Monday, February 21, 2011

Scattering Seeds

I visited my father a couple of weekends ago and walked over some of his property. Today, most of it is heavily wooded, but in the early days when my great grandfather and grandfather farmed for a living most of the land was covered in cultivated fields of some sort. My father left the land in the 50s to join the Army and later settled in Atlanta to raise my sister and me. He said he was done with farming, but……..

The land lured him back, and I’ve never known him to not have a tractor of some sort even when we lived in the suburbs. Eventually, he began to return to the farm on the weekends and helped his father with a huge garden. My father is a huge proponent of child labor, so my sister and I were schooled in the ways of plowing a field, scattering seeds, and my favorite farming activity…..picking up rocks. My grandmother and mother taught my sister and me the other side of farming – food preservation. You know…….canning and freezing.

During the work week Daddy would visit the local feed and seed place to gather up supplies for our weekend of farming. During those days since I pretty much took every step that Daddy took, I would go along. The feed and seed store was an interesting place…….hay was scattered about on the floor, there were interesting smells, at Easter there were always colored chicks and bunnies for sale, and there were always those racks of seed packets with the colorful pictures. While Daddy would conduct his business I would stand in front of the seed rack flipping through the packets looking at all of the colorful flowers and various vegetables that could be grown in our area. Occasionally, Daddy would allow me to purchase a packet or two of the precious seed……petunias or zinnias to plant in a bed along the side of our front porch.

So, I’ve been thinking which usually leads me to do a little investigating and I’ve come up with some interesting points that could infuse any course of study regarding the 1800s along the lines of agriculture, inventions, women’s rights and North-South relations during Civil War. The most important thing I discovered is it seems we have the Shakers to thank for those little seed packets.

Yes, that’s right. Those folks that followed the Shaker religion are more formally known as The United Society of Believers in Christ’s Second Appearing. They rejected sex and believed in social equality. In fact, instead of using the Seneca Falls Convention of 1848 and the work of Susan B. Anthony and Lucretia Mott as the starting point for women’s rights in the United States it would be more correct to examine Ann Lee who led the Shakers and came to the colonies as early as 1747. She is the prime reason the Shakers practiced equality.

Most people today equate the Shakers with their music and furniture. The furniture was plain and functional, and today it is highly sought by collectors. Their songs and dances were very important to Shaker worship services and are very unique. In fact, their frenzied movements during worship earned the sect the Shaker name.

The Shakers had an excellent work ethic and were fond of saying, “Do your work as though you had a thousand years to live and as if you were to die tomorrow.”

The Shakers invented many items, but are rarely given credit since they did not patent their inventions. The rotary harrow, circular saw, clothes pin, the wheel driven washing machine and flat broom can all be traced back to Shaker communities.

In 1802 Brother Jefferson White founded the seed business at the Enfield Shaker Community.

As early as 1816 they were the first ones to place seeds in packets. Before the seeds were placed in packets they sold them via wooden boxes which can still be found today in antique stores.

They were sold to stores and individual farmers via Shaker Seed Wagons. Most farmers wanted to purchase the seeds because the Shaker Seed Company had a great reputation for great business ethics and quality seeds and herbs. Plus….there was over 100 varieties.

The Hancock Shaker Community had at one time over 10 acres devoted to the cultivation of seeds and herbs. Eventually the business grew and the Shakers had to contract local farmers to grow seeds under the Shaker label.

Another curriculum area where the Shaker Seed Company can be discussed is the Civil War. The company was Northern business concern… that had a large customer base in the South. Once the Civil War began the seed business began to decline since most of the customers were in hostile territory and the product could no longer be delivered to customers. The seed company never could recover from significant southern debts. By the 1870s the Shaker Seed Company had been discontinued.

PBS has an excellent site for Ken Burn's Shaker series here.


Unknown said...

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Jo McLendon said...

Lisa - looking at seed packets was how I learned the names of flowers and vegetables. For most people living now, there are many farmers in their background - whether they know it or not. Even today the "Feed and Seed" or as we know it - "the local hardware store" can be a place of wonder. It's still like going to the candy store for me. I can always find something that I need that I can't find anywhere else! Cowan's and Barnes are my favorites with Ace in Douglasville coming in third! Love your blog!

EHT said...

Thank you Jo. I appreciate the kudos. :) We still need to have that lunch.

Dawn M. said...

Hello - I am attempting to contact you regarding the use of the image of the shaker seed packet in this blog. I have e-mailed the address associated with the blog, as we would very much appreciate being able to use the image in our upcoming magazine. Please e-mail me at as soon as possible.
Many Thanks!
Dawn More