Road Trip to a Previous Century of Gardening
This time of year, Planter’s Seed and Spice Store in Kansas City’s River Market is a busy, exciting place, making even those with concrete thumbs itch to dig in the dirt. With more than 40,000 varieties of seeds and other gardening aparatus filling the old wooden shelves and creaky wood floor of the historic building, everyone who enters the doors wants to leave with something very special.
Geoff Myer, manager for more than 28 years, does his best to keep in stock just the right seeds for whatever his customers want, but he knows one thing for sure: No matter how many varieties of fruits and vegetables he carries from Baker Creek Seeds, an heirloom seed company in southern Missouri, someone will come in asking for something that he doesn’t stock.
“We carry about 200 varieties from their catalogue, but the catalogue is so beautiful and their collection so extensive, it’s just not possible for us to keep everything they offer in stock,” said Myer.
Therefore, a spring road trip to southern Missouri is in order.
Baker Creek Seeds is located in the small community of Mansfield, about 30 miles east of Springfield. The area is best known for its most famous resident – author Laura Ingalls Wilder, whose home and museum here is another reason to head to southern Missouri any time of year. Baker Creek is indeed a little water source that flows through the 180-acre property owned by Jere and Emilee Gettle, but the name is known better around the world as an heirloom seed company, indeed the largest heirloom seed company in the United States.
Jere Gettle is just as captivated with the preservation of seeds with a variety of flavors, uses and nutritional values as he is with the cultural story behind each seed. Reading through the company’s massive color catalogue is like stepping into the pages of world history with stories of plants that survived world wars, floods and all of the history of man.
When the Iraq war broke out, there were many concerns about the protection of people, property and animals. But others gathered seeds and, as a result, we can still enjoy the pleasures of an Ali Baba watermelon, just like centuries of human beings before us have.
Here’s an example with a more local angle: The Missouri Pink Love Apple. It’s not an apple at all, but a tomato, big and pink and very rich in flavor. It’s been grown in the Show Me State since the 1850s by the Barnes family who used it as an ornamental bush around their home. They believed, as did many people of the time, that tomatoes were poisonous, but it was still such a pretty plant. It wasn’t until the early 1900s that the misconception was eradicated and tomatoes became a common staple on our tables. The Missouri Pink Love Apple can grow to weigh as much as a pound each.
Planters Seeds and Spice carries the Missouri Pink Love Apple from Baker Creek, as well as the Pusa Asita Carrot, a black carrot from India. The second most popular seed is an Atomic Red Carrot. Gardeners and nutritionists know that the darker the color of the vegetable, the richer it is in vitamins and other nutrients.
The Baker Creek Restaurant, open again after a winter renovation, serves up fabulous meals using ingredients fresh from the garden. However, it’s not your typical restaurant offering pages of menu options. Each day, there are only two or three dishes to choose from. Depending on the day, you might be able to actually eat one of those black Indian carrots or a cabbage grown from seeds original to Tuscany.
The little village also includes an apothecary that carries medicinal and culinary herbs, teas and more. There’s a garden museum, a bakery that uses a native rock oven, and a blacksmith shop among other authentic experiences. It’s supposed to represent a time when all communities had a mercantile that carried heirloom seeds.
The grounds here swell to overflowing with people during the Spring Planting Festival, this year scheduled for May 1 – 2, when musicians, food enthusiasts, Ozark crafters and passionate gardeners fill the grounds. Other good times to visit Baker Creek are the first Sunday of each month from March until October. Gatherings on these days focus on seasonal issues and activities.