Memes

Tomatoes: The Gate-Way Garden Plant for Jillian Bishop

Photo of Jillian Bishop of Urban Tomato smiling in front of her garden.
A seed company producing seed for sale in a 750 square foot urban yard? 

Meet Jillian Bishop, an entrepreneur from Ontario, Canada who decided to put her indigenous & environmental studies degree to work by creating a carefully curated collection of heirloom seeds for her province in Canada. 

Tomatoes are Jill’s passion, but she also grows peppers, grains, greens and beans (seed) as well as other plant starts.

Initially Jill started out as a landless farmer who planted every square inch of her balcony in her apartment in Ontario, and then borrowed land, backyards, and community garden plots to expand her space to grow. In 2016, she purchased her first home. This luxurious space is the perfect size for her one-woman operation and it allows her to stretch out and add things yearly.

What sold her on the idea of seed saving and starting her company Urban Tomato? She loved getting her hands dirty, and after college she interned at a farm focused on tomatoes. It was so easy to save tomato seeds (squish out the seeds and let them cure) that she was blown away more people weren’t doing it.

Then came the Striped Cavern heirloom tomato which sparked her eureka moment. Unlike other varieties from which she had saved seeds, these, when grown out, looked just like the parent tomato. In other words, they grew “true to form,” as they say in the seed business.

Photo of a Striped Cavern tomato showing it whole and cut in half. The tomato is red with yellow stripes
Photo by Peter Nitzsche, County Agricultural Agent Rutgers

Prior to starting her company, she would hear from fellow foodies and gardeners that they had trouble finding seed that would grow well in their particular region. She liked the idea of starting a seed company, and it seemed there may be a niche for her efforts. After hearing about a year-long, community course that would teach her the business side of running her seed company, she jumped in. Having put together a business plan, she tested out her idea at farmers’ markets around Ontario. It was hit and Urban Tomato was born.

Jillian Bishop smiles behind a table displaying dozens of seed packets for sale at a farmers market.
Jillian displays seeds and promotes seed saving.

In 2015 Jillian attended a week-long Seed School Teacher Training course presented by the Rocky Mountain Seed Alliance (RMSA: a Seed Up Saturday partner). That experience changed her dramatically. First of all, it boosted her confidence in what she already knew as a seed saver. Secondly, she realized that she wasn’t alone in her love and commitment to saving seeds as the basis for any regional food system. She met others with the same kind of passion and thirst for incorporating this fundamental idea into all their growing practices.

 

Jillian Bishop harvests seeds from a profusion of white flowers on her urban farm.
Harvesting seed at Urban Tomato farm.

She has continued to participate in RMSA events and online courses, recently teaching at the online Seed School Teacher Training, and stands out as someone who through her own ingenuity and initiative did the hard work to follow her passion. Since that Seed School experience in 2015 she continues to teach others to save seeds and also instructs at her local college.

What would Jill have to say to other upstart seed savers wanting to develop their own seed companies? As she shares with her students; You can be landless and still grow seeds!  You are also not alone. This is a global movement and there is help everywhere to move your dreams forward.

Jill will be sharing what she has learned through her journey on Seed Up Saturday, this coming May 22nd. The workshop runs from 9 :30am to 12:30 pm, Pacific Daylight Time. Listen for Jill and four other presenters who will cover a variety of topics, including how to breed your own varieties, harvesting wild seeds and planting wildflower gardens, the status of plant patents, and landrace gardening.  Participants will also hear from an interesting nonprofit that works with veterans as they move from protectors to providers by learning to grow food and save seeds.  

Reserve your spot at seedupsaturday.com.