ANN ARBOR - Farmer Eric Kampe started Ann Arbor Seed Company in 2012 with a vision to provide local farmers and gardeners with the best quality seed from the best quality crops.
Fast forward to today, and he is doing exactly that.
He also sells at locations in Detroit, Dexter and Chelsea, with plans to expand even further.
Arugula seeds (Photo: Ann Arbor Seed Co.)
A small certified organic farm with open-pollinated seeds, Kampe's focus is being a true local business.
"I’m not trying to be a big national distributor," said Kampe. "I’m trying to be a southeast Michigan production. We’ve got a wonderful community of small farms in the area, and many of those local farmers buy seed from me. I feel very honored when that’s the case because they don’t have a lot of budget to play games and I really respect the work they’re doing.
"One of the things that really makes being a grower here in southeast Michigan rewarding is the other growers in the area are very community-minded. I think that’s a really big deal. We’re all going to have bad days, and it’s easier to have that when you have other people around that care."
Operating on ¾ of an acre of land with a part-time employee and help from his wife, a University of Michigan librarian, running the business is no small feat.
Eric Kampe mows rye-vetch cover crop at his farm (Photo: Ann Arbor Seed Co.)
Growing and selecting seeds takes time, and Kampe is meticulous in his selection process.
"For most of the year, my farm looks like a vegetable farm," explained Kampe. "In order to save really good seeds I need to be an expert produce grower because, to save good seed, I need to see a marketable crop. The important part of seed-saving is the selection and improvement of the variety, so if I don’t see perfect, ready-to-go to the kitchen and farmers market produce (it won't make the cut)."
So how does one go about harvesting seed?
"It’s different for every plant. With most seeds, you’re waiting for the plant to go through its entire life cycle," said Kampe. "So the thing that starts to make my farm look different from produce farms is I’m leaving my crop in the ground longer. Some crops, like a ripe, red tomato, is fully mature and the seeds are ready. When you see lettuce bolt and it becomes bitter and it no longer tastes good as a head lettuce, that’s when it’s starting to set its flower and to produce seed. Every single crop is a puzzle."
Packets ready to sell (Photo: Meredith Bruckner)
You can catch Kampe at the Ann Arbor Farmers Market from April through June. He enjoys talking with customers and helping them understand the best gardening practices.
"That’s why we’re at the farmer’s market – those are my office hours," Kampe said. "You can corner me and we can talk about gardening and seed-saving all day. That’d be great!"
To learn more about Ann Arbor Seed Company, visit a2seeds.com.
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