Shannon Kuhn: Foundroot takes the guesswork out of cold-climate seed buying

Shannon Kuhn
Photo by Lacy Walker

Every year, March rolls around and I panic; once again, I do not have it together for planting vegetables.

In my fantasy, I sit in front of a crackling fire while snow falls gently outside, finding a secret joy in spending hours upon hours searching for the perfect heirloom carrot. I imagine myself gracefully perusing the well-organized seed catalogs spread before me, methodically choosing organic veggies for my already fully-planned-out garden.

In reality, the month flies by and I forget. Fast forward to April and I'm sitting in my kitchen/laundry room combo with a box of wine, frantically researching seed companies and attempting to refresh my memory of crop rotation and companion planting. I remember immediately how much I dislike this process, no matter how many blogs I read romanticizing it. I sigh wistfully. At this point I usually toss all the catalogs into the recycling bin and resort to buying starts at the farmers market instead.

But this year was different. This year, ordering seeds was not only easy, it was fun and felt good. Really good.

Enter Foundroot (, a one-stop online shop for cold-climate seeds. It's a lifesaver (and timesaver) for people who secretly hate seed shopping but want high-quality, ethical seeds that are good for the community and the environment.

Leah Wagner was 26 when she started Foundroot in 2011. It's an Alaska company with the vision of one day becoming the state's source for 100-percent open-pollinated, locally grown vegetable seeds. "I felt this deep need to do something meaningful," she told me over coffee this week.

Foundroot's seeds are sourced from over 30  farms throughout the U.S. and have been hand-selected for early maturity, cold tolerance, short season adaptability, frost and extreme weather resistance and overall ruggedness.

The company's seed offerings are always changing. Foundroot has 55 seed options in their online store right now, but Wagner said they hope to have more varieties in the future and are building relationships with small farmers around the state and country.

"We intend to know exactly where our seeds are coming from, including the land that they are grown on and the people who grow them," Wagner said.

So what are open-pollinated seeds in the first place?

Basically, open-pollinated seeds are naturally pollinated by insects, birds, wind and other environmental factors, instead of being cultivated in a controlled environment like a lab.

"Open-pollinated seeds use old-fashioned breeding methods so even a modest home gardener can collect seeds from the varieties that we sell," Wagner wrote in an email. "Over time, the seeds will become adapted to our climate and we will have a much broader range of vegetables that we can grow a lot easier than what's currently available. This puts the power back into the community, away from large corporate seed sellers, and allows gardeners to get straight to the root of food security issues (hence the name, Foundroot)."

I recently learned that 96 percent of commercial vegetable varieties have become extinct since 1903. In just over 100 years, we have single-handedly eliminated almost all the diversity in our food supply. This has made growing food much more difficult -- especially in areas of the world with cool soil, tumultuous weather patterns and short growing seasons. This is also why open-pollinated seeds are so important.

My favorite thing about Foundroot is its position on food security and belief that if it's not affordable, it's not sustainable. "We don't want to grow your tomatoes for you. We don't even want to grow tomato plants for you to put in your garden. At Foundroot, we believe that everyone is perfectly capable of growing their own tomatoes from seed. Yes, even in Alaska," their website states.

With this pep talk in mind, I spent a blissful 10 minutes (that's all!) this week choosing seeds for my garden this summer. I spent $63 on 21 packets, just a fraction of the cost of buying them as starts. From sweet basil to Chioggia beets and rainbow carrots, Black Tuscan kale, King Richard leeks and Whippersnapper tomatoes, I am all set. I can't wait to receive my box of seeds in the mail, hand-packed with care by Wagner.

It's March, everyone, and I have never been more excited. Time to order and start your seeds!

Shannon Kuhn lives in Anchorage and writes about food and culture. You can reach her at


Shannon Kuhn
Food and Culture