Annie’s Heirloom Seeds: A Michigan Family Business

A desire for healthier produce led to the rise of this successful small company —from flowerbeds in the city to heirlooms in the countryside.

| Spring 2018

‘Contender’ is a favorite heirloom bush bean at Annie’s Heirloom Seeds, and Julie Slezak says the cultivar is her favorite bush bean too. That should come as no surprise, though, because Julie is the founder of Annie’s Heirloom Seeds.

‘Contender’ is my favorite because it’s got great yields and it has a really wonderful bean flavor,” Julie says. She runs Annie’s from her home in Hudsonville, Michigan, so it’s hard to separate Julie’s personal love of heirloom gardening from the business activities of Annie’s Heirloom Seeds. In fact, the company’s name is a tribute to her grandmother, Annie.

Much of Julie’s initial gardening experience happened in an urban setting. While in graduate school, she planted flowers in the backyard of the Chicago-area walkup where she lived. “I’ve always wanted to try gardening, so I got the landlord’s permission to plant flowers in the back lawn,” Julie remembers. Julie also grew several plants in containers. 

After relocating to the Chicago suburbs where they had a larger house and yard, the Slezaks focused on landscaping their property. Julie and her husband weren’t sure they were happy with city life and their graduate school plans. They began considering alternative plans. “My husband found a book in the library called You Can Farm. It inspired us,” Julie says. “The author, Joel Salatin, directs readers to ‘start now,’ so we ripped up part of the front yard and planted strawberries, raspberries, and a few fruit trees.” They expected to live and garden in the suburb for a while, but then Scott accepted a job in Michigan, and they moved to Clarksville. The Slezaks bought 30 acres there and tried raising beef cattle, dairy cows, chickens, and goats, in addition to vegetable gardening.

The garden area was a challenge in the beginning, and Julie had limited success. “I could grow peas, I could grow beans. The main reason I had trouble growing anything else was because it was a quackgrass field,” she says. Quackgrass is a very aggressive weed, meaning that Julie had the space to grow, but the quality of that space was diminished. Useful gardening information was also hard for her to find. Luckily, an experienced friend of Julie’s filled in the void via weekly visits, and assigned her garden homework.

A Family Venture

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