About Matchbox Garden Seed Company
Matchbox Garden Seed Company is a small farm and seed company located in the Greater Toronto Area. It was founded by Hanna Jacobs in 2006 and has grown steadily each year since. Hanna specialises in growing open-pollinated and rare varieties, which are sold as vegetables, seeds and seedlings. The business has increasingly moved to seed production and the company currently offers about 150 varieties in their catalogue, 80% of which are grown at their Certified Organic farm. Hanna is always on the look out for varieties that are hard to find and that do well in the region. She runs trials each year to discover new crops to incorporate in to her collection. This year she has been trialling climbing beans, summer squash and sweet peppers. One recent addition to the catalogue is an Afghani tomato, Rumii Banjaan, which Hanna discovered through Baker Creek Hierloom Seed Company in Missouri. She is the sole Canadian provider of a number of rare varieties, such as, Mrs Bot’s Italian Giant, a beefsteak tomato, which originated in the Veneto region of Italy. Hanna is also a member of the Bauta Family Initiative on Canadian Seed Security and is part of their network of seed growers: she runs trials and produces seed for up to 5 varieties per year, all of which have been identified as rare or at risk.
Getting ready for winter: fleece covers several rows of crops at one of four small gardens at the Matchbox Seed Company (late October 2015)
Interview with Hanna Jacobs, founder of Matchbox Garden Seed
Please could you introduce yourself and say what you do
I’m Hanna Jacobs and I’m the founder and owner of Matchbox Garden Seed Company. I produce Certified Organic, open-pollinated seed with a focus on heirloom and rare. I also run a small CSA programme and provide produce for a farmers market in Toronto and I produce seedlings for home gardeners and small farms in Ontario.
And why did you decide to start Matchbox?
I was becoming so aware of our food production system and its deficiencies. I wanted to have food for my family that I knew how it was grown and where it came from. I started looking at the seed side of things and started asking the same questions: how were they grown and where did they come from? Seed is something that we just don’t think about. You hear all this talk about food security but really food security starts with seed security so, as for my ideals, that’s why I do it, because if we don’t have seed we don’t have food.
What do you think your main successes are as a business so far?
My seed is really becoming a main success… I can see where it’s going and it’s really exciting. Even just for self-sufficiency in a market garden to produce your own seed, that’s huge. I don’t know any farmers who do that. I think the fact that I’ve managed to make it ten years with the business is a big success. I’m still growing and things are just going to keep getting better and better as long as I can keep all my ducks in a row.
How do you want the company to develop in the future?
I want to do less food production and more seed production. I’m toying with the idea of cutting my summer CSA and doing a winter CSA instead because there’s demand for it. But generally speaking I’d like to be doing more seed production.
Do you work with any community seed projects or other seed savers?
I potentially will be working with a lady doing flower seed production. She is a flower farmer and I already work with her. She brings flowers to market and we share a booth. So we have a relationship there and she’s really interested in seed production.
And what do you think the seed sector in Canada needs to develop?
More access to Canadian seed would be really nice, so when we’re sourcing seed for trials, we could get that seed from up here so it’s already acclimated to our region. I think it would be great if we had more communication between seed producers. Its really difficult to find seed producers. There are certain crops I would like to have seed for – to sell or to grow out for market – but in my ten years I’ve never found anybody to help with grow outs and I’ve asked. Every year I ask. I’ve gotten to the point where I now ask market garden producers if they will grow seed out for me, and they won’t because they think it’s a huge job, and no matter what I tell them they don’t believe that it’s really not a big job. We need more collaboration between seed producers across the country.
Can you tell me about a couple of seeds in your collection that you’re really proud to have in your collection?
There are two tomato varieties that I’m proud of because I’ve managed to breed them for late blight resistance. I’ve been saving the seed and breeding them every year for 10 years now. One is called Coyote, which is originally out of Mexico. They’re massive plants. You get arms on the plant 12 feet long and they’re a huge producer. They’re beautiful cherry tomatoes. They’re my gate-way veggie for kids that don’t like veggies. The late blight resistance is really big for me because it’s hard to get open-pollinated tomatoes that aren’t going to get hit with late blight. That’s what I’d like to have with all of my tomatoes… it seems to be starting to happen with some of my other varieties too. The other one is called Gold Medal and it’s a beautiful beefsteak, 1.5lb on average. It’s got yellow shoulders and a blush bottom, so if you slice it in half, it’s yellow on the outside and it gets more blush as you get to the centre. You can eat them like an apple, they’re so lovely and I’ve managed to get late blight resistance on that now too so that’s really awesome.