The Seed Keeper Project

See how leftover seeds sparked this dynamic gardening duo to start their own business.

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Carol Niec and Kerrie Rosenthal, partners and owners of The Seed Keeper Company.

Carol Niec and Kerrie Rosenthal, partners and owners of The Seed Keeper Company.

Carol Niec and Kerrie Rosenthal, partners and owners of The Seed Keeper Company.

Carol Niec and Kerrie Rosenthal, partners and owners of The Seed Keeper Company.

You can’t talk to Kerrie Rosenthal and Carol Niec without getting excited, because they get so excited—about everything! These long-time friends and neighbors, who’ve lived “parallel lives” as moms and wives for 17 years, are some of the most enthusiastic gardeners you could meet, always laughing, smiling and even hitting the dance floor for an impromptu jig at a gardening event.

But they’re especially thrilled about their Seed Keeper Project, an outreach of their business, the Seed Keeper Company, that recognizes school gardens across the U.S.

“This is our third year of recognizing school gardens,” says Kerrie. “When we started our business, we pledged to find a way to give back to communities. We read a post by a blogger in Chicago, about how kids were working in a garden at their urban school, and we said, ‘This is it. This where we can help.’”

Kerrie and Carol set out to identify school gardens across the U.S.—one in each of the 50 states and the District of Columbia—where kids were planting seeds and learning where their food comes from.

“To date,” Carol says proudly, “We’ve recognized more than 150 school gardens that are making a difference in kids’ lives, and the U.S. Department of Education has recognized us for our efforts.”

One of this year’s Seed Keeper Project awards, which include certificates and recognition on the company’s Facebook page, went to the non-profit Dunbar Community Garden in Little Rock, Arkansas. It’s a two-acre “outdoor classroom" serving students from Gibbs International Magnet Elementary School and Dunbar Magnet Middle School.

The Garden is a multiracial, urban project in an economically depressed neighborhood. Established in 1998, before the notion of organic gardening in urban areas really became popular, the Garden now includes beds of veggies and flowers as well as chickens, goats, honeybees and a worm farm.

Kerrie and Carol launched their company about four years ago. They’d been avid gardeners for years when one spring, they found themselves with too many leftover seeds after planting their crops and flowers. Not wanting to waste their stock, they started looking for a way to organize and store their surplus.

“We had little tins and things like that to put seeds in,” Carol explains, “but we wanted a system to organize them, and to keep the seed packets, which have such valuable growing information on them.”

The Original Seed Keeper, a seed storage kit, from The Seed Keeper Company.

The Original Seed Keeper, a seed storage kit, from The Seed Keeper Company.

The Original Seed Keeper, a seed storage kit, from The Seed Keeper Company.

Photo by: Image courtesy of Kerrie Rosenthal and Carol Niec.

Image courtesy of Kerrie Rosenthal and Carol Niec.

Their search for containers to store their seeds and packets led them to identify a market niche they could fill. Their solution: The “Original Seed Keeper,” a plastic storage bin that comes as a complete kit, with dividers for alphabetizing and organizing seed packets, a pair of garden gloves, plant markers, glassine seed-saving envelopes and other helpful tools. 

Keeping seeds matters, the partners say, for three big reasons: nutrition, saving money and the environment. We eat better when we grow our own foods, Carol says, citing an increased demand by consumers and chefs for foods that are fresh and locally grown.

“It’s also important to know the whole process your food goes through, for better nutritional value, and you trim your budget when you save seeds and grow your own. And keeping seeds helps preserve biodiversity, so we’re not losing valuable varieties.”

The partners have branched out with other Earth-friendly products, like their popular “Burlap Girdles,” an alternative to traditional pots and planters. The Girdles, available in one, five and ten-gallon sizes, save space by folding flat in storage.

What’s next for the Seed Keeper Company? “We want our gardens to grow!” Carol says enthusiastically. “Each summer, we open ourselves to reconnect with our families, but on Monday nights, you can find us on Twitter on Garden Chat.” They’re also taking to the road again for another “SeedKeeperPalooza” or two, visiting garden centers and gardening friends around the country.

“We’re so tickled,” Carol says, “that the schools are excited to be recognized by us. It’s like magic, seeing the kids in the garden. It makes your heart sing!"

Learn how to nominate your school’s garden for a Seed Keeper Project award here.

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