Ministry of Controversy

Guest Rant: Endive for the End Times

Please welcome Kate Munning, who is here to enlighten us on those crazy commercials advertising seeds for "one-acre crisis gardens."

There’s a new sensation sweeping the right-wing TV and talk-radio airwaves: apocalypse gardening! For the low, low price of $159.95 plus shipping and handling, you too can get a bucket of random seeds that will supposedly be your saving grace in the event of society’s collapse.

Or as one company describes it: “This SOLUTION is for people that DON'T trust government to feed them if the economy collapses or in case of a long term emergency! If the economy collapses, a pinch of heirloom seeds will have more barter power than gold because it offers an endless supply of food and hope for the future.”

What began as one obscure commercial appears to have become a booming business, with at least six companies scrambling to profit from poor non-gardening schlubs. I can’t imagine that any respectable gardener would ever fall for this, but someone is obviously buying these “survival seed” kits. Even Stephen Colbert recently lampooned one of these ads on The Colbert Report, though he wasn’t able to articulate everything that makes this scam so ridiculous.

The Colbert Report Mon – Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Survival Seed Bank
www.colbertnation.com
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What’s so special about these seeds, you may ask? I’ll let them tell you:
·    “Non-hybrid seeds can be grown practically anywhere and have the ability to assimilate mineral and trace elements from the soil that man made plants just don't seem to have.”
·    “Each seed package is sealed in a special foil packet with a very expensive desiccant designed to keep seeds fresh for 20 years at 70 degrees.”
·    “More valuable than silver or gold in a real meltdown.”
·    “Hundreds of pounds of food for $.01 per pound.”

Let’s tackle these claims, shall we? We’ll start with the “non-hybrid” claim, which is the only one with any potential validity. Like all good scams, there’s a grain of truth to it, since hybrid seeds can’t be saved after harvesting and grow true to type next year, and heirloom seeds do contribute to sustainability in that way. And I can’t totally disagree with a point made by one of the most rabid seed survivalists, who bluntly claims, “Monsanto hates you.” But “man-made plants”? Give me a break. Don’t tell that to the birds and bees that have been cross-pollinating plants since the beginning of time, to poor Gregor Mendel rolling over in his grave, or even to the folks at Johnny’s Seeds who do such a fine job with F1 plant varieties.

Most of these companies don’t bother to explain why “non-hybrid” seeds are even potentially advantageous, and the whole thing is clearly marketed to the average American consumer in an attempt to profit from a combination of fear in this dreary economy and the home gardening trend. This is best exemplified in the generic selection of seeds for anywhere in the country. Sorry sweetheart, but if anything, heirloom seeds are most valuable when grown in their native climate. The one-size-fits-all tack taken by seed survivalists belies the low opinion these companies have for their customers. Nowhere on these websites are growing zones or germination rates mentioned. Someone planting that spinach in Georgia is in for a rude awakening when it bolts in the span of a week, and some guy in Minnesota isn’t going to have great luck with cantaloupe.

Also, their claim that the majority of these seeds will be viable longer than a few years is highly suspect. Knott’s Handbook, the go-to guide for many vegetable growers and published by the University of California, maxes out most seeds’ viability at around five or six years, and that’s if the seeds are conscientiously stored with optimal temperatures and humidity in mind. I don’t know what kind of space-age polymer this “very expensive desiccant” is made from, but it’s not magic, and consumers would be wise to remain skeptical.

The list of questions goes on. Does the penny-per-pound of vegetables promised by these kits include the costs of compost, fencing, gardening tools and equipment, pest control, and most of all, the gardener’s time? Perhaps most laughable is one of these outfits’ “online trading system for high-value seeds in a hyper-inflationary economy.” They claim that “if you buy seeds from us now, you will have access to the trading system once it becomes necessary and available and will be able to trade seeds for cash or other commodities.” Um, do you really think you’ll have internet access, let alone electricity, once the state collapses? Might want to rethink that one.

Call me crazy, but I think it’s presumptuous and a little foolish to anticipate the downfall of society and what form such a crisis would take. While there’s nothing wrong with being prepared, stocking up on mushy canned food and hoarding buckets of (non-hybrid!) seeds isn’t the smartest way to ensure your survival, nor is beginning your gardening efforts after the lights go out. Try forging relationships in your local community and cultivating a garden based on your own climate, favorite foods, intensity level, and budget. You’ll learn a thing or two instead of being a sitting duck for fearmongering shysters, and you’ll reap the rewards of sustainability in the process, even if the apocalypse doesn’t arrive as scheduled. It’s a win-win!

Kate Munning writes about gardening and food at Coltivi.

Posted by on May 13, 2010 at 5:53 am, in the category Ministry of Controversy.
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21 responses to “Guest Rant: Endive for the End Times”

  1. Michele Owens says:

    Kate, I totally agree. The best preparation for the apocalypse is free. Make a vegetable garden. Learn how to do it.

  2. Thank you for addressing this on a point by point basis. People have been saying since at least the 1970s that the downside to the universal availability of cheap food and food products in this country is the vulnerability of the food distribution system. It’s almost funny that the far right is meeting the far left on this concern.

    Perhaps the people doing panic seed-buying will soon be open to other solutions. If they are willing to invest in order to change the food distribution infrastructure to support local growers, to educate themselves on gardening, to relax restrictions on backyard poultry raising, to reduce dependencies on farming practices that uses more fuel energy than it produces, then perhaps we have new allies for change.

    On the other hand, they could just be fearful people grasping at straws.

  3. Matt says:

    Wow…that’s hilarious!

  4. Hey, don’t bag on canned food! Only those who haven’t eaten ripe pears in January you put up yourself would question their value.

    The survival garden question is silly, though. There are few people who have the land and the time to grow enough food to support their families complete from what they grow, independent of any external supply line. They’re called farmers. You would be better off establishing a relationship with local farmers and other growers so that their is a crisis, you can get food directly from them.

    And eat your canned tomatoes. Go canning!

  5. Pam J. says:

    Stephen Colbert makes life worth living.

  6. Michelle says:

    Thank you for the wonderful post.

  7. angelchrome says:

    That is both sad and hilarious. So… Sadlarious.

  8. Oh my! I have seen this kind of thing posted and advertised on many homesteading blogs. As for myself, unless I learn how to make Diet Pepsi, I don’t see the point on living after the Apocalypse. Plus, who’s going to go out and weed and water while the Zombies are out in the garden clamoring for our brains?

  9. Liisa says:

    Is that the new trend? To till with a human femur? My garden co-op isn’t selling those yet… LOVE Colbert!

    @angelchrome: I’m so using that word if you don’t mind!

  10. Laura Bell says:

    I’m with Pam J – Stephen Colbert rules !

    If a few packs of non-specific “non-hybrid” seeds is worth $149 … I have a veritable gold mine stashed away ! Bring on the “crisis” !

  11. Cindy P says:

    OK, laughing out loud at my desk while co-workers look at me like I’m quite mad, which is true, but…..
    And Sadlarious, Yep, my new favorite word and possibly a description of most of the news I read.
    To wrap up my comment…a fool and his money….

  12. sara says:

    Criminy, I am at least a thousandaire if some seeds are worth $149 :)

    Seriously though, if the zombies come and steal the truck, or prevent me from shopping for provisions, my garden will be ready because I’ve been refining it all this time and have been saving seed from crops that did well for me, and planting those.

    Heck w/ the seed-buying. We should all be saving and sharing heirloom seeds and investigating what works well in our micro-climates, eliminating what does not, etc.

  13. The original commercial was hilarious, and the Colbert coverage even better. Thanks for sharing. It would be great if people with yards would all just grow veggies all the time. Not just during recessions, or in case of apocalypse :-)

  14. Jackie says:

    My question is: Do the sellers actually believe their own hype? Or are they just scammers, thru and thru?

  15. anne says:

    Anyone remember Y2K and the “survival kits” you could buy then? Bet it’s the same people behind these seed kits. Snake oil is an American tradition :)

  16. Ficurinia says:

    This is so funny I cannot stop laughing. What a bunch of nincompoops! (Yes, I actually just used that word in a sentence correctly for the first time in my adult life. Wow.)

  17. Hmmmm, maybe I should sell them ad space on my blog so I can scam them.

    BTW, David, I know exactly how to make Diet Pepsi! So you can totally keep on living. You may just have to fight the zombies for it.

  18. I posted about this a couple months ago because I’m an ad guy and I found it whacked. The TV commercial feels more like a Saturday Night Live satire than anything else! Colbert just adds to the sadlarity.

  19. The “survival seed” kits do come with magic beans right? And fries. It really should include fries with that.

  20. Amelia says:

    I think it’s hilarious to market those “survival seed” packets to those of us in the Intermountain area (Utah, to be specific) where, yes, we are big on food storage/emergency preparedness, but where, unfortunately, water doesn’t just fall from the sky on a regular basis. How, exactly, do these panicked seed growers plant to irrigate their homestead of lovely (non-hybrid) edibles? From their water storage?

  21. commonweeder says:

    It would be funny if it didn’t indicate the kind of fear that some people have – and the kind of greed other people have. If only everyone knew a little bit about gardening – a scam like this would go nowhere.

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