– Posted in: Catalog review

Today, I came back from shopping, and found a piece of mail for me–an envelope, hand addressed. Hello! I wasn’t expecting any letters. . .what’s the return address? Fedco! Oh, no!! I sent my order in when it was only a week till thier deadline, I hope they’re not telling me I’m too late for this year!! We’re not that far from Maine! I ordered as soon as I could, honest. It was my first year odering. I’ll do better next year!

The paper is folded, so when I take it out of the envelope I can only see the irrelevant header: “Fedco Seeds; Co-Op Seed Packers, Waterville, Maine 04903-0520; Feb. 27, 2005; Talitha Purdy. . . .” I already know all of that. The odd thing is that it’s still all in hand writing. (Blue ballpoint. Except for the Fedco Seed logo that looks poorly photo-copied.) That would seem to be an odd way to write a rejection “sorry-you-were-too-late” form letter.

Dear Talitha Purdy, (Yes?)

Wanted to thank you for your order (But I was too late and you can’t fill it? I knew it! Arrgghh!) and your nice letter (Letter? what letter?) with good suggestions. (Oh, that letter!).

You see, I happened to see the following in their catalog:

“We Love to Hear from You and often respond to your comments and letters. Your ideas and suggestions stimulate our thinking and help us to improve our catalogs, products and service. Here are more ways you can help us:

Suggest new varieties for us to carry. . . .(they go into more detail, but go look at the catalog yourself if you want the fine print.)

Share your ideas for how we can improve service. . .

Join our network of trial gardeners. . .We give preference to trialers from Maine and other cold climate states. . .

Send us seed of an heirloom variety which you think has commercial potential. . .

We are accepting inquiries for bid applications for our lot grow-out program. . .

Send us your old seed catalogs or old classic references. . .”

Anyway, I took them at face value about suggesting new varieties for them to carry, but I confess to say I didn’t believe them when they said they often responded. I did think they would read it, and that I would be entered into the computer as another statistic (though perhaps they keep their statistics in spiral-bound notebooks. . .), and maybe get a form letter back, thanking me for my interest. (Everybody thanks you for your interest.) I suppose I took it to mean something more like “we occasionally respond if you write a very witty and entertianing letter, and it is a slow, rainy day, and we have nothing better to do.” But I certainly did not think, by any stretch of the imagination, that I would receive a personal letter, handwritten, from the head-honcho (or whoever the C.R. Lawn guy is who writes the letter in the front of the magazine)!! And before my actual seed order arrived, no less. Jeepers, I’m usually thrilled just to get a live human on the phone, never mind hand-written letters!

So, I am sure you are all quite curious by now to know what on earth I wrote, and what C. R. Lawn wrote back. Alas, I did not write anything witty and charming. I didn’t even write it by hand. (I was afraid no one would be able to read my handwriting, but I am slightly comforted. C. R. Lawn appears to be left-handed; at anyrate, not overly critical of less than perfect [okay, in my case perhaps barely readable] handwriting.) I didn’t even address it to anyone, I just started talking, which is very poor etiqutte indeed! It was only a short list of seeds I would like them to carry. Oh, and my reasons why, since they said “The more specific your opinion, the more useful to us.”

I got quite specific with “Little Leaf” cucumber, which I love. I was quite a bit more vague with “Trinity” corn, because Rundy is the one who grows it, and I’m just bothered by putting in more than one seed order, so I’d like to consolidate. And I only said I like the flavor of “America” spinach, because as far as I know, it doesn’t have any remarkable qualities after that. Other than that, I don’t really remember what I said, and I didn’t save a draft, and I hardly think it matters. I banged it out in a few minutes and mailed it, maybe even without a spellcheck. (I’m really horrid, aren’t I?)

He responded in turn that “there has been quite a bit of interst in the little leaf cucumber, and we may want to consider adding it. It is very good for people who have little garden space.” As to Trinity corn, he said they had tried it and “weren’t that impressed” with it, but that “maybe we should put it out in the trials again.” In the meantime, he recommended “Fleet”, which I suppose I could try to talk Rundy into trying next year. (Not that it matters, since it’s his corn and his money, and if he’s happy with Trinity, that’s his business.)

It has been really interesting to compare seed companies this year. Johnny’s send a form letter confirmation email when I placed my order, a form letter email notifying that the “Fortex” green bean was on back order, and a form letter saying my order had shipped. (Tee-hee, their data-base is all screwed up. I couldn’t remember my log-in information, or even if I had one. So I created a new one, in my name, since I’ll be the one complaining if things go wrong. Despite this, the email letting me know of the back order was addressed to my Dad, the orginal Johnny’s orderer at this street address!) I did my ordering online from the Johnny’s site, except when I had a potato shipping question. I called their number, then, and got put on hold twice. (Please, please, please change your hold recording! They were short waits, but I almost hung up anyway because the recordings were so grating to listen too.) I ordered from Johnny’s later than Fedco’s, but recieved my order sooner.

In contrast, I could look at the catalog online for Fedco, but I could not order online, or even order by phone. I had to print out the order form myself, and fill in all the squares with a pencil (well, you could use a pen, if you weren’t paranoid about making mistakes), and mail it out with a stamp. (How odd, these days!) Not that I minded. Except maybe writing things in by hand, since I’m always afraid someone won’t be able to read my handwriting. The order hasn’t come yet, but I have already recieved a hand-written letter acknowledging my order (and he used my name, not my Dad’s!).

The end result is rather odd. One might think that I would be happier with Johnny’s which was much more instantaneous, efficient and convinient. Acctually, I feel like I have been reduced to 1’s and 0’s in Johnny’s computer, whereas I actually feel like a living, breathing person at Fedco’s. What difference does that make, as long as you get your order? None, I suppose. But it is quite pleasant; rather like walking into a local Mom-and-Pop store where they know your name and ask after the well-being of your family as opposed to walking into the super-center where no one knows your name or your family, and couldn’t care less about either.

To each their own, but I do like Fedco’s.

P.S. In trying to find out C.R. Lawn’s relation to Fedco (which I didn’t discover; founder? chairman?), I stumbled upon a picture of him. He has a similar hairstyle to my Dad, though Dad has started trimming his beard again. But Dad has the forehead of caveman (flat and slanted), where as C.R. Lawn’s is quite rounded. Ah, the amusing and pointless oddities of life. . .

About the Author

Talitha spent the last few years doing an absurd combination of work and school, and found it wasn’t very pleasant. Now she’s doing work, school and a garden, and life is a little better! She also enjoys photography and hand feeding her ducks. USDA Hardiness Zone: 4 AHS Heat Zone: 3 Location: rural; Southern Tier of NY Geographic type: foothills of Appalachian Mountains Soil Type: acid clay Experience level: advanced beginner Particular interests: herbs, vegetables, cutting garden, cottage gardening

Now, the digging and dividing of perennials, the general autumn cleanup and the planting of spring bulbs are all an act of faith. One carries on before the altar of delayed gratification, until the ground freezes and you can’t do any more other than refill the bird feeder and gaze through the window, waiting for the snow. . . . Meanwhile, it helps to think of yourself as a pear tree or a tulip. You will blossom spectacularly in the spring, but only after the required period of chilling.

~Adrian Higgins in The Washington Post, November 6, 2013

Comments on this entry are closed.

Talitha March 8, 2005, 9:21 am

Hi Cherie,

No, I didn’t know about Garden Watch Dog. (I did go and check it out, though!)Unfortunatly, it didn’t answer my main question, which was: “Is there a more proper way to refer to C.R. Lawn’s position in Fedco besides calling him the Head Honcho?” I did know about Fedco’s many divisions, though, because they make this quite clear at their main page.

I’ll keep this site in mind the next time I have questions about seed catalogs.

Cherie March 3, 2005, 10:48 pm

I have only found this sight recently, so am not familiar with what you have covered or what you haven’t covered but a website that I cannot do without is
If you need to find out how others feel about a certain company, you just enter the company name and all comments, good and bad, will come up. If you receive a lot of gardening catalogs, this can be very, very helpful.Too many negative comments and I won’t even keep the catalog. The reason I thought about it, after reading your article on Fedco and it’s relationship with C.R Lawn, because will also tell you if the company you are enquiring about is affiliated with any other compnay. For instance Fedco also has Fedco Trees….Fedco Bulbs…..Organic Growers Supply…and Moose Tubers. Hope this is helpful.