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April 19, 2014

Oldest seed company in U.S. sets roots in Sharon Springs

By Joe Mahoney Staff Writer
The Daily Star

---- — For plant life, seeds are the unit of reproduction that provide the pathway to a new beginning. And a new beginning is what the oldest seed company in the United States is now making in the village of Sharon Springs.

Founded in Philadelphia in 1784, Landreth Seed Co. is cultivated these days by Barbara and Peter Melera

Barbara Melera, a former venture capitalist, purchased the company in 2003 when it was struggling. She and her husband moved the business in recent weeks to Sharon Springs, where Peter Melera grew up and attended local schools before getting his doctorate in botany.

“I had a lot of hands-on knowledge in business, and he has knowledge in science,” Barbara Melera said. On top of that, she said, she has been an avid gardener for 59 years, and understands the importance of having heirloom quality seeds.

Many of the varieties of seed are produced in Idaho and Northern California, she said, while okra seed generally comes from the Gulf Coast region and lima beans come from Florida.

Orders from the Landreth internet site and mail orders from the firm’s colorful printed catalog bring in a lot of business, she noted. But she doesn’t underestimate the significance of establishing bonds with her customers directly.

“I’m on the road almost all the time,” Barbara Melera said. “I got to a lot of indoor and outdoor flower shows. The internet is a great tool — but you need face time with your customers.”

At the same time, she said, she is growing the company’s following of younger gardeners by using the Landreth Seed Co. page on Facebook to initiate informative discussions about the backgrounds of the products. A “seed of the day” is featured on the page each day.

For instance, on Friday, known by followers of Christianity as Good Friday, marking the day of the crucifixion of Jesus Christ two days before Easter, the seed of the day was for Easter Lilies.

“The Easter Lily that we know today is not from the Holy Land. It is actually native to Japan,” one passage noted. “This lily was brought to the United States by a World War I soldier, Louis Houghton, who introduced it to the southern coast of Oregon in 1919. Its popularity exploded as a war weary and flu devastated nation searched for a symbol of peace, purity and health.”

Landreth has set up shop in a building off Route 10 that housed the former motorcycle shop, Thunder Customs. From a compact retail shop measuring 18 feet by 25 feet, customers can see into a section of the building where seeds are packed.

Heidi Meka, formerly employed at the American Hotel in the village, manages the on-site business.

Landreth offers 900 varieties of seed for flowers, vegetables and herbs, Barbara Melera said.

All of the seed sold by Landreth are of the “open pollination” type — meaning the plants that produced them were naturally pollinated in an open setting, by way of natural mechanisms, wind, birds and insects.

“We have no genetically modified seed,” Barbara Melera said.