Clear Creek Seed Co. Sprouting Green Entrepreneurs
In the chill of winter, aspiring gardeners from vegetable rookies to master green thumbs retreat indoors for some important shopping. From mail-order catalogs and online, they carefully select the tiny seeds that soon will yield colorful and tasty, fresh vegetables, herbs and flowers.
As warmer temperatures and spring planting loom on the horizon, Clear Creek Seed Co. fills hundreds of orders during its busiest time of the year. An online operation based about an hour southeast of Tulsa in Hulbert, Clear Creek Seeds celebrates its fifth anniversary in 2015, a major milestone for this small family-owned and -operated business.
The company sells hundreds of varieties of vegetables, flowers, herbs and variety packs along with a helpful garden planner that suggests prime planting phases.
The inspiration for Clear Creek Seeds began with Rick and Becki Nation’s decision to homeschool their children and move out of the suburbs. They purchased 20 acres of rural property near Clear Creek, the perfect backdrop for a big garden and an opportunity to teach their children about food production first hand.
“The idea of starting our own seed company caught Becki’s eye because it was potentially a business we could run together with the kids,” Rick Nation said. “We knew it would ultimately take off and the kids could take over.”
The family handpicked a small group of seed vendors and varieties while adopting a sensible operating plan. The Nation children—ages 19, 17 and 13—“run 90% of it” while their father oversees the finances.
“One thing our parents have taught us is that we don’t use loans,” said son Blaise, 17. “We do what we can with the business and grow with sales.”
Blaise manages inventory, acquires products, fills orders, updates the website and takes photos of produce for the web and marketing materials––challenging responsibilities that have sparked his interest in photography.
“I bought a new DSLR camera and have taken a few classes, but I’d like to take more,” he said.
Meanwhile, his 13-year-old brother, Avery, supervises seed packing and supply management, and sister Maddi, 19, is in charge of customer service. Together, the trio works well together, making memories and their parents proud.
“It’s wonderful, and I definitely plan to be a part of it as the company gets bigger,” Blaise said.
“We have a company meeting once a month and run Clear Creek Seeds just like a regular business,” said their father, who works from home as a software developer. “Our children are learning all of those basic entrepreneurial skills so that they have the intuition to do their own thing.”
A diehard gardener, Rick enjoys sharing his passion with family, friends and customers. Clear Creek Seeds’ clients often consult with him for advice on seed storage, variety selection and many other bits of gardening advice.
“That’s the benefit of a small company: We give hour-long consultations for free,” he said with a chuckle. “We’re not just selling seeds, we’re trying to educate people and provide that one-on-one interaction with customers.”
It’s that genuine service that appealed to Oklahoma gardener Melissa Bennett a few years ago when she discovered Clear Creek Seeds.
“I like the concept of a family being involved, and the cost savings for me have been significant,” she said. “Their children researched which varieties of flower seeds are best for attracting pollinators to gardens, and I think that’s quite an education.”
The company enjoys promoting the benefits of homegrown produce as a way to supplement pantries and save money. All of Clear Creek Seeds’ items are high-quality, heirloom varieties that, if stored correctly, will last several years.
“We provide a seed storage chart or viability card that’s based on our personal experiences along with information from other sources. Some seeds will last five to seven years,” Rick said.
Beyond the important message of saving seeds, the Nation family is on a mission to promote heirloom, non-GMO varieties that are pure in genetic makeup and natural in pollination. In what Rick describes as the seeds you “used to have at Grandma’s house,” Clear Creek Seeds only carries heirloom varieties. Saved from original heirloom plants from as early as the 1950s, these seeds have never been treated for disease or pests and are openly pollinated by insects.
“The produce is more flavorful and nutritious unlike hybrids that are cross-pollinated to get the perfect looking plant or GMOs, which are injected with cold-weather genes for more tolerance to the cold,” he said. “With cross-pollinated, crossbred varieties, you can’t save the seed and you lose taste and nutrition.”
Clear Creek Seeds has joined a group of around 100 commercial vendors in signing the Council for Responsible Genetics’ Safe Seed Pledge. The declaration states companies “do not knowingly buy, sell or trade genetically engineered seeds,” and is posted on Clear Creek Seeds’ website.
Longtime local grower Dona Inman has purchased Clear Creek Seeds for the past three seasons and said she is impressed with the company’s approach to business: “I’ve watched them grow and add new things each year in selection and gardening tips, and using heirloom seeds is very important to me.”
Part of the global movement of agriculture sustainability, heirloom seeds are a hot item as food prices continue to climb. Rick Nation said the trend originated with “Victory Gardens,” planted in backyards, rooftops and small plots of land throughout the United States during World War II to compensate for pantry staples that were rationed during wartime.
“People are returning to that era of canning, preserving and storing their food,” he said. “A container garden on wheels that can be moved into sun or shade is ideal for people in college dorms and apartments. You’d be surprised how much lettuce you can grow in an eight- by 12-inch box.”
Clear Creek Seeds recently debuted a new website and seed packaging and has introduced several additional items to its inventory. While preparing for frequent requests such as tomatoes and lettuce, the Nations are stocking up on less familiar seeds such as rhubarb. At least 30% of their clients are repeat customers, and the family hopes to increase its nationwide presence very soon. Strategizing for expansion requires a lot of research, but Rick Nation said the business of gardening is a rewarding experience.
“We want to work with people who believe in our product,” he said. “It’s important to form a trust and prove why customers should buy from us. It’s a way of life we planned, and it’s working out well for our family.”
Learn more about Clear Creek Seeds’ mission and products, read up on proven gardening tips and view their selection of heirloom varieties at ClearCreekSeeds.com. Also, stop by the Nation family’s produce stand at farmers’ markets in Tahlequah, Pryor, Broken Arrow and Muskogee.