In an agricultural world where yield and performance is valued more than anything, Jim Ternier could be perceived as somewhat of an iconoclast.
The Cochin area seed grower is president of Seeds of Diversity Canada, a group dedicated to the preservation of heritage seeds. He describes himself as a regional seedsman, specializing in growing and marketing seeds that are adapted for the dryland and short-season environment. He sells his own crops, admittedly, because nobody else will do it for him.
"I am an unusual farmer because I sell more than 500 crops," he says. "I produce my own catalogue, featuring 80 per cent seeds that we grow here and 20 per cent seed supplied by other small growers in Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Alberta through swaps. I try to be as local as possible. My activities don’t fit any commercial patterns, but I earn a living from them."
Ternier started out growing mostly vegetable seeds. He quickly discovered that he enjoyed selling the seeds more than the vegetables. He produced his first catalogue 23 years ago. It was a sheet with 15 products. Now his catalogue has 40 pages with hundreds of seeds, including 65 varieties of tomatoes.
Ternier says 97 per cent of his clients are people who grow gardens to feed their families.
"Half of them are in Saskatchewan and Alberta, which helps me fulfill my local mandate," he says. "We sell the Homesteader pea variety, which is over 100 years old; we sell the Detroit Dark Red beet. The Golden Bantam corn, which is still commonly grown, has been around for over 100 years."
Almost all of Prairie Garden Seeds’ business is mail order.
"Canada Post represents my largest expense," he says, "but that is okay. We have consciously chosen to live in an isolated setting. When we want to see masses of people, we attend Seedy Saturday events in Saskatoon, Edmonton, Calgary and Winnipeg. It is an opportunity to exchange and meet with others who share our passion for heritage seeds."
When asked what drives him, here is what Jim Ternier has to say:
"I have gardened all my life. I truly enjoy it. I am also a collector, but beyond that there is a matter of stewardship—of people taking control of their lives. Gardening is an accessible way for many to take some responsibility for their food supply. It enables people to become connected with the impacts of fossil fuels and climate change in their lives, which leads to a greater awareness and understanding of the real value of food."
"When we took over the family farm in the late 1970s, we built ourselves a house that we see as modern, but it doesn’t have the latest amenities by today’s standards. We raised three kids in it and they are doing pretty well."
Jim Ternier sometimes uses a hand cultivator built by his uncle.
"You can’t buy anything like that anymore," he says. "Today’s versions are lightly built out of plastic. They don’t last. The one I use is older than me. It is built out of wood and metal. When a part breaks or wears out, we just fashion a new one. We chose a certain lifestyle, and we are happy about our approach and engagement in life."
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