The Seed Philosopher

Photo by Dan Gold

It doesn’t take long to figure out that Petra Page-Mann is passionate about seeds. Her enthusiasm is infectious, and soon you’re swept up by her considerable knowledge about the state of the endangered seed world. You can’t believe it when she tells you that in the last 100 years, we’ve lost 75 percent of the genetic diversity of our crops due to seed commodification and industrial farming. And you cheer her to succeed when she tells you how she’s on a mission to reclaim “our seed heritage.”

That’s why Page-Mann, and her life and business partner, Matthew Goldfarb, founded Fruition Seeds in 2012 in Naples, New York, precisely to fulfill that mission. While they focus on certified organic, open-pollinated varieties that are best adapted to the Northeast, they ship vegetable, herb, and flower seeds all over the country, which Page-Mann said is a humble reminder that for thousands of years, seeds have been traded and traveled far and wide.

“I’m here in western New York, but my grandmother lives in Florida, my mother lives in Utah, and I have friends in Alaska and Hawaii, and they all use our seeds,” she explains. “Seeds are special, they’re sacred. They move through our ecosystems by humans, by birds, in the wind, and over time, we realize we can eat from all over the world because these very small seeds feed us in more ways than just physically.”

Unless you’ve tasted a ripe tomato in August warm off the vine, you don’t know that what’s in the grocery store pales in comparison.

But the literal fruits of Fruition Seeds are the driving force behind the business and have enabled Fruition to collaborate with chefs like Dan Barber at Blue Hill at Stone Barnes (he loves Fruition’s Habanada pepper) and legendary tomato experts like Craig LeHoullier and Will Bonsall.

When it comes to tomatoes, Page-Mann says, “Unless you’ve tasted a ripe tomato in August warm off the vine, you don’t know that what’s in the grocery store pales in comparison.” While she loves all their tomatoes, she’s particularly partial to the dwarf varieties that LeHoullier champions because they’re productive and they accommodate home growers who may not have the space or time to manage massive trellised plants. “It’s really exciting to bring farming out of industrial realm down to a human, personal scale,” she says.

As tomato season is upon us, this reporter is going to plant some Gardener Sweethearts, an heirloom cherry variety Fruition introduced in 2014. According to Page-Mann, they’re meaty and creamy—the best of both worlds—and they’re heart-shaped too. As I watch them grow and begin to harvest the fruit, I’ll remember what Page-Mann told me about her seed philosophy: “It’s the most fundamental political act to share what we have with others because seeds connect us to our food and to each other.” And then I’ll pick one off the vine when it’s warm and sweet, pop it in my mouth, and hope that 50 years from now, future generations will derive the same pleasure from growing their own.