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Local Producer Profile: North Circle Seeds

sowing the seeds of success

As the world becomes more modern, where the pace of change often distracts us, it’s easy to overlook the small seeds of change that feed our communities. North Circle Seeds, a seed collective in Vergas, Minnesota, is dedicated to maintaining a bio-diverse collection of seeds gathered through a meticulous seed-saving process. North Circle Seeds is significantly impacting the preservation of genetic diversity and championing the cause of sustainable agriculture.

The story of North Circle Seeds begins with Zachary Paige, whose business journey started on a farm in Vermont in 2009. Intrigued by the farm’s organic practices, he felt there was a missing component and was left wondering why the farmers weren’t saving their seeds. This curiosity ignited a passion within him. Zachary left the farm and moved to Arizona to attend school, where he immersed himself in seed-saving techniques and the history of seeds, and conducted research into the significant loss of diversity caused by neglecting seed preservation. Zachary recalls, “It amped me up. That was in 2012, and ever since then, I’ve been on this train of wanting to save all the seeds that I grow.” As his collection of seeds grew, so did his commitment to preserving rare and endangered plant varieties. In 2019, he purchased 46 acres in Vergas, Minnesota and launched North Circle Seeds. In 2020, the farm earned organic certification.

North Circle Seeds is committed to promoting biodiversity. They focus primarily on open-pollinated varieties. Open-pollinated plants allow for natural cross-pollination, resulting in diverse genetic traits that can adapt to different environmental conditions. By preserving and sharing open-pollinated seed varieties, North Circle Seeds empowers farmers and gardeners to spread and foster biodiversity.

Zachary shares, “We’re trying to sell open-pollinated seeds, where people can save them independently. And we think that’s a good thing, not trying to have people buy seeds from us every year.”

The seed-saving process is intricate and fascinating. Most seeds are grown in Vargas, but North Circle Seeds has also built a regional collective of seed keepers. They partner with nine farms to grow and collect seeds, including The Boreal Farm, a 2023 Grow Local Food Fund recipient. By cooperating with multiple experienced seed keepers, the task of species diversity becomes significantly more manageable. It begins with careful crop selection, where each variety is chosen for its unique attributes, such as flavor, productivity, or adaptability to specific growing environments. Seeds are then harvested and processed, ensuring that only the highest-quality seeds make it into North Circle Seeds’ collection.

Once seeds are harvested, they undergo thorough drying and cleaning. This helps to eliminate any moisture that could cause mold or rot during storage. Cleaning the seeds involves winnowing, sifting, and hand-sorting to remove debris, damaged seeds, or chaff. This scrupulous process guarantees that only viable seeds are packaged and sent to stores and customers. 

Beyond its mission of preserving heirloom plants, North Circle Seeds actively engages in community programs and initiatives, sharing their expertise to promote environmentally conscious agriculture. They collaborate with local educational institutions and organizations, offering workshops, seed swaps, and resources about seed-saving techniques. The final stage of preparing the seeds for sale germinates another opportunity for outreach and engagement, as community members come together to hand-package the seeds. 

North Circle Seeds is a shining example of the importance of small seed companies in safeguarding biodiversity and fostering sustainable agriculture. With every seed they preserve and every gardener and farmer they empower, they sow the seeds of a more resilient and diverse food system—a legacy that could endure for generations to come.

The Boreal Farm, located in Rice Lake, Minnesota, is a USDA Certified Organic farm. Over four years ago they supplied North Circle Seeds with the core seeds for Sugar Daddy Snap Peas and have been growing seeds for them ever since. The Boreal Farm was a 2023 Grow Local Food Fund Recipient. 

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