Working to save D. Landreth Seed Company, celebrating the #2 pencil, and encouraging Chicagoans to “eat, drink & buy local”

November 20, 2011

Help keep the historic D. Landreth Seed Company alive:
Give the gift of one of their fabulous 2012 catalogs!

If you’re a regular listener to the program or if you’re a serious gardener, you are aware of the plight of the historic D. Landreth Seed Company. The oldest seed house in America, dating back to 1784, had its accounts frozen by a garnishment order on August 31 of this year. Owner Barbara Melera and her husband Peter had thirty days to sell one million 2012 catalogs to satisfy their creditors and keep the doors open.

And then a kind of miracle began to unfold. Word got out in the social media, including Twitter and Facebook. which spread to the mainstream media and even further. I first got wind of the story in a post by Mr. Brown Thumb and quickly invited Barbara to be on my show on September 11. At that point, though things looked bleak, various people, organizations and companies began lending their support and the orders were starting to roll in.

You can see the full list of Landreth supporters on the company’s home page, but it includes names like Huffington Post, American Express, The Fabulous Beekman Boys, Planet Green, Martha Stewart, National Public Radio, Oprah Winfrey, The View, Elen Degeneres, Organic Gardening Magazine, Rosie O’Donnell, Sunset Magazine, John Deere Company, Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, The Sierra Club, Mother Nature Network, Slow Food USA, Farm Aid, Organic Valley and dozens more. I’m proud and honored that The Mike Nowak Show is #4 on the list.

By the time Barbara visited with me again on October 2, the company had received enough orders to buy more time. At that time here are what the numbers looked like, thanks, in part to the legendary “Mike Nowak Bump”:

Online orders: $122,096
Phone orders: $635
Contributions via $7,643

Tota Raisedl: $130,374

Here are the numbers as of today, November 20, 2011:

Online orders: $148,150.61
Phone and mail orders: $7,329.00
Contributions via chipin: $12,162.50

Total Raised: $167,642.11
Equivalent Catalogs Ordered: 33,528

As you can see, it ain’t easy to sell a million catalogs. But once they start landing in mailboxes all over America, the sheer quality of this publication will encourage a new spurt of orders. How do I know? I happen to have in my hot little hands a printer’s proof of the actual catalog, courtesy of Barb Melera. It’s so valuable, in fact, that after this morning’s show she is making me mail it back to her.

The 2012 D. Landreth Seed Company catalog is indeed a treasure. It features reproductions of past catalog art, etchings, drawings, photographs and quotes from past catalogs, like this from the 1848 catalog:

“The Lettuce is a hardy annual, introduced or cultivated in England since 1562, but from what country is unknown. The use of Lettuce, as a cooling and agreeable salad, is well know; it is also a useful ingredient in soups. It contains, like the other species of this genus, a quantity of opium juice, of a milky nature, from which of late years, medicine has been prepared under the title of Lactucarium, and which can be administered with effect in cases where opium is inadmissable…”

Hmm. No wonder lettuce shows up in so many salads. Then there’s this from the May 3, 1934 address by Burnet Landreth, Jr. before the Poor Richard Club of Philadelphia on the One Hundred and Fiftieth Anniversary of the D. Landreth Seed Company:

“In 1849 David Landreth, Jr. was the first to graft in the greenhouse a tomato on a potato root. In this instance, the tomato plant nourished by the potato roots produced tomatoes in the usual form, but in the second place the potato stem grafted on a tomato root could not produce its tubers under the ground, but produced fruit the size of a small pea at the access of all the stems, a most curious result, show how Nature strives always to reproduce itself.”

There are plenty more goodies like that in the catalog. And, of course, the seed lists for the incredible variety of heirloom vegetables, herbs and flowers. If you haven’t purchased a catalog yet, do it today. Or even better, order several as holiday gifts for your friends and family.

Once again, here are various links that you can use to get the word out: Facebook sites Landreth Seed Co, Save Landreth Seed Company, Order their 2012 Catalog!, and probably more. If you’re on Twitter, use the hashtag #savelandreth. If you just want to make a contribution, go to and click the icon on the upper right hand side of the page.

Where would we be without Faber-Castell and the #2 pencil?

It’s hard to believe that in one show I could be spotlighting two companies that are more than 200 years old. The pencil and premium writing company, Faber-Castell, is even older than D. Landreth Seed Company and, as they celebrate their 250th Anniversary this year, they do it in sustainable fashion. Not only is Faber-Castell CO2-neutral but its operations absorb more carbon dioxide than they produce. In fact, they are 3 times carbon neutral.

If you’re wondering how that is possible, all you need to know is that, two decades ago, Faber-Castell initiated a pioneering plantation project in Brazil on former grassland with a poor sandy soil. It is, located in the middle of the Brazilian savannah near Prata (Minas Gerais state), more than 2,500 kilometres away from the Amazon rainforest. The pine used for the woodlands is a tropical species called Pinus caribea, which grows quickly, can flourish even in poor conditions, and is easy to replant.

Since 1999 the Faber-Castell plantations have also been certified by the FSC (Forest Stewardship Council): a demanding international standard for “environmentally compatible, socially equitable, and sustainable forestry”. The Chain of Custody (COC) certification guarantees furthermore that the origin of the wood can be traced all the way from harvesting the timber to packaging the pencils. Faber-Castell maintains its own tree nurseries. Seedlings are continually planted out to replace each row of trees felled: a sustainable ecological cycle. In addition, their forest project offers 30% of the land as a refuge for endangered species in Brazil – over 280 species live on this land

Of course, many people know Faber-Castell as the company that invented the #2 pencil. They currently produce 2 billion pencils every year and they were the first manufacturer in the industry to make water-based varnish, which is safer for factory workers and consumers (think about all the kids and adults who like to chew on pencils).

While I was angling to have CEO Count Anton von Faber-Castell on the show (mainly because I’ve never spoken to a real count), I’m pleased to talk to Jamie Gallagher, President and CEO of Faber-Castell USA/Creativity for Kids, based in Cleveland, Ohio.

Sustainable Food Fundamentals
Unwrap Chicago: Eat, Drink & Buy Local for WCPT’s Holiday Harvest

Things are really coming into focus for the WCPT Holiday Harvest from December 1 through December 11. We’ve identified most of the drop off locations, which will include

  • North Shore Unitarian Church
    2100 Half Day Rd Deerfield, IL 60015
    (Their farmers market is on December 4th)
  • First Free Angelical Church
    5255 N Ashland Ave Chicago, IL 60640
    (Their farmers market is on December 11th)
  • Amor De Dios United Methodist Church
    2356 South Sawyer Avenue
    Chicago, IL 60623-3331
  • Euclid Avenue United Methodist
    405 South Euclid Avenue
    Oak Park, IL 60302-3901
  • Healthy Horizons Inc
    7034 Indianapolis Blvd # 1
    Hammond, IN 46324-2244
  • Englewood Food Network
    (Site to be determined)

And, of course, the WCPT studios of Chicago’s Progressive Talk, where Mike Sanders of Our Town and I will join forces for a three hour Holiday Harvest special on December 4 from 8:00 to 11:00 a.m. Our thanks to our partner, Faith in Place, which has lined up several of the drop off locations.

Our goal is to do a drive that is “healthy, local and sustainable,” at least to the extent possible and practical. Last week, on the Holiday Harvest page on this website, we discussed the preserved and canned goods. This week, the focus is on local, and I couldn’t have found a better fit than Suzanne Keers, who is co-founder & executive director of Local First Chicago.

Local First Chicago is teaming up with City of Chicago’s Department of Housing and Economic Development, the Chicago Office of Tourism & Culture and more than 50 neighborhood chambers of commerce, community organizations and businesses in a city-wide Buy Local campaign for the 2011 Holiday Season. They’re calling it “Unwrap Chicago: Eat, Drink & Buy Local” and the purpose is to educate citizens on the importance of buying locally.

They are asking each household in Chicago to pledge to redirect at least $100 of planned holiday spending from chain stores to locally owned merchants. Why? For one, pledge signers will be entered in a raffle for local gift certificates More importantly, though, it would result in $25 million being pumped into the local economy. In addition, buying locally

• Puts more dollars back into your community,
• Creates and preserves local jobs, and
• Reduces your carbon footprint.

I couldn’t agree more, especially when it comes to WCPT’s Holiday Harvest. One of the reasons we are working with Faith in Place and using their Winter Farmers Markets locations as drop off places is because we hope you will purchase something there, turn around and put it in one of our bins. Voila! Shopping locally!

We are continuing to update the Holiday Harvest page, and I hope I hope you’ll check it out from time to time and begin gathering food to donate during our drive. Our motto: Feed the Need. Thanks for whatever you can do.