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Glossy Garden Porn

Every year when the new seed catalogs come out, someone invariably refers to their pile of glossy catalogs as “garden porn”. The term is more apt than cheeky. These slick catalogs are filled with photos of unblemished veggies and centerfold scenes of fecund harvests accompanied by hyperbolic descriptions of their assets. The pornographic pages are meant to lure you into a fantasy where veggies aren’t blighted and butts don’t have pimples. But sex is rarely what is portrayed in pornography and your garden is rarely what you see and read in most catalogs. As far as I’m concerned, this is a good thing, on both counts.

Gardening is sexy, but we like to keep it real. Notice our laundry drying rack in the back. Gardening is sexy, but we like to keep it real. Yes, that's our laundry airing out in the back.

Every garden is a story with its own tragedy, slapstick, drama, sex, death, and delicious redemption. Where are the catalogs that communicate the stories of losing all your Brussels Sprouts over night to one woodchuck, giving a hummingbird a bath with the hose, finding self-sown volunteers from last year, wishing for rain, wishing for sun, having a stand-off with a young buck over an apple sapling, listening to pollinators, being stung, finding a ripe musk melon hidden beneath weeds, watching helplessly as your tomatoes rot from blight, forgetting what variety you planted and having to wait two months to find out, sitting down to a meal your grew yourself, blemishes and all?

These are the experiences that make a garden real. Is there room for reality in today’s catalogs?

When you look past the airbrushed actors or photo-shopped stills you may find that the true face of the industry is not so pretty. Many catalogs cover-up where their seeds come from, how they are grown, and who owns the brand name. Most seed companies get their seeds from large scale monocrop seed farms using pesticides, herbicides, and soil-wasting farming practices. Look deeper and you will find that a few multinational corporations, mostly biotech, own the bulk of seed sources. This means your seed dollar spent at a familiar seed catalog, even one offering heirlooms, could very well be supporting the likes of Monsanto

When we first came up with the idea of using original artwork from different artists for the covers of our seed packs, some people suggested that it would be better to stick to what everyone else does, photos. But we wanted our packs to communicate something more about the seeds they hold. The artwork reflects the diversity of the seeds and suggests that each seed comes with a story.

Now we’re trying to do the same thing with our catalog. We felt ourselves falling into the same still-life photo and too-good-to-be-true description format of conventional seed companies. But we don’t want to look like everyone else because our seeds aren’t like everyone else’s. Our catalog is made with transparency in mind. So we’re filling our catalog with art and real garden photos. You can see which seeds are grown on our farm (which is increasingly rare for seed companies). You can read about the small local farms who grow seed for us, and you can see which seeds we source from responsible seed houses. Every year we make ends meet we’re able to become less dependent on wholesalers and grow more seeds ourselves.

We’re also keeping our catalog short and sweet. Although this means we’re not printing a photo and description of each variety (you can read those online) a slender catalog saves important natural resources like trees and water and keeps down our costs so we can continue to offer you affordable heirlooms through our Seed Library program.  We hope you’ll keep our humble catalog in your garden porn stash as a reminder to visit our website when you’re ready to order seeds. We know you may not be able to get everything you want from us, but with 150 local varieties to choose from, it’s a great place to start!

We don’t expect the garden porn industry to change anytime soon, so we’re making our own change. Maybe this year’s glossy catalogs will give you some new ideas to try in the privacy of your home garden. I do hope, though, that you won’t compare your performance to what you see in those slick overproduced pages. Instead, I hope you discover that what you have, your garden, your story, has more beauty, flavor, spice, and perfection than can be captured by a glib description or a camera’s click.

If you would like to share your garden’s story with us, in any form, poetry, prose, microfiction, recipes, how-to, hard hitting journalism, rants, humor, photos, or art, send it along. If might just wind up in the Seed Library Catalog which is full of real photos from our farm, member’s gardens, and art. No over-polished actors allowed! Thanks for helping us keep it real.

Keep an eye out - the full catalog will be available online next week, and the print one will be ready shortly after. If you would like to receive one, let us know!

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