Earlier this year, Dr. Matthew and Nancy Kost launched The Buffalo Seed Co., which stewards around 40 varieties of seeds and grows them without irrigation or chemicals in the Kansas City area. The goal is to adapt the seeds to local growing conditions and, in turn, help create resilient, sustainable agricultural systems.
The couple has an impressive résumé: Nancy grew up growing quinoa and potatoes in Bolivia and has a master’s degree in tomato breeding, while Matthew holds a Ph.D. in evolutionary agroecology and studies crop landrace diversity. The company specializes in rare varieties of maize (like Cherokee White and Black Aztec) and tomatoes (from two-tone cherry to large yellow Russian Anna Banana), along with an ever-expanding collection of flowers, grains, herbs and vegetables.
What’s The Buffalo Seed Co.'s mission? We want to support the local food movements taking hold across the nation and provide seed for that. We’re growing varieties of vegetables, flowers, leafy greens, herbs and grains that we’ve acquired over the years from farmers throughout the U.S., and we’re growing them here in Kansas City. We’re trying to familiarize them with the local environment – this past season, for instance, we didn’t water the seed-producing plants at all – because we’re trying to get the seeds familiar with this particular climate. Instead of watering the plants, we placed a layer of locally grown rye straw on the soil to prevent water evaporation and weed growth.
Why is it important to do that? The idea is that when you get them adapted to the location, you end up having to put in fewer inputs – like water or fertilizer – to get higher yields. The concept of adaptation is really a key to resiliency and sustainability in that it reduces inputs and stabilizes the yields on the things we’re growing.
Tell us about how you model different climates for seeds. With my background, I know how to model climates at a global level, so we took the climate in Kansas City and modeled out everywhere around the world that matches this climate and ended up sourcing garlic from probably 12 to 13 countries including Syria, Jordan, Pakistan and Iran. They’re primarily older varieties that have been passed down the family line. We have around 29 varieties of garlic from all around the world and we’re trying to push that because most of the garlic seed in the Midwest is being sourced from the West and East Coasts. It opens up possibilities to network with farmers around the world.
What are your future plans? Our goal is to expand the range of where we’re selling our seed beyond Kansas City. We have a map of other climates in the U.S. that are similar to Kansas City – St. Louis and up into Indiana, Illinois and Ohio are good examples of climate matches.
3 Rare Maize Varieties from The Buffalo Seed Co.
1. Aunt Mary’s Sweet Corn
“This is one of the oldest sweet corns in the U.S.; it dates back into the 1800s. I acquired this from a maize farmer in southern Ohio, and it’s pretty unique. It’s not necessarily easy to find, but when people get their hands on it, it will take hold pretty well. We’re pretty excited to be spreading that seed throughout the Midwest.”
2. Cherokee White
“I acquired this from a farmer in southern Ohio who collected it from an elderly Cherokee woman near Tuckasegee, North Carolina. It’s a flour corn, which means it’s softer compared to dent corn. The plant grows 12 to 15 feet tall, so it’s really incredible to watch it grow, and the cobs are almost twice as big as any other corn – around 12- to 15-inch cobs.”
3. Austin’s Landrace F1
“I was the program director at Cultivate Kansas City for a few years, and while I was there, a group of farmers combined Oaxacan Green dent corn, Hopi Pink flour corn, Missouri Pipe dent corn and Po’suwaegah Blue dent corn into a single population. They didn’t water them; they just let nature do its thing and it created a drought-resistant variety that’s slowly evolving to the landscape.”
The Buffalo Seed Co. seeds are available for purchase on the company’s website and at local stores including The Merc Co+op and Cottins Hardware & Rentals in Lawrence, Kansas, and Family Tree Nursery in Overland Park and Shawnee.
The Buffalo Seed Co., thebuffaloseedcompany.com