so they can make selections for taste, size, shape, color, and how well they keep in storage. 


Big commercial seed companies use combines to harvest seeds, but the seed collective has had to devise pragmatic, less expensive techniques. “Cleaning seeds is a big part of the process,” Mines said.


Their methods for harvesting the seeds – many of which are tiny – depend on the plant. To release the minuscule seeds from carrot flowers, the farmers cut the carrot tops onto a tarp and then thresh them by foot – essentially, by stomping gently on them to get the seeds off with minimal broken stem pieces. Next, the growers have to remove the excess plant material and meticulously clean the seeds with a series of screens and winnowing techniques, using moving air to separate denser and less dense components.


Some plants are relatively sturdy. To thresh radish seeds, they pick the entire plant, toss all the plants in a tarp, and drive over them. 


Obtaining usable seeds from some plants requires additional steps. For example, seeds from melons, cucumbers, and tomatoes have to be fermented before they can be used (fermentation eliminates the gelatinous coating that inhibits germination). Mines smashes the tomatoes in a big bucket or trash can, where they sit for about two days to ferment. After that, she extracts the small seeds from the pulp.


When you grow plants for the seeds, sometimes you’re lucky enough to be able to gather the seeds and still eat the plant. Cut into a ripe melon, squash, or pepper, and you can harvest the seeds and savor the fruit or vegetable. Even if you eat a cabbage, the plant can still produce seed, since the stalk will continue to grow and bloom.


basket of fresh onions

‘It’s alive’


The fact that seed companies are the collective’s main customers is what makes the business economically viable, since they could never sell all the seed they grow in a single season at retail. For example, the collective grows about 75 pounds of organic California poppy seeds. But poppy seeds are so tiny – a $4.00 packet contains just a fraction of a gram – that they couldn’t sell more than an ounce in a season, even to dedicated local customers. 


Running a seed company is complex. In addition to growing and harvesting the seeds, the seed collective has to process and keep track of all the varieties of seed – including important details like germination rates. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) sets minimum germination rates for each type of seed. The collective is required to do annual germination tests of each lot and to track each one.


“And it’s alive – it’s not a computer,” Mines said. Sometimes a germination rate remains high year after year, but it can drop by a third or more. Many factors can affect the rate – where seeds are stored, the temperature, and the overall vigor of the plant, she said. The small scale and hand-harvesting allows the seed collective to maintain substantial control over quality.


The life span of seeds depends on many things, including the type of plant, storage conditions, and the quality of seeds at harvest. Although seed vigor typically deteriorates over time, some plants, such as peppers, can last a really long time. In fact, pepper seeds found at an archaeological site actually germinated, Mines said. Frustratingly, some seed germinates poorly the first year it is harvested because it is a “dormant” state, but then the rate can increase over time before it declines again!


The growers store the seeds in a temperature-stable basement at TwispWorks, where they also pack the seeds.


bunches of green onions in the sunshine

Deep experience


Although Mines officially started Twisp River Seed in 2013, she had experimented with growing seeds for half a dozen years before that, and even had a few seed contracts. 


Mines got in-depth, hands-on experience at the organic seed farm Wild Garden Seed in Oregon in 2011, where she learned the seed business literally from the ground up. 


Three years ago, she received a value-added producer grant from a USDA program that helps agricultural producers generate new products and create and expand marketing opportunities. 


Working with other farmers – and farming multiple fields – is beneficial because it exposes plants to different conditions. It also makes it possible to grow more varieties, Mines said. Moreover, because some plants cross-pollinate, they need to be grown in separate areas.


One goal of the collective is to bring more people into the seed-growing process – they may recruit other farmers to grow seed that the collective would package and sell, Mines said.


The Methow Valley Seed Collective sells some seeds locally, at Twisp Feed and the Glover Street Market in Twisp, at Ace Hardware in Winthrop, and at the Mazama Store. Their marketing focuses on eastern Washington, although because anyone can find them online, they get orders from across the county, Mines said.


Customers are typically thrilled with the Methow Valley Seed Collective’s seeds, since the seeds have been carefully selected and grown to be hardy and highly productive, Mines said. Still, farming is an inherently unpredictable business, and seeds are living things, susceptible to unforeseen conditions – it could be too wet or dry, too cold or warm, or plants could become infested with ants or bugs. 


All of the seeds Mines grows are open-pollinated. She has developed some of her own breeds, including the Golden Morning onion, which she released in 2023. 


field of pink flowers with greenhouse tunnel in background

Collective philosophy


The seed collective has been refining not only its product, but also its business structure and philosophy. While the Methow Valley Seed Collective is a business – it’s their livelihood – the partners are also committed to running the business in an ethically conscientious way.


One component of that commitment is addressing historical inequities. They donate seeds to the school garden at Paschal Sherman Indian School and to several farmers on the Colville Reservation.


The collective also works with Classroom in Bloom, the garden at the Methow Valley School District, which Mines cofounded. Members of the collective teach students about seeds, farming, and how to harvest and clean seeds. They also donate seeds to the garden. In return, the student farmers at Classroom in Bloom typically grow one seed crop each season for the collective. 


“We’re all interested in the concept of the gift economy,” where people contribute their knowledge – and the fruits of that knowledge – to the community, and then benefit from what others contribute, Mines said. 


Unlike many business models, which seek to expand the business at all costs, the seed collective takes into account the fact that the earth has finite resources. “We give away a lot of seed, trusting it will come back to us in some form,” Mines said.


More information about the Methow Valley Seed Collective and their 150-plus varieties of seed – plus an online store – is available at mvseedcollective.com


rows of flowers with mountains in the distance and greenhouse on the left

bottom of page