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A Horticultural Treasure Trove In Jeopardy

(Courtesy D. Landreth Seed Company)

Our colleagues at the public radio show “Living On Earth” first introduced us to the D.Landreth Seed Company, which is “as old as dirt,” having begun in 1784.

Current CEO Barbara Melara tells Here & Now‘s Robin Young that the company not only “introduced the United States to the zinnia, one of America’s most beloved flowers in 1798, [but] it actually introduced most Americans to tomatoes when it sold seed for the very first time in 1820.”

The company also provided seeds and plants for Commodore Matthew Perry’s mission to Japan in the mid 19th century. In the company’s records are 150 years worth of old catalogues containing information on agriculture and horticulture.

But now, America’s oldest seed house is in financial peril: Barbara Melera and her husband borrowed money to buy the company in 2003, but now the investors are suing for the money they put into the company.

Melera says the worse case scenario would be if a judge rules that the assets have to be sold off to pay creditors.

As a result she would expect that, “All the seed inventory will be sold, the equipment will be sold, the catalogues will be auctioned off and for all intents and purposes, the company will disappear.”

But she’s encouraged by the fact that since the company’s predicament was first publicized last year, they have heard from people around the United States, as well as Canada, Mexico and Great Britain, placing orders and ordering catalogues.

She says that each purchase, even if it’s a $5 catalogue is “a statement that this company can be a viable entity. That there are people who will buy our products once they know that the company exists.”

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Robin and Jeremy

Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson host Here & Now, a live two-hour production of NPR and WBUR Boston.

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