B.C. seed farmer’s organic offerings are one of a kind

By Susan Walker, Special to the Star
Oct. 12, 2014

Dan Jason w/Seed PacketsHigh up on Saltspring Island, B.C., along an unpaved road winding beneath Douglas firs, you’ll find the idyllic market garden Dan Jason keeps as proprietor of Salt Spring Seeds.

Late summer or fall at his farm on this island near Victoria, Jason, 67d, is in the field harvesting, which is where he was in August, plucking hull-less oats off their tall white stems.

He’s been at this since 1986, when Salt Spring Seeds published its first catalogue featuring organically produced seeds you couldn’t get anywhere else.

Last year, Jason’s company shipped more than 60,000 packets of heirloom seeds to farmers and gardeners across Canada. The website features one-of-a-kind seeds from the more than 600 different crops grown by Jason and 10 other growers on Saltspring, Vancouver Island and Hornby Island.

Salt Spring Seeds, with its garden of vegetables, grains, medicinal and culinary herbs and flowers, specializes in grains such as amaranth and quinoa, hardy strains of high-protein wheat and pulse foods — legumes with high protein and complex carbohydrates that put nitrogen into the soil to enrich it.

Jason, a Montrealer who majored in the arts at McGill University, started his business with no prior experience as a grower.

“I was always plant-minded, bothering my parents to dig up the lawn and plant some stuff,” he recalls. “They let me plant a few things under the back porch.”

On Saltspring in the mid-’70s, he began experimenting with grains that had never been grown in Canada.

What got him into the seed business was the “black jet” soybean. “It is really delicious as a cooked whole bean,” he says. He applied for a federal grant to grow and market it, and when he was turned down, he got mad and started his seed company.

“Most people have no idea that you can eat soybeans like regular green beans. They are extremely high in protein and it takes a small amount to make an extremely satisfying meal. I grow about eight varieties.”

Jason’s soybeans are a far cry from commercially grown ones, the vast majority of which are genetically modified. In fact, some Saltspring Islanders will tell you he’s the anti-Monsanto.

An author of 12 books, including Saving Seeds, a self-published volume that has sold more than 10,000 copies, Jason founded and heads the Seed and Plant Sanctuary for Canada, inspired by a 1993 trip to the gene bank in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

“I saw an amazing collaboration between the government, the scientists and the farmers,” he says. “They work together to find the best crops to grow.”

Given the rising temperatures that will come with climate change, Canada’s future as the breadbasket of the world is there for the taking, Jason believes.

“I’ve heard we could feed a billion people. We could help feed the planet. We’ve got the soil, we’ve got the water and we’ve got the weather.”