Burpee, GMO And Monsanto Rumors Put To Rest

The Internet has rapidly changed the way we do everything from banking and booking reservations to seeking advice from fellow gardeners. Certainly, it is a very convenient place to retrieve information and share ideas.

However, there is a danger to the rapid exchange of unverified information, which few seem to mention:  the spreading and accepting of misinformation from false sources.  Perhaps the folks who spread lies, consciously or unconsciously, were not taught to check their source. Perhaps they don’t care to take the time.

This brings me to the heart of my post.  I and others at Burpee are asked frequently about our alleged connection to Monsanto and whether we sell GMO seed.  We have even been accused of being owned by Monsanto on the Internet.  I’ve decided to address these questions and false allegations formally with the hopes that someone out there in cyberspace may refer back to this blog post for information on these issues—straight from the source.

For the record, I own W. Atlee Burpee & Co.  Burpee is NOT owned by Monsanto.  We do purchase a small number of seeds from the garden seed department of Seminis, a Monsanto subsidiary, and so do our biggest competitors. We do NOT sell GMO seed, never have in the past, and will not sell it in the future.

Recently I was called on the telephone by a blogger from Chicago named Mr. Brown Thumb.  This was a “first”.  Most bloggers fancy themselves to be journalists.  Yet, oddly, they steadfastly ignore the rules of  journalism, such as contacting sources and checking facts.  Not so Mr. Brown Thumb. His diligence in taking the time to do research for his blog is highly commendable.  Despite the ambiguous title of his post, I greatly appreciate that he had the courage to ask hard questions and took the time to study my answers.

With a few exceptions—minor errors of names and dates— Mr. Brown Thumb (Ramon Gonzalez) got it right.  He is “the real deal”.  Please read him at http://www.chicagonow.com/blogs/chicago-garden/2011/02/can-you-trust-burpee-seeds.html.

I shall add some background.  Our genius founder W. Atlee Burpee innovated vegetable seed and plant selection for the US continent—versus old varieties from Europe that were growing badly in such a different summer climate—from the 1870s to his untimely passing in 1915.  Many years later his son David lost a great asset in the exodus of  Oved Shifress, a key tomato and squash breeder to Israel during the late 1940s.  He hired a new plant breeder named Howard Peto, a second generation immigrant from Canada.  Mr. Peto bred many fine tomatoes, peppers and melons during his five years with the company.  David Burpee moved him to California to open a year ’round breeding center for the US western climate and to economize research and stock (parent)  seed production by avoiding the Pennsylvania winter.

Soon after setting up Burpee’s new operations in California, Mr. Peto decided to divide his time between home garden breeding and breeding for the so-called truck market, medium to large-sized farmers who transport their farm produce by truck to urban markets.  He wished also to breed for juice and canned tomatoes.  However, Mr. Burpee did not wish to breed for any consumer other than the home gardener and the small, local farmer.

Therefore, Mr. Peto quit the Burpee Company in the mid 50s and started up his own company.  His first tomato was ‘Wonder Boy’, an inferior knock-off of ‘Big Boy’, which is the famous home garden hybrid bred in 1948 by Oved Shifriss of Burpee, whom Mr. Peto replaced.  Undoubtedly Mr. Peto used his “garden knowledge” to get his California commercial tomato seed business going.  Nevertheless, he left the Burpee Company amicably.  These were “the old days” when agreements and disagreements were commonly settled with a handshake.

Mr. Peto’s replacement at Burpee was Paul Thomas who bred many fine home garden tomatoes during the late 50s and early 60s before also leaving for California to join Mr. Peto.  Thus, “Petoseed” became a supplier of some high quality open-pollinated as well as hybrid garden vegetable seeds.  (However, all varietal candidates had to be tested at Fordhook Farm in Doylestown, PA, which continues to be the case today.)  Soon many more garden seed companies bought from not only Burpee but also from Petoseed, companies as diverse as Ferry-Morse, Park’s, Gurney’s, Johnny’s, Northrup King and Comstock-Ferre.  Burpee and Petoseed together dominated vegetable breeding for the home garden consumer during the 60s.  The sole difference between the two companies was that Petoseed bred also for the West Coast commercial farm growers, whereas Burpee adhered to a strict focus on the home gardener.  But, by industry tradition in those days,  in a “blind trial” the best tasting tomato wins, and often Mr. Burpee bought varieties from Mr. Peto, as well as, of course, bred tomatoes himself and with Mr. Thomas’ replacement, John Mondry.

Then, Petoseed was purchased in the late 60s (1968, I think) by my uncle, G. Victor Ball, assisted by my father G. Carl Ball, his vice-president at George J. Ball—or “Ball Seed” as it was known at the time—a company founded in 1905 by my grandfather, a very enterprising flower breeder.  Our small flower seed company suddenly became a large flower and vegetable seed company while I was in boarding school.

The late David Burpee, who I met as a teenager while working on a seed farm in Costa Rica, then did business with my uncles and later my father, after my last uncle semi-retired.  Today my sister Anna Ball owns this company, now known as Ball Horticultural.  So that is the background of facts.

However, the past that some folks are extremely focused upon has to do with my father’s desire to sell Petoseed, with his brother’s (my uncle’s) approval, as well as that of many relatives such as a brother, sister, aunts and cousins, to an entrepreneur from Mexico named Alfonso Romo Garza.  Mr. Romo, as he is called, began in baked goods and then branched out into packaging, cigarettes, beer and insurance.  He even founded a business school in Monterey in the late 90s modeled on Wharton—all before reaching the age of 40.  He was, and remains, an impressive entrepreneur who, at that time, wanted to diversify from cookies, crackers, beer, tobacco, et al, into vegetables, fruits and grain.  He was profiled on page 1 of the Wall Street Journal shortly before the mid 1990s transaction (about ’94-’95).  His vision was to help the burgeoning population of small and medium sized farmers primarily in Mexico and elsewhere in Latin America.

Nevertheless, throughout these changes of ownership, Petoseed was always the same—an extremely well-run company, composed of many ex-Burpee breeders and executives, and headquartered in Ventura County in Southern California.  It remains so to this day.

In 1994 I was asked by my father, the late  G. Carl Ball, to assist in part of the transition by serving on the board with him of the new Mexican company—Seminis—composed of Petoseed and several other free-standing companies Mr. Romo  bought, from a small watermelon breeding company in Texas to the large corn breeder, Asgrow, of Kalamazoo, Michigan.  I served about a year and then left to focus my energies on Burpee, which I had bought, first with my family in the early 90s, and then from my family, in the late 90s.  Naturally, as the president of Burpee, I continued to produce seed, as I have done my entire career, but also bought from any company that could do better than I, including my old friends—and  former colleagues—at Petoseed, now called Seminis.  (This is the core of my business philosophy: sell only the best.)

In the early 2000s Mr. Romo decided to divest himself of all his non-Mexican seed holdings for reasons of his own, and sold Seminis to first one investment bank, which then sold it to another investment bank, which then sold it to Monsanto in the mid 2000s, about ’04 or ’05.

This sale took place long after Petoseed began in the mid 1950s by an ex-Burpee tomato breeder, some of whose tomatoes are still loved by home gardeners nationwide, such as Paul Thomas’ ‘Better Boy’.  The list of companies that buy from the garden seed department of  Seminis, now a very tiny business activity of Monsanto, is long and includes most of the high quality seed sellers, as well as Burpee.  We at Burpee never reject serving our customers the best quality home garden vegetable varieties we can either grow or find, and some of the latter include varieties from Seminis.  All are still tested at Fordhook Farm in Pennsylvania.

Finally, it is extremely important to note that when Monsanto acquired Seminis, neither Burpee as a company nor I, George Ball as its owner, had any financial ownership or interest in either company.  It was that way when Monsanto purchased Seminis and remains that way today.  Burpee continues as a privately owned company and, as I wish to emphasize, along with other leaders in the home gardening industry, we seek out suitable seeds from Seminis and other companies that adhere to the rigid guidelines we maintain and require of all our suppliers to you our valued home garden and small farmer customers.  If we cannot breed and produce the seeds or plants ourselves, we find those that can.

On behalf of the entire staff of W. Atlee Burpee & Co., thank you for 135 years of patronage, and for your future consideration of our many fine vegetable and flower varieties, whether bred by us or by our treasured suppliers the world over.

This entry was posted on Tuesday, February 22nd, 2011 at 4:42 pm and is filed under Original Posts. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.
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85 Responses to “Burpee, GMO And Monsanto Rumors Put To Rest”

  1. Elizabeth Kessler said:

    I sure hope there will be ab open day at Burpee’s Fordhook Farm in Doylestown this spring.

    • George said:

      Thanks for posting. There will be two Open Day events, covering four days: Sunday, May 22nd, Friday, August 19, Saturday, August 20th and Sunday August 21st. Please stay tuned for details. Thanks again.

  2. C. Paul Bailey said:

    Dear Mr. Ball:
    I just want to thank you for your honesty and enjoy gardening with your company’s seeds. Thanks

    • George said:

      Thank you very much for your kind compliment, Mr. Bailey.

  3. Fabian Moni said:

    Dear George,

    As a former Petoseed executive and green industry professional, I appreciated and enjoyed your description of events.
    Thanks for taking the time to share the history of your company and for serving the industry with premium quality seeds.

    Fabian Moni

    • George said:

      Thank you, Fabian. I’m sorry we never met. Petoseed/Seminis remains a great company, so long as their seeds and genetic purity remain of high quality. Where do you work now? If you wish to respond privately, please do so at hordubal@aol.com

  4. Deborah said:

    What a great history, thank you. How proud you must be to continue in a business your family has been infor years. I have purchased seed from your company for many years, and this history will make it even more rewarding, knowing it is such a strong, from the family, company.

    • George said:

      Thank you, Deborah. I am lucky to have been born in the seed business. Customers like you keep me and my staff going. Thanks again.

  5. Cindy said:

    Love the history. Love your knowledge,and willingness to share with us. I do like the quality of Burpee seeds. Please keep up the good work. Thanks!

    • George said:

      You got it, Cindy! Quality is our number one priority, even as we grow in size. Pardon the pun. Thank you very kindly.

  6. Bobbie Richard said:

    I appreciate the history, because I had indeed heard a rumor that Burpee was owned by Monsanto. I have strong reservations about Monsantos reasons for owning seed companies. I am glad that I can trust Burpee.

    • George said:

      Thanks very much, Bobbie. Trust is our greatest asset. I believe several of our competitor’s were behind the rumors. Too bad for them. Happy gardening to you.

  7. Robert M. Turley said:

    Dear George,

    Thanks for sharing that facinating history of the seed business. It tied some loose ends up for me in my knowledge of the business.

    • George said:

      You are welcome, Mr. Turley. I deeply appreciate your business.

  8. Carol Deloney said:

    Yes, many people are very concerned over what is going on in connection with Monsanto. This info below came out in 2008 and there is so much more since then including a lab i believe connected with Monsanto on an island just off of NY where they are finding dead bodies half human and half animal from the experimentations. Nasty! I don’t know if you have recieved this info prior but i will send it so you can see that is not just that he is hybreeding between plants its what else is going on and being mixed with the dna and its all documented facts. You say you have purchased some seeds, i would maybe rethink that at this time but you decide after you read this article and more links provided for proof of other included.

    Defeat HR 875-information flyer

    Posted by LydiaScott on 03/14/09 8:47 PM

    [Newer: Plan A or Plan B?] [Older: HR 875 is being steamrolled thru the House and we have to pick up the pace!]

    No to HR875, HR759, HR814, HR1105 and S.425 and No to NAIS!

    Corn engineered with human genes (Dow)
    Rice engineered with human genes (in California) (Applied Phytologics)
    Sugarcane engineered with human genes (Hawaii Agricultural Research Center)
    Corn with pig, hepatitis B virus & simian immunodeficiency virus genes (ProdiGene)
    Pigs engineered with mouse and e-coli genes “Enviropigs” (Ontario’s University of Guelph, which is financially supported by Monsanto)
    Corn engineered with mouse and human genes (Garst)
    Eggs with human genes (Avigenics)
    Corn with UNDISCLOSED GENES on nearly 500 acres in UNDISCLOSED LOCATIONS in 20 states, including California, Texas, Illinois, Iowa, Michigan & Wisconsin (Pioneer/Monsanto)

    The FDA approved CLONED CATTLE, SWINE and GOATS (AND the offspring of all clones) in our food supply on 1/15/08. How can they possibly know the LONG TERM EFFECTS of cloned meat, since the first mammal was only cloned in 1996?
    What is in your food now? What will be in food in the future?

    Monsanto (with Cargill, Archer Daniels Midland, etc.) is trying to push through HR 875, HR759, HR814, HR1105 & S.425. These bills will mean NO MORE ORGANIC FOOD OR FARMERS MARKETS! If you think you can just grow your own vegetables or have community gardens, NATURAL SEEDS ARE INCREASINGLY BEING MADE ILLEGAL! You won’t be able to buy any seeds that aren’t genetically altered.

    · Monsanto is trying to patent EVERY PLANT ON EARTH? They alter, add or delete one piece of DNA, then file a patent on the entire plant. Monsanto people are working in the FDA and the U.S. Patent Office and are facilitating this.
    · Clarence Thomas, who was a lawyer for Monsanto, wrote the overly broad Supreme Court decision on “life form patenting” favoring Pioneer Hi-Bred (one of Dupont’s GMO companies) making it easy for Monsanto to file patents on plants.
    · Monsanto sues our small farmers when wind carries Monsanto’s patented seeds onto neighboring farms.
    · Stewart Parnell, Pres. of the American Peanut Corp., which caused the recent salmonella outbreak, was on the USDA’s Peanut Standards Board.
    · SWAT teams have raided farms. The USDA is staging raids against Amish farmers in Wisconsin and Mennonite farmers in Pennsylvania.
    · Over 166,000 farmers in India have committed suicide in the last 10 years. Buying Monsanto seeds & fertilizer caused them deep debt.
    · In Iraq, Paul Bremer issued Order 81, paving the way for Monsanto.
    · Congresswoman DeLauro, who introduced one of the bills, is married to Stanley Greenberg (Greenberg Research). Monsanto is his client.

    PREMESIS ID (with NAIS, see pg.2)
    This is what REALLY scares farmers! The USDA’s business plan defines farmers as “STOCKHOLDERS” of their own property (NOT OWNERS of their OWN LAND!) and their animals are NOT defined as THEIR ANIMALS, but as part of the “NATIONAL HERD.” This abolishes our freedom to OWN PROPERTY! Farmers are being intimidated/forced into signing contracts agreeing to PREMESIS ID.
    HR875, HR759, HR814, HR1105 & S.425
    If the USDA is so worried about “food safety” why did it, right now with the Omnibus Package, mandate only 1 inspection for about every 88 BILLION pounds of meat? Why has the USDA cut it’s staff by about 8,000, with fewer inspections for slaughterhouses and meat packing plants, and MORE money towards raiding small farms and surveillance?

    The above bills, using “food safety,” are about turning farmers into industrial workers on their own land…telling them what kind of feed to use (GMOs) and when, how they must medically treat their animals (drugs) and when and with what they must spray (pesticides). The wording on HR875 may sound innocuous, but codewords will put FDA and USDA regulations into operation (regulations have never had public discussion or debate and weren’t voted for). “Traceability” and “source verification” mean NAIS (National Animal Identification System) will be enacted (more about NAIS below).
    “Best farming practices with proven scientific results” will force farmers to use drugs, pesticides and certain feeds (genetically altered). Farmers won’t be able to have animals and vegetables on the same farm.
    These become operable with Smart Grid, part of the Stimulus Package. Right now, per writer Linn Cohen-Cole, House Commerce and Agriculture Committees and the Senate Agriculture Committee are having secret meetings regarding these bills, and we won’t even know how they vote. They’ll try to push these bills to House and Senate votes the same day they come out of the Committees.
    The USDA and Homeland Security have planned six CLOSED-TO-SMALL-LIVESTOCK-OWNERS meetings around “depopulating” animals “in case” there is a disease outbreak. They could completely wipe out normal breeds of animals and substitute genetically engineered animals. Monsanto, Genus and PIC are patenting animal genetics.

    NAIS, the National Animal Identification System, was formulated by Monsanto, the big meat packers and tag/surveillance companies. The tag readers they want to use to read the RFID tags aren’t accurate 15% of the time and also double read 15% of the time. They don’t work AT ALL in cold weather! Small farmers will have to tag EVERY animal, but INDUSTRIALIZED FARMS will HAVE ONLY ONE NUMBER for 800,000 ANIMALS!

    THERE IS ALREADY A TRACKING SYSTEM IN PLACE FOR LIVESTOCK! Livestock ALREADY have tags on their ears for tracking. In addition, when cattle or livestock are sold and shipped, the trucker uses a special glue to stick a big piece of paper on each animal, which has a barcode and huge ID numbers on it. The trucker records both of these numbers in his receipt book and gives a copy to the farmer (this is how the farmer gets paid for his livestock), the trucker keeps a copy (this is how he gets paid for transporting each animal) and the livestock market gets a copy.
    The government knows EXACTLY where each animal comes from NOW! NAIS will drive small ranchers out of business, because if they don’t record the birth/death of every animal within about 48 hours, they face huge fines (up to $500,000 and/or 10 yrs. in prison) and forfeitures!
    They also have to report each time an animal goes off of the property. The tag readers and software (not counting the tags and labor to put them in on each animal) will cost each farmer about $1,400. Farmers will also need to get an extra computer if they don’t want agents showing up to inspect their records on their home computer, and coming inside their home anytime they want.
    WHO PROFITS FROM NAIS? Electronics companies who make the software and tags. Angel Dynamics, a tag producer, is an owner of Verichip (which made the human implant chip). After testing revealed a high rate of cancer in rats implanted with the human implant chip, the USDA bought the chips to shore up Angel Dynamics. Tommy Thompson, Bush’s Secretary of HHS, is now on the Board of Verichip. The USDA and FDA will make money on fines and forfeitures.
    Small farmers are the only ones producing our SAFE FOODS! Monsanto has brought us PCBs, Agent Orange, dioxin, rBGH in dairy products (so that girls now develop breasts at 8 or 9 years old). The FDA doesn’t label irradiated foods or warn us about foods imported from other countries, which have been grown under who knows what environmental and health conditions. U.S. meat packers and grain traders want to make a huge profit selling safe U.S. food overseas, while the U.S. imports lesser quality foods for Americans to eat.

    Steve Hixon, a farmer in Illinois, has been followed and has had his home broken into. He met with some neighboring farmers who told him they were cornered and shoved against their farm machinery by “investigators” hired by Monsanto’s law firm (The “investigators” are with McDowell & Associates of St. Louis, MO).

    Paul Griepentrog, a farmer in Wisconsin, has had his home broken into and his buildings burglarized. Two helicopters and a small plane with Coast Guard markings flew at treetop level over his farm, scaring one of his sheep to death. A neighbor called the Coast Guard and was told the aircraft were conducting mining surveys. In another incident, a dark green helicopter, unmarked and without identifying numbers, was flying low and buzzed his buildings. The FAA, and most airports, require planes and helicopters to have numbers or identification visible. (So who owns the helicopter?) The game warden suspected unlawful hunting. Where do these “hunters” file a flight plan and where do they keep a helicopter with no markings? Law enforcement officials have been reluctant to act on these situations.

    Rodney Nelson, a farmer in North Dakota, details his ordeal with Monsanto on his website, http://www.nelsonfarm.net Rodney stood up to Monsanto and refused to sign a gag order (Monsanto forces most farmers sign gag orders in settlements.)

    Read Linn Cohen-Cole’s articles about Monsanto on http://www.opednews.com (you can click on her name on a recent article, and get a list of her articles).



    Youtube documentaries:
    “The Future of Food”
    “The Dying Fields” (a PBS documentary about the farmers’ suicides in India)
    “The World According to Monsanto” (film by Marie Robin)
    On Google Video – Sierra Club’s 24 min. documentary “Living a Nightmare: Animal Factories in Michigan”
    Tableland-a documentary of how and why local food economies work. You will want to eat local food after watching this awesome flick.

    “During his time as governor, Vilsack oversaw the largest proliferation of hog confinements in the state’s history.” These new hog CAFO’s (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations) put tens of thousands of independent family hog farmers out of business in the state. The end result of this was a “decimation of rural Iowa” and serious degradation of the state’s drinking water.
    Iowans also remember the rides Vilsack enjoyed on Monsanto’s corporate jet during his time in office. He repayed Monsanto by working with the Republican floor manager of the House, promising to do everything he could to get a seed bill to pass.

    There is so much more info so if you have info not on this flyer add it and then pass it around. The person who developed this informative flyer only wants people to have it and use it! No copywrite so freely distribute the info.

    • George said:

      Thanks for the post, Carol. What has Monsanto said to you in response? Their bankers—also publicly-traded companies—their shareholders? As far as freak animals washing up on the shores of Long Island, I advise you to check with local law enforcement there. Thanks again.

  9. A very well written explanation of what as the owner of my own small business I can fully understand must have been hard. Misinformation is terrible. Hard also not to take it personally. Particularly when it’s own family business and a lifelong pursuit for quality.

    • George said:

      Thanks, Mr. Cameron. Talking about family is like amateur folk dancing. Really hard to do well. Generally to be avoided. But I had to respond at this time. I appreciate your sympathy. Happy gardening!

  10. mary said:

    I would never support Monsanto by purchasing seed from one of their “small” companies – period. And since you elect to do so, I will not purchase from you. It’s not as complicated as you think.

    • George said:

      Thanks for the post. I hope you change your mind one day. Too bad for you that you fail to understand or choose to disagree, in my view, with the complexities and nuances of the situation. What do you know that I do not? I sincerely wish to gain from your insights. Thanks again.

  11. Lynn said:

    I commend you on being forthcoming and honest about your business and its history. Your family philosophy of selling the only the best to your customers has obviously served you well for over 100 years.LHW

    • George said:

      Thank you very much, Lynn. Happy gardening.

  12. ZuVuYah said:

    Thank You very much for the clarification! I completely agree with your first two paragraphs. Appreciate all the internet has offered, despise the going viral of misinformation! For the pristine minded, there are fabulous choices with seed-saver organizations, totally organic & heirloom cultivators. I agree with millions that Monsanto is a dastardly & unethical monstrosity & am relieved that if I am offered Burpee seeds, I can say yes with a clear heart.

    • George said:

      Thanks for your post, ZuVu. I’m not entirely in agreement that the folks I know at Monsanto are evil, etc. Strong language! But it’s a free country, thank God. Write to Monsanto! I am a disciple of the clear-hearted. Thanks again.

  13. Marti Olsen said:

    Very well said, Mr. Ball!

    • George said:

      Thank you, Mr. Olsen. Happy gardening to you!

  14. Marguerite McGrath said:

    I have enjoyed reading this tale of the history of the current day Burpee seed company. I became aware of the sale of Seminis seed company to Monsanto probably about the time it took place, because a number of bloggers made note of it. I have to say, I never read anything that indicated that Burpee was owned by Monsanto or by Seminis.

    Aside from all other concerns about Monsanto, the bloggers I was following were most concerned that with the takeover by Monsanto and the Monsanto emphasis on maximizing profits at what appear to be any cost, that certain hybrids that market farmers had come to depend on would become unavailable. There were others who wanted nothing to do with Monsanto, and only one seed company that I encountered addressed the issue publicly. Fedco polled their customers and published their findings on their website and based their future seed offerings on what their customers told them. You can read what they decided by googling Fedco and Seminis. No other seed company would publicly discuss the issue. I questioned a couple of them as to how they were going to handle dealing with Seminis once it was owned by Monsanto and got no response. I wasn’t offended; it was a very contentious issue.

    While I know for a fact that Johnny’s Selected Seeds has been offering Seminis seeds for quite a while, they could not have been doing so at the time you reference as the company wasn’t founded until the 1970’s.

    While the people who hate Monsanto would like to think they are avoiding doing business with Monsanto by not buying seed from companies that do business with Seminis, they are sadly mistaken. Anyone who wears cotton, eats any sort of processed food or eats in a restaurant is wearing clothing or eating food that came from Monsanto owned seed sources.

    Anyone who thinks that Burpee or any other seed company is in league with the devil because they purchase seeds from Seminis should look more closely at their own buying habits and see just how much of their dollars are already going to Monsanto.

    • George said:

      Thank you, Marguerite, for a very thought-provoking post. My professional obligation is to my customers and employees. My conscience involves moral, ethical and theological matters and are “nobody’s business but my own”, to quote Bessie Smith.
      Another point you raise is that Johnny’s was founded in the 1970s, but “could not have been” buying Seminis seeds. Maybe I’m missing your point.
      Also, various bloggers have said I have been an employee of Seminis, Syngenta (of all companies) and even Monsanto. Over the last few months, these false and rather vicious claims have been exposed by our refutations of them, blogger by blogger. Therefore, many have deleted their posts; this may be why you haven’t seen them.
      Finally, Monsanto is a publicly-traded company. If they are doing terrible things to the world, as many believe, they will pay the ultimate price. I believe they have good intentions, but terrible outcomes and no business being planted in my backyard or those of our customers. Nevertheless, I remain optimistic about the long-term outlook for plant science. But like Mr. Burpee—as well as my own ancestors—I practice traditional plant breeding. Thanks again.
      P.S. China uses GMO cotton? I didn’t know that. However, I do know they use virtual slave labor.

  15. Christine Bruhn said:

    Appreciate your efforts to clarify the company history. Just want you to know that I apprecaite a company that uses the best knowledge and most recent scientific advancements to offer home gardeners and the agriculture industry products that are tasty, nutritious, and positive for the environment. If that includes, GM, then use it!

    • George said:

      Thank you very much, Christine. I’m not sure that I would agree with your last sentence. “GM” is one thing. But GMO is another. The first has been going on for millions of years. However, GMOs are quite new and, thus, will require a lot more testing before we, as both an industry and society, even understand them thoroughly. It’s like a new drug—test, test, test and then test again. And then test one more time. Thank you.

  16. WAYNE LEMARBLE said:


    • George said:

      Thank you very much, Wayne. Very kind. Apparently, there was more misinformation out there in cyberspace than I thought. Please post again.

  17. Tierney Grinavic said:

    Thank you for clarifying this. I agree someone who is a journalist should definitely find the Facts first.

    I must say that these big companies (corporations) are not to be trusted as we have seen in the past (banks). Then again not many can really be trusted.

    I had first heard about GMO’s back in the early eighties and answered a questionair about it. It was in Organic Gardening magazine. Monsanto is a very dangerous company nonetheless and I have read that even though a company such as yours and innocent farmers may not use them or their seeds their GMO plants are cross-pollinating with natural plants !

    We all need to be very concerned and do what ever we can to fight this horrendous company Monsanto.
    The reason they give is commendable “feeding the world” but at what price?
    Poisioning the bee population? Creating cancers?
    Franken plants such as the Mutant Dandelions resisitant to roundup have now been produced.
    There must be a better way to feed the poor and the starving and Monsanto is NOT it. They are simply out for the money and greed of it all!
    Again, Thank you for this important article.

    • George said:

      Thanks for posting. As I tried to specify very clearly and carefully in the article, I and my company have nothing to do with Monsanto, other than transacting on a relatively very small scale with their garden seed division. This division does not sell GMOs—to the best of my knowledge—and, if they did, I wouldn’t do business with them. I hope that clears up your concerns about the all-important question of “trust”, which is the heart of our business. Thanks again.

  18. Ruth Furiate said:

    Dear Mr. Ball,
    Thank you for your informative blog. I am a Master Gardener Volunteer in Hancock County Ohio. We have a ten to twelve page monthly newsletter called “Green Thumb Prints”. Would you permit us to publish this letter in our newsletter? I feel it would be newsworthy to our forty-five members.

    By the way, still love “Better Boy” tomato.

    Thanks for your clarification.

    Sincerely yours,

    Ruth Furiate
    Ohio Master Gardener Volunteer

    • George said:

      Thanks for your post, Ruth. You certainly may reprint my post on your site. Please include a link to http://www.burpee.com Also, have you tried ‘Brandy Boy’ yet? It has a smokier taste than Better Boy, and almost as productive. Thanks again.

  19. Vonne said:

    Thank you for taking the time to clarify your position and history. Unfortunately, with today’s electronic “correspondence” many of us who might be uninformed of issues remain so without substantiation. I commend you on having the pride and persistence to “set the record straight”. We have bought from Burpee for years, as well as Heronswood and will continue to do so.

    • George said:

      Thank you for your years of trust, and for the compliment. Happy gardening, Vonne.

  20. Julia said:

    Thanks! A fascinating post!

    • George said:

      You’re welcome, Julia. Please post again.

  21. stan dworkin said:

    Mr Ball

    how can you be certain that the seed you buy from seminis,
    a monsanto company, is not gmo?

    • George said:

      I run genetic tests on all of the seed I produce under contract, using mostly my own parent lines, either of open pollinated or hybrid seed. I have staff who also specialize in detecting any “off types” or anomalies of any kind, grown by non-Burpee staff. We are absolutely certain that none of the seed we buy from Seminis is GMO.
      Thanks again.

  22. Connie Hoge said:

    Thank you for the interesting history lesson. With folks like you in the business I know we can trust that the labels are truthful.

    I don’t like your new catalog, by the way, but will be checking the website as directedtherein’

    • George said:

      Thanks very much Connie. I’d like to know what you didn’t like about our new catalogue, if you wouldn’t mind telling me. If you wish privacy, email me at hordubal@aol.com
      Thank you.

  23. Gail said:

    Do you buy any GMO seeds from Seminis? My understanding is that Monsanto does not allow for any testing of GMO seeds in the US. Does that include Seminis seeds?

    • George said:

      Dear Gail, I answer all your questions in the article itself. Please let me know if there’s anything else I can help you with. Thank you very much for posting.

  24. It is really a shame that you have to deal with these unfounded rumors. It must distract you from your real business of offering high quality seed. However, I think you have done the same thing to garden bloggers by lumping them all together as steadfastly ignoring the rules of journalism. I for one always check every fact in my blog, and there are many others like me. I work very hard to provide high quality information on shade gardening based on 19 years in the nursery business and 35 years of gardening.

    • George said:

      Thank you for posting, Carolyn. I used this blog article to focus on the careless and malefic bloggers and I tried to be careful to use words like “most bloggers” in the context of the article. I pointed out Mr. Brown Thumb as a “first” because—throughout both the Heronswood fiasco of almost 5 years ago and the Monsanto “ownership”/GMO “sales” tempests of today—I have received one—ONE—personal contact from a blogger, and that was Mr. Brown Thumb, and it was about GMOs. The Heronswood situation was not so much a debate or controversy as it was a crucifixion. Everyone in the industry knows this. So I appreciate your criticism as constructive that you warn me not to go Poltergeist on the entire blogging community. However, I think I tried my best—and have for a long time—to get this “Monsanto-owns-Burpee” myth right.
      Finally, it doesn’t bother me to take a little bit of time out to defend my reputation and that of my company. A person’s reputation is “more precious than the holiest of oils” as it says in the Bible. Thanks again and please continue posting here.

  25. Tess said:

    Enjoy reading your style of writing!
    Thanks for all the great articles.

    • George said:

      You’re welcome, Tess. This particular one has worn me out for a while. Happy gardening!

  26. Grace Rapp said:

    I was not aware that Burpee had been accused of selling GMO seeds….so your informative, historical document sets the record straight.

    I do buy reliable Burpee seed as well as from other seed companies. Diversity in variety and opportunities to purchase both heirloom and new hybrid varieties adds to my gardening fun.

    Thank you for your dedication to the home gardener.

    • George said:

      Thanks for posting, Grace. All of us at Burpee appreciate and respect views such as yours. Personally, I am grateful also for your trust.

  27. Joyce Bentley said:

    Well done!! My respect for you and your company has grown tremendously because of your careful and very well written history. It is true that many of us gain knowledge from the internet, but most of us prefer the story right from the source. Thank you so much for providing your story with the facts and dates. I’ll be looking at your catalog with more interest now. Thank you.

    • George said:

      Thank you very much for your most thoughtful post. Happy gardening to you.

  28. laura perkins said:

    better boy rocks

    • George said:

      Thank you for your happy post. I can answer only, “Brandy Boy rules”.

  29. Marshall Smyth said:

    Thank you for the history. I wonder a few things though. Monsanto is one of those “take over the world” companies. Why not have the courage and the audacity to overcome the reasons to continue to purchase anything from them. Surely you can breed melons yourself, and stop relying on Monsanto. Another thing that I wonder about is why not create new selections of good old Burpee varieties? Seems to me that if you could do old fashioned variety innovations; one comes to my mind, a Noir des Carmes crossed with an orange fleshed honeydew, segregated for Noir des Carmes’ look and ease of growing, along with the texture and sweetness of the honeydew, but with that unique Noir des Carmes flavor. Eye to eye, you can do these things. Or pay one of your growers to do it with a little Burpee help. I see no reason that seed company owners should have big philosophical differences, but you guys all do. Have a convention or something, sit down, make friends with each other.

    • George said:

      You are welcome, Marshall. Thank you, in turn, for the excellent suggestions. First, a few answers to your thoughtful comments. Monsanto is not even close to dominating the seed world, as you suggest. They have fierce rivals in DuPont, Syngenta, Illinois Foundation and Dow to name only a few of the large competitors. And the world is vast and filled with small seed genetics companies, ourselves being one. We’ve been at it for 135 years and have no plans on stopping—far from it. Our strictly home garden breeding programs are as active and effective as they’ve been in the last 50 years. Before that, we were #1 in the world by a long shot. Ironically, there are a greater number of seed companies now than there were 50 years ago. Since you obviously know a few things about plant breeding, you will appreciate that we are breeding in generally, if not precisely, the manner you describe. Finally, “big philosophical differences” is meaningless to me. I don’t know what you are talking about. We are all friendly competitors, in my opinion. Thanks again.

  30. Henni Tare said:

    I enjoyed reading about the history of your company, particularly the people involved.I plan to foward it to the members of my garden club, I think they will find it interesting too.

    • George said:

      Thank you, Henni, for your generous spirit. Please post again.

  31. Bill Ryan said:

    How do some stores like Rhode Islands Ocean State Job Lotsell Burpee’s seed packets at 40-60% off the catalog or web site prices?

    • George said:

      Thanks for the question, Mr. Ryan. Our retail store customers buy an almost entirely different assortment from us to offer to the public. Most are “bread and butter” varieties, but we run an occasional exclusive or high end variety as well. They also buy at a different time (much later than catalogue and web) and in enormous quantities per variety. Finally, the seed is conditioned and packeted earlier, so the quality—while excellent—is not quite as high or “fresh” as our custom-packeted catalogue and internet orders. Plus, keep in mind that we offer twice the diversity than at retail, so there are extra costs to that. Lastly, we cannot, by law, influence how any retail store decides to price their packets. Sometimes they run promotions. We have no control whatsoever on how they run their business. That would, as I say, violate trade law. They also sell a lot more late-season, direct-sow items which they will often use for seasonal promotions to stimulate customer interest, aka “foot traffic”. Thanks again for the excellent question.

  32. This is very enlightening, and I certainly am sorry that people don’t check their facts before they write. Happens all the time, unfortunately. Then is becomes clear that gmo seeds are distributed by Monsanto but not to the home gardener supplier. I didn’t realize that their were rumors flying about that Monsanto owned Burpee.

    • George said:

      Thanks, Sharon. Goodness, it was like I was being tied to Burning Man. But the truth will set you free, as it says in the good book. I do worry, though, about the Internet’s ability to tarnish people’s reputations so easily. Very dangerous. Thanks again.

  33. Scott Trees said:

    Thanks for the interesting walk through history! I had forgotten much of this. It’s a shame that you have to do it in defense of the good reputation of a company like Burpee. Hopefully, you’ve set the record straight. All the best,
    Scott Trees

    • George said:

      Thank you, Scott. We all think of you often around here. I have a friend who wants to move to Paso Robles after a long career in ob/gyn research in Detroit. Would you be able to give him some pointers? As for Burpee, I agree that it is a bit of a shame, but not much. Thanks for your moral support. Hope all is well.

  34. Hi Mr. Ball,

    Thanks again for taking the time to talk to me about seeds and your company. Please let me know what the dates and names I got wrong and I’ll append the post when I go in and link to your reply. I’m glad to see that you’ve decided to speak up.

    As for the title of the post: I titled it because I had been asked a lot if I “trusted” you and your company. I have to admit that the title is also an attention getting device for people conducting web searches.

    • George said:

      Hello, Ramon. I shall respond to the small details off-line. Please resend your phone number to me at hordubal@aol.com, since I lost it. Crazy-busy season. Thanks again.

  35. Corinne Applegate said:

    Thanks for sharing the history of Burpee Seeds with anyone interested in gardening, be they a blogger or not. Looking forward to this year’s open houses.

    • George said:

      Thanks for the kind thoughts, Corinne. Is your name also spelled “Corinna”? Taj Mahal recroded a great song of that title on his second album. Anyway, we will have two Open House events at Fordhook and four at “Heronswood West”. Fordhook’s are Sunday, May 22 and Friday, August 19, Saturday, August 20 and Sunday, August 21. Heronswood Opens at Kingston, WA, are Saturday, May 14, Sunday, June 26, Saturday, July 16 and Saturday, September, 10. Please stay tuned for details and thanks again.

  36. Linda Dunbaugh said:

    Thank you for giving me the history of these companies. It was very interesting.

    • George said:

      You’re very welcome, Linda. Thank you for posting.

  37. Nancy Jones said:

    I sit snowbound on my small island of Orcas in northernmost Washington, catching up on my e-mail newsletters from around the country. I have just read Tony Avent’s with his wild enthusiasm. I often read your lengthy and often angry newsletters which ‘set us straight’. The controversy over Round-up and Monsanto will rage unbalanced as similar environmental and health battles before. (Some of our best gardens are sponsored by Weyerhauser, also accused of over logging and spotted Owl demise.) Thank you for being so informative.
    There are always two sides to every story and I am sure Monsanto also wants to make the world a better place and probably has done so in many ways.
    Enough blogging for today. I better go start some seeds.

    • George said:

      Thanks for the lovely vision. Who is Tony Avent? As for my “angry” newsletters, I’m sorry if I come across that way. Your very perceptive comment about Weyerhauser is helpful. I never looked at Dow, DuPont, Monsanto or Syngenta that way. Perhaps if they gradually promoted their truly good works in the non-profit communities they serve, and swiftly (in the case of Monsanto) terminated their public relations people, they would make some progress explaining what they are doing to the environment. Monsanto seems particularly tin-eared. I would tell them, “Tell folks of all the good you’re doing!” Thanks again.

  38. Karlie said:

    Good to know, no GMO or Monsanto screwed seeds sold by Burpee. Wish the government would vote against GMO/GE too.

    • George said:

      Thanks for the kind post. Good luck wishing the government to ban GMOs. The government has become—figuratively speaking—a giant GMO. Unless you watch C-Span, and thereby become extremely active in local politics, you can’t do much besides throw closed that curtain behind you every few years, at least, and press those buttons. We’ve become, ourselves, a “monoculture”. A sort of “mental GMO”, eh? Hope this helps, and thanks again.

  39. Mary Matos said:

    As a home gardener, I very much appreciate a frank and honest opinion put out by you. I understand now the seed links and at this juncture, can you address another troubling issue that appears on legitimate green websites? It is concerning purchasing of genetically altered seeds that may open an internet pandora box regarding a disease introduced that may compromise the futue crop vs. a heritage crop? Almost all mention alfalfa Monsanto too. I’m confused. Thank you sincerely, Mary

    • George said:

      Thank you, Mary. With no clear details, I cannot honestly answer your question. I would like to help, but don’t know how. I can guess that you may be hearing about the scandal and controversy at the Seed Saver’s Exchange, which is not so much about a disease as about access to so-called heritage crops or heirlooms by companies such as Monsanto, et al. Talk about a complex issue! It is also a rather sad tale. Shine the light of truth on that situation and watch a lot of bugs scatter off in all directions. But you may refer to something entirely different that I am unaware of. As for the alfalfa, I can’t help you on that one either, except that to say that the FDA approved it, and under Obama’s watch. Alfalfa is one of the world’s oldest domesticated crops. It is also extremely important in poor countries. Most plant scientists I know—and I know a fair number—are diligent and thoughtful in their work and personal life; in other words, good and decent people. Most are from farm states in the South and Midwest. They would no more concoct a scheme to take over the world’s food supply than a pharmacist would be a James Bond villain. If you want to find the “bad guys”—and I think you should—look elsewhere than in the labs and research farms in my opinion. Try Wall Street. Or, better yet, try your grandparents who are tracking the stock market, watching Monsanto, DuPont, et al, and saying “So, what’s wrong with these companies, again, dear?”

      Frankly, Mary, I think we should try just to eat less, eat more home-grown vegetables, keep a close eye on our local politicians and say our prayers, if you don’t mind. Thanks and please let me know if you find any more specific information I can help you with.

  40. Mary said:

    Probably the best way is let all sides have an open discussion, shine the sunshine light on all opinions of all parties involved, to be able to keep the goal of a safe and healthy food chain.

    • George said:

      Thanks, Mary. Like you, I think there are two sides, if not more. But right and wrong—that struggle is catnip to me. But anyway, the subject of food safety versus food prices is complex. And guess what simplifies it fairly well? You guessed it, I just know you did. However, this leaves out the problem of meat and dairy, as well as subtropical tree fruits, such as lemons, limes, oranges, etc. I remember my mother telling me stories about butter; how precious it was in her home town and out in the country where most of her relatives lived (Laurens County, South Carolina). Folks coveted a tub of butter like it was a “baby child” in her occasional, unconscious use of the vernacular. Thanks again for your thoughtful post.

  41. Sharon Kaszan said:

    Thanks George, for commenting on something we started at Burpee together, I can’t believe you still need to convince the media and/ or public opinion today. You have always stayed true to these values. Well written history, you even taught me a fact or two!

    • George said:

      Thank you, Sharon. The farm hasn’t been the same since you left. Hope all is well at Meadowbrook. The GMO controversy results, in part, from poor education about agriculture. There are many sides to the issue. Domesticated plants and their competitors are complex subjects. Thanks again for your moral support.

  42. Joel said:

    Anyone who has ever followed monsanto do know they never let their Employee speak it is always an attorney , no difference which continent we are talking about.
    By itself this fully exonerated Burpee.
    As far as Monsanto is concerned simply do not buy their product, some are very good other will be a tragedy for Human kind for ephemeric profit . So make the decision once and for all keep monsanto and affiliated Co on the shelves , spend a bit more for quality product or we will all become hostage.

  43. Glenn Nuding said:

    hi, good day. i was just reading about this on our local website ‘

  44. This is great to know- I read the rumor as well, also about other seed companies.
    As a blogger I do not reprint what I don’t know from personal experience. Kudos to Mr. Brown Thumb (a wonderful gardening blog by the way) for contacting you- it led to this clear and precise info.
    This was shared in a Facebook group ‘Gardeningaholics Anonymous’ and from there I will share on my page as well.
    Thank you for not selling GMO, and for you continued commitment to providing quality seed.

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