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Stewardship Stories: Mike Dunton

Two tomatoes and two tomato halves on a wooden surface

Mike Dunton

Victory Seeds

A man in sunglasses and a baseball cap smiles outdoors
“I am an amateur historian and genealogist which is probably why I am so interested in preserving our gardening past. As I walk this land, I trod on the tall fescue hay fields that my grandfather planted before I was born, I eat fruit from trees that my great-grandparents planted, and enjoy flowers that my grandmother planted.” -Mike Dunton

Some of Mike Dunton’s earliest childhood memories are of being out in the garden with his mother or grandparents. He was working in San Francisco at a high-tech job when Mike learned that his grandmother had placed their multi-generation family farm on the market. “Upon hearing the news, I called my grandmother, told her to take it off the market, and within a few months had sold our house in California, quit my job, found a new job, and moved to the farm in Oregon.”

The cover of a 1999 seed catalog for Victory Seeds, light tan with a colorful illustration of vegetablesIn a letter to Seed Savers Exchange co-founder Kent Whealy from 2000, Mike described how he and his wife Denise founded their seed company, Victory Seeds. “Two years ago, we called a little seed company that we had purchased from for the past few years, only to find they had decided to close shop. It seemed perfect. We started a dialog and tried to work out how we could take it over. We did not come to terms with them, but by this time, I was hooked on the idea. They were a standard catalog company selling modern hybrids and open-pollinated seeds. We decided that with my computer background, we would focus our efforts heavily on the Internet and only offer heirloom and OP seeds.”

Livingston Tomatoes

After learning how seedsman Alexander W. Livingston popularized tomatoes in the 19th century, Mike dedicated himself to tracking down and/or restoring Livingston’s varieties. As of 2017, Mike has successfully preserved 19 historic Livingston tomatoes that had otherwise disappeared from the seed trade.

Two tomatoes and two tomato halves on a wooden surface
Mike’s passion for preserving A.W. Livingston’s tomatoes means that future generations will be able to love varieties like the ‘Livingston Stone’.

Seed Savers Exchange has led the heirloom seed movement since 1975, inspiring a generation of seed companies to specialize in rare, regionally adapted, delicious, and irreplaceable open-pollinated varieties. Many of these companies were founded by our own Seed Savers Exchange members. Rather than allowing heirloom and historic varieties to vanish or go unnoticed, these members launched an uncoordinated, organic, and persistent resistance to the disappearance of heirloom seeds. This first wave of heirloom seed companies did not offer seed catalogs in response to consumer demand. Instead, they created it.

Originally a part of the “Rise of the Heirloom Seeds” exhibit made possible by The 1772 Foundation.

This is the story of one of nine small seed companies and a few of the varieties they have preserved. While each and every one of their backgrounds is as unique and bold as the varieties they share, they all have one thing in common: the passion for sharing seeds.

Bios written, interviews, and correspondence by Kelly Loud with help from Sara Straate.

Special thanks to the following people: Alan and Linda Kapuler, Suzanne Ashworth, Craig Dremann, Steve Sando, Mike and Denise Dunton, Tom Wagner, Joanne Ranck-Dirks, Sue Ellen Majer, Bill McDorman, and Glenn Drowns.