Where does your vegetable seed come from?

October 1, 2021

Just like the seeds we plant in our gardens, the vegetable seed industry in Canada is really diverse!

Where does your vegetable seed come from? - Seven illustrated seeds variously filled in with different amounts of blue, green and yellow. An orange open seed envelope labeled "Seed businesses." There's a legend on the envelope: blue represents "seed grown by farmer/company," green represents "seed contracted locally/regionally," and yellow represents "seed imported"

There are many different seed business models and where you buy your seeds will depend on your priorities.

Just like with food, there are global and local supply chains for seed, and Canadian companies may use either or both. There are also international companies that sell imported seed within Canada’s borders. For example, you may see seed racks at your local big box hardware store. While that store is located in your community, those vegetable seeds are usually not grown in Canada, and they are usually not provided by a company based in the country.

Among Canadian vegetable seed companies, you will find a great variety of options⁠—locally grown and regionally adapted seeds, organic seeds, imported seeds⁠—in many different combinations.

Looking for vegetable seeds? Check out these regional directories:

Or access the Ecological Seed Finder, a collaboration between Seeds of Diversity Canada and SeedChange.

If growing local seeds that are regionally adapted to your area is important to you, you’ll want to identify farmers and companies that sell what they, or their neighbours, grow. Seed companies and farmers in your area may sell their seeds at Seedy Saturdays, farmers’ markets, and on their website. This seed is locally-grown and comes with the benefit of supporting a local grower who intimately knows each variety and how it was grown.

Some local companies offer both their own seed and seed purchased from other local growers. This model allows a company to increase the diversity of its offerings, provide contract growers with income and create a community of seed growers who learn, share and work together.

If you’re looking for a large variety and quantity of seeds, Canada’s larger vegetable seed companies might be a good fit. In most cases, these larger companies sell exclusively imported seed, which they order in bulk and repackage for sale. This is a very common model for selling vegetable seeds. Some of these companies may have “trial gardens” where they evaluate the performance of imported varieties in their local climate. It’s possible that some of these companies would offer locally grown varieties too, but this isn’t usually disclosed in the descriptions. So, if you want to know where the seed was grown, you have to ask your seed seller and keep in mind that they may not know.

There’s a whole spectrum of seed company models between your local seed farmer and the large, import-based Canadian companies. Farmers may form a cooperative to market under one label the seed they’ve each grown on their separate farms. A local seed farmer may choose to add imported seeds to their catalogue so they can offer more varieties or more certified organic options. Trade-offs like these can be necessary because some seeds are difficult to grow in certain climates. For example, carrots and beets are easy to cultivate here but their seeds are not.

Through The Bauta Family Initiative on Canadian Seed Security, SeedChange supports farmers who are growing a thriving seed movement across the country; this includes support for growers who cultivate and distribute their own regionally adapted seed varieties.

To ensure you’re using the best seed for your needs, talk to your local seed seller to find out more about where their seed comes from and why!