Saturday, April 26, 2008

Pilgrimage to FEDCO

Yesterday I took my annual trip to Clinton, Maine to get potatoes, onions, soil supplements, and late-season seeds at FEDCO, the gardening supplies co-op that has been around for some 30 years now. Like the trip to the Common Ground Fair in September, this has become a kind of pilgrimage, where it's good to see like-minded people going seriously about organic gardening and the path it puts one on. It's good, always, to see a young generation of co-op workers, not only the children but now even some grandchildren of the counterculture folks who came to Maine in the 1960s and 1970s and established, among other things, MOFGA (the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association), FEDCO, and Johnny's Selected Seeds, the other major organic gardening institution in the state of Maine. It feels good to see the old faces, talk with founders like CR Lawn (his actual name), give them some heirloom seeds to trial, and bring back a carload of bulk fertilizers, potatoes, and onions. FEDCO has always been primarily a distribution co-op for farmers; their prices are wholesale. Over the years they've increasingly enlisted Maine growers and honed their offerings to varieties that do well in northern New England. Johnny's founder Rob Johnston always viewed his seed company as part retail establishment, part research, and so down through the years they've developed many excellent varieties of vegetables on their own farm, some attaining All-America status, while trialing and testing the others that they offer, constantly improving their selection. Rob retired a few years ago, selling the company to the employees. They seek a national market with a glossy catalog and a friendly web presence; their prices are retail, and the quality of their products is outstanding. If you're a backyard gardener, you can't do better than Johnny's. FEDCO, on the other hand, is not market-oriented; commercialism is counter to their habit. If you want good, cheap seeds, potatoes, fruit trees, greensand, and various other stuff for organic farming and gardening, FEDCO is for you. The FEDCO catalog, on newsprint paper, filled with wonderful drawings and terrible puns, is a relic from generations past. 

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