I fully support everything this Missouri-based seed company does! Why can't Sen. Blunt choose to advocate for THIS Mo company?
A Homestead Sprouts in the Ozarks
The Gettles built a lucrative heirloom-seed business with customers from St. Louis to Saudi Arabia, then created a pioneer village in Missouri to go with it, balancing a homespun lifestyle with a globe-trotting work schedule
By SARAH TILTON
Most people think they are lost by the time they get to the 5-mile-long dirt road that leads to Jeremiath ("Jere") and Emilee Gettle's homestead in Mansfield, Mo.
But on a recent Sunday morning, a steady line of cars pointed the way to the 176-acre farm on Baker Creek Road, passing through the rolling hills of the Ozarks past neighbors' mailboxes anchored in rusty milk cans. More than 6,500 visitors attended the planting festival at the Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Co., which is at once the Gettles' home, their expanding seed company and a historic village.
Mr. Gettle and his wife come from generations of farmers. He says he has never spent more than two weeks in a city. Mrs. Gettle grew up in a town of 200, was a member of 4-H and also never sought city life. But they are savvy business people, who extend the reach of their business and private life through world-wide traveling, writing books, publishing a quarterly magazine and using social media. Baker Creek Heirloom Seed has more than 90,000 followers on Facebook, FB -1.84% and customers are in touch via email and Twitter.
Homespun Fairy Tale
Last year, the Gettles visited Italy, Spain, Thailand, Myanmar and Oman looking for heirloom seeds.
Heirloom seeds are those that are passed down from generation to generation, are open-pollinated and aren't patented or genetically modified. Every week, people from as far away as the Ukraine or as close as Appalachia send Mr. Gettle their own heirloom seeds, each with a story. Customers from St. Louis to Saudi Arabia buy the seeds for small farms, home gardens, schools and public gardens.
Mr. Gettle, 32 years old, started Baker Creek Heirloom Seed from his upstairs bedroom in 1998 in the home at the center of the homestead. He was 17 years old, and was photocopying and mailing out a 12-page catalog offering 75 kinds of seeds. Sales his first year totaled $1,200.
This year, the 15th annual edition of the catalog featured 212 color pages with 1,450 different heirloom seeds from 70 countries, and went out to 350,000 readers. The company had revenue in 2012 of about $5 million, says Mr. Gettle.
"It's a home business that outgrew the home," he explains.
Mr. Gettle still lives in the century-old white clapboard house on the farm his parents bought in 1993 for just under $100,000. The company has become a landmark in Mansfield, population 1,296, but the area is perhaps better known for the Laura Ingalls Wilder museum and home, where the author wrote her "Little House" books. It is an hour's drive east of Springfield, on a highway where cars sometimes share the road with Amish buggies.
His parents years ago moved to the other side of the valley, so Mr. Gettle now shares the house with his wife and their 5-year-old daughter, Sasha, along with a pug, three cats and an array of fish.
The couple wanted to keep the historic feel of the two-story house—which dates back to 1906 and was built using wood milled on the land—while adding their own modern touches. It has become the centerpiece of a reimagined pioneer village the Gettles created with the help of local Amish craftsmen and some handy family members. A seed store, a mercantile, a bakery, a blacksmith and an apothecary are spread over 5 acres.
"It's a cross between the old and the new," says Mr. Gettle, describing their homestead and lifestyle. That means the village's old-fashioned seed store has touch-screen cash registers. In the family home, Mrs. Gettle edits the Heirloom Gardener quarterly at an iMac on an antique desk in the living room.
Over the years, the Gettles restored their home's wood siding and its oak floors. They added central air-conditioning, a wood-burning furnace and a second bathroom. Off the kitchen they put in a heated, 20-by-40-foot greenhouse where they aim to grow papayas, figs, guava and citrus.
Mrs. Gettle likes a 1950s palette, so she chose robin's-egg-blue paint for the main hallway, pale yellow for the kitchen and pink in the dining room. Similar colors are seen in her collection of antique quilts.
"I like the feed-sack prints," she says, referring to the tradition of making quilts out of cloth sacks.
There were only two closets in the 2,700-square-foot, two-bedroom, two-bathroom house, so the Gettles converted a former spinning room on the second floor into a walk-in closet.
Mrs. Gettle, 29, who spins her own yarn with wool from their five rams, then turned a bedroom into a craft room for her spinning wheel. It also holds a work table by an Amish carpenter, a sewing machine and racks of fabrics.
The bedroom where Mr. Gettle started the seed business is now a library. Seed catalogs, gardening books and National Geographic magazines going back to the 1930s line the walls, along with travel guides to Turkey, Bulgaria and Vietnam.
The Gettle house overall, however, is noticeably clutter-free. Mr. Gettle says some clutter, including a collection of Asian antiques, was moved to the pioneer village beyond a picket fence.
The house looks out at the village they call Bakersville, built to look as if it had been there 100 years. First came the seed store. Then the barn. Then Harriet's Mercantile, which sells Granny Opal's Blueberry Muffin Mix (Granny Opal being Mr. Gettle's 78-year-old grandmother) and which has a seed museum upstairs.
They later opened a pay-as-you-can restaurant that uses organic produce from the farm for its Asian-influenced vegan menu. The restaurant is open for lunch only. In the evenings, Mrs. Gettle often uses the kitchen for family meals because she prefers its commercial Garland stove.
A "crooked" cabin leans purposefully off-kilter—an interpretation of the Ozark style of building whereby you make do with what you have, which might not include a laser level.
Next to the cabin lives Rocky, a donkey who brays along to the violin when someone plays it for him. Opposite his corral are some of the 15 chicken coops the Gettles have built and filled with heirloom birds.
Mr. Gettle says that over the years they have put about $1.5 million into the house, the village and the land, and he is now more interested in maintaining it than expanding it. That's easier said than done considering the constant offers from people to sell or give him an old barn or piece of machinery they hope he'll save.
The Gettles also are restoring a house they own in Wethersfield, Conn., built in 1767. The house was part of a 2010 deal when the Gettles bought Comstock, Ferre & Co., a New England seed company founded in 1811. They spend a couple of months a year in the house as they watch over their investment.
But the Missouri clapboard house and its village are the Gettle family's home. "It's nice at 4 o'clock when it's all ours again," says Mrs. Gettle.
Write to Sarah Tilton at email@example.com
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