Kalan and Cam Redwood of Redwood Seeds
By Laura Christman
Seed by SeedApril 2015
By Laura Christman
Photo courtesy of Redwood Seeds
A red, ripe tomato is a beautiful thing. An overripe, mushy one? Not so much.
Unless you happen to be a seed farmer like Kalan Redwood with an appreciation for past-prime tomatoes.
“Processing tomatoes is really a hands-on experience,” she says, explaining that the squishy tomatoes are plopped into buckets and allowed to ferment so seeds break free of slimy goo. “It’s like you are panning for gold. There are these beautiful golden tomato seeds at the bottom of the bucket. It’s really fun.”
Kalan and her husband, Cam Redwood, own Redwood Seeds near Manton. With a dream of having a rural farm, the self-taught gardeners purchased 40 acres of brush-covered land in the Shasta County foothills. They started farming in 2006 and decided to go full circle—growing from seed for seed.
“Seeds have always captured my imagination. You can plant such a tiny seed in the ground and it can provide so much,” Kalan says.
Sales began in 2009. They offered seeds of some 100 varieties. Hand-stamped packets were sold through the mail and at several Northern California stores.
The business quickly gained ground. Six years later, they grow 230 types of veggies, fruits, herbs and grains, including Adzuki red beans, Udumalpet eggplant, Chioggia beets, red okra, yellow watermelon and other plants with unique names, colors, shapes or tastes. Seeds can be purchased on their website and at 48 outlets in the North State and beyond, including Sacramento, the Bay Area and even a store in Los Angeles. The hobby business (Kalan’s day job was outdoor educator and Cam worked construction) grew into a full-time operation.
“We don’t work off the farm anymore,” Kalan says.
That was the goal, but she’s surprised how quickly their seeds found a following. She credits resurgence in home gardening and interest in local and organic foods.
“We filled a niche at the right time,” she says.
Home gardener Marlo Meyer uses Redwood Seeds in her Shingletown garden because of the interesting plants and the local connection. “I love their unique varieties, and that they are real hands-on, local people.”
Holly Hall also likes to buy local. She grows many Redwood Seeds varieties for her community supported agriculture business, Hall Farm in Manton. “They have such a fabulous selection of lettuce. I never was able to grow much lettuce until I started experimenting with all the options they have.”
The seeds are certified organic and are open-pollinated varieties, meaning they have not been cross-bred. Many are heirlooms passed down for generations. The Redwoods look for plants tolerant of the North State’s searing summers. They also specialize in short-season varieties for mountain and coastal regions.
Five gardens sit on two acres of their large parcel. They grow, harvest, process, package and market. It’s a family operation, and the family now includes 2-year-old daughter Maisie.
“It’s a lot of juggling. Sometimes I’m packing seeds at 10 o’clock at night,” Kalan notes. A toddler farmer adds to the adventure. “She loves to be outside and help me. She has her own wheelbarrow and shovel, and is going around and moving dirt everywhere.”
Crunch time is autumn. Various smashing, stomping, shucking and scooping techniques are put into play to harvest seeds. Tools include shovels, sheets, screens, a fan and plastic kiddie swimming pool.
Harvest is an ending and a beginning. Each seed plucked from a fading plant has the potential to be a new plant.
“I just really love how much potential food we are growing,” Kalan says.
She shares her enthusiasm for gardening in a blog on the Redwood Seeds website and has given seed-saving workshops. The farm encourages young gardeners too. It’s been a partner in the 22-raised-bed garden at Sequoia Middle School in Redding instigated by Kalan’s mother, retired art teacher Millie Milhouse.
Students sell Redwood Seeds as a fundraiser, using proceeds to buy garden supplies, teacher Renee Thomas says. Redwood Seeds also donates seeds for the garden. Some of the lettuce and other produce goes to the cafeteria, providing students with healthy food and a connection to where it came from.
“The miracle of a seed is just pretty amazing,” Thomas says.