Artwork for podcast GREEN Organic Garden Podcast
235. Seed Saving – Seed Libraries | Small House Farm | Ben Cohen | Central Michigan
23rd July 2018 • GREEN Organic Garden Podcast • Jackie Marie Beyer
00:00:00 00:58:52

Share Episode


So one of my listeners Alan Denko said you gotta interview this guy Ben, he just moved to where you are, and I sent you an email and here we are talking already! I’m a big hemp seed girl! 

Are you thinking of you starting a podcast?

No, I’m too busy. Do you know where your listener heard me speak?

At a seed library event in Michigan.

Small House Farm

Tell us a little about yourself.

I’m in Central Michigan, my wife and two children we call Small House Farm an effort in sustainable living

attempt to grow the majority of our won food

keep our pigs etc

we do a lot of growing our own food

seed crops here

my 9-5 cold press seed and nut oil


herbal wellness products

Across from 1100 acres of forest

Do a lot of education


there’s a heave focus on heriloom seed saving

Michigan seed saving

45 seed saving libraries

I was just taking pictures of birds on our bird feeder. My listeners know I’m interested in growing enough seeds for my bird feeders.

our farm

total property is about 3.5 acres

don’t grow our hemp seeds here

Hemp production is not something that is happening here in Michigan yet

organic farm in Canada

15-1800 pounds a month, hemp seed

It’s Canadian grown.

Are you close to Canada. We’re about 15 miles from the border.

We’re right on the border here in Michigan


I wouldn’t say they’re super expensive

we bring in the seeds

Cold press the oil on site

mill the seed cake into a hemp powder

People use that as a

  • supplement
  • gluten free baking
  • I feed the animals

That’s why I get so frustrated, everyone always says put hemp protein in your smoothie or use hemp seed oil and Mike can’t grow it and its sooooo expensive. You’re importing them. What’s your cold press like, is it a commercial machine?

I got a hand turned oil press, anyone can do it at home. 

Piteba Oil Press

I got a Piteba hand turned oil press.

 It’s got a little kerosene lamp  for heat

It’s hand turned, I joked it’s Ben powered

very first round


I pressed 6-8 bottles of sun flower oil and took them to the farmer’s market just to test the water with it, it went really well!

people really responded well

  • local
  • freshness of the oil
  • pressed that week

You can’t get it at the grocery store!

our sunflowers are grown here in michigan

dont have the space to

source locally

Michigan pumpkin seeds

proven to be the best option to bring it in from Canada

working out those details

relatively new thing here in America

The regulations aren’t in place to allow commerce from state to state that we’re looking for.

Tell me about your first gardening experience?

That’s a good question. I’m from Michigan. I was born and raised within 50 miles of where I live right now. 

When I was a kid we lived in an apartment. I’d have a flower pot type of thing out  on the balcony that I grew radishes in I was always planting seeds even when I was little. I didn’t grow up on farm. 

Ben cohen Small House Farm Dad

transitional phase

definitely a change in my life. Having kids, made that more significant to raise a family and be responsible for other lives. I live right close to where I grew up.

For me, the story I like to tell is not really my first gardening experience but my first time I ever saved seeds. That’s the story I like to share.

Well let’s here that! My listeners are really interested in saving seeds.

We all should be.

Chippewa Nature Center Seed Saving

I was in Midland in the Chippewa Nature Center, is a wonderful place! 

  • 1200 acre nature preserve
  • beautfiul place
  • they have an old homestead farm – it’s a Re-enactment of what life was like in the 1800s
  • old school house
  • sugar shack
  • heirloom and things


introduction talking to the garden manager there

One day he  reaches into a bean pole and says Ben, take these seeds home and share in your friends! That moment in time changed my life! Sometimes you don’t realize how significant things are but that had such an impact on me. 

I spend most of my time talking to people about the importance of seeds.

Bill McDorman came on and talked about how the people who save our seeds are having the biggest impact on climate change and saving our planet. How essential it is.

It’s essential, without seeds  we would have no food.

Heirloom seeds right?

something we talk a lot about helping people understand the difference between

  • open pollinated
  • and say a high bred

vegetables we get at the grocery store, they have great improvements

When it comes to saving seeds

those seeds wont come true

you oddest really know what your gonna get second season

  • open pollinated has been the focus of the movement
  • old heirloom varieties
  • part of history
  • so many reasons to saving your seeds

How did you learn how to garden organically, was that from the guy at the Heritage Farm?

I didn’t learn any specific gardening skills from him, he kind of lit the fire in me to learn more about saving seeds is what impact Rod Maxwell had. 

I think you should think about starting a podcast… just to plant a seed, the seed starting podcast.

Through that its had on some many

gardening organically

to me it’s obvious there is no other option

is this the way

  • is this the choice that I want to make
  • there is no other option
  • for my family
  • community
  • no second choice
  • the way we always have done it

has always

I’m always asking people wanna be on my show? I just always assume everyone’s organic because I just can’t imagine any other way.

consumer point of view

make sure that the food that I purchase is locally grown

I can get my food locally grown, grown with organic methods

I know the actual practice on the farm is that they are following the standards I want to

meet the farmer

see how their growing the food in the field

with then the label or certification

I’m surprised that people I know say that’s just a fancy price tag people are putting in the stores. Surely I can’t afford to buy organic all the time or even most of the time, I have to buy conventional groceries it would be nice to shop from the farmer’s market more. I’m always surprised that people don’t realize that the food today is grown different then when we were growing up

the more people that I speak with that I think is commonly accepted knowledge I’m surprised that it’s new.

do find that a lot people don’t know, when I go share my ideas I take for granted people know, who are people are interested in gardening

  • a lot of education
  • share ideas
  • in a constant state of growth
  • can never make assumptions
  • we just have to all learn together


Tell us about something that grew well this year.

Here’s a fun story about something that grew well

last year i was in Midland county

historic flooding in mid June

majoirty of gardens well planted along the way

peppers already out there

Robert's Royalty Beans Small House Farm

Robert’s Royalty beans

purple potted bush bean

  • 100 ‘ row
  • well established
  • historic flood

pretty much we lost everything

standing water, up to my knees in places

pump out of field! So much water. A few days go by, we get the water pumped out

Out of the 100’ row of beans, these beans were submerged.

15’ section bounced back! They produced handfuls of arm loads of beans! Just that section. The rest of row died!

As a seedsaver! 

  • things that can adapt
  • valuable seeds
  • challenges that I had
  • opportunities to collect very great seed collected

maybe somethings in there is gonna help out we need to be prepared for that.

That’s a huge thing we talk about is resiliency, a woman wrote a book about it that I saw at the AERO conference. Joyce Pinson who I interviewed a few years ago down in Appallacia, they also got totally flooded out last year, their pictures were so sad. Taht’s alot of loss you had still 15 feet out of a 100 feet.

  • pattern that’s
  • well you know if I was a market farmer that would have been a devastating loss
  • to only have 15%
  • point of view of growing the seeds
  • adversity involved
  • definitely

Joyce Pinson is a friend of mine, I know her quite well

I’m headed down to a seed swap

They organize down in Pikes Ville

incredible seeds swaps in the nation

I sent her some squash seed so they could do some replanting. That’s a great example of all of us getting together, it was great that we could send her some squash to replant.

Do you want to talk about saving seed, that business model.

we certainly could

talking about gardeners


listen to we should talk about if they’re not already incorporating seed saving into their routine

economic benefits where you don’t have to purchase

adaptability – climate issues, pest issues you will definitely have more resilient crops from the

historical preservaion


When I met Joyce down in Kentucky

saving seeds passing them down

hundreds of years

We always have grandmas heirlooms, knick knacks and photos, but when you get the tomatoes that’s just such a  special thing

every organic

offer some seeds online on our website

selection of unique seeds that we grow here on our homestead. I’m not gonna pay my mortgage growing seeds.

share interesting seeds with folks

seed sales at events

  • really work
  • community seed sharing programs
  • give away so much seed
  • donate in programs
  • libraries
  • here in Michigan
  • 45 seed libraries
  • only 500 in the whole country to have this many right in Michigan