Winter in Maine, midway through a now cold January we
note we have passed a milestone. Our friend and
colleague, Rob Johnston, founder of Johnny’s Selected
Seeds here in Maine retired this week. The event
represents a clear milestone and allows a time for
reflection about how far the Good Food Movement has come
in recent decades. The accompanying
Downeast Magazine article
provides good back ground to Rob and his iconic company,
Johnny’s Selected Seeds which now enters a new era.
Today we wrote the
article below and it is posted on the new
and improved Wood Prairie Blog.
Jim & Megan Gerritsen & Family
Wood Prairie Family Farm
here for the Wood Prairie Family Farm Home Page.
Rob Johnston, Founder of
Johnny’s Selected Seeds.
After 47 Years
Founder Rob Johnston Retires from ‘Johnny’s
In 1973, 22-year-old Rob
Johnston began his seed venture on a farm in New
Hampshire. Two years later he moved his nascent
operation to Ben & Ariel Wilcox’s organic
Peacemeal Farm in Dixmont, Maine. That move began
Rob’s and Johnny’s Selected Seeds’ enduring and
uninterrupted deep commitment to Maine. Over the
decades Rob became a respected seed breeder, organic
farmer and business entrepreneur. Johnny’s pioneering
dive into supplying the seed needs
neglected small vegetable farmers was both revolutionary
and profitable. It is no exaggeration to say that
Johnny’s was instrumental in helping fuel the future
local food movement.
We purchased our first seed
from Rob in 1975. Thirty years ago we sold our
first organic Maine Certified Seed Potatoes to
Johnny’s Selected Seeds.
For most of the
twenty-five years Jim served on the MOFGA Certification
Committee beginning in the mid 1980s, he worked with Rob
who was Chair.
In the early 2000s, after great
success had been achieved and as Johnny’s was ramping up
towards yet more significant growth – and vastly
increased administrative responsibilities – Rob decided
it was time to sell the company. In a move which
offered insight into Rob’s integrity
commitment to Maine and his loyal co-workers, he
attached to the sale the requirement that Johnny’s MUST
not be moved away from Maine. This stipulation in
effect created a poison pill and dissuaded interested
competitors from afar who would have loved to have
acquired Johnny’s and roll its iconic title into a
distant portfolio. In time the best option
floated to the surface
and that was to initiate an
employee buyout. In a very involved and
painstaking procedure, that ownership transition began
in 2006 and was successfully completed in 2012.
Johnny’s Selected Seeds is now a 100% employee-owned
company and offers substantial benefits to its
employee-owners. In the years during and since the
employee-ownership transition, Rob has continued
working, breeding and guiding Johnny's. The last
figure we heard a few years ago is that Johnny’s annual
sales were at that time $42 Million.
Tuesday was Rob’s last day as
he officially ended duties and stepped down from the
Board of Directors. Tuesday evening a celebratory
for Rob and his legacy was held at Thomas
College in Waterville. Caleb and Jim
attended. So did one hundred Johnny’s employees,
also Johnny’s Board members (including Agrarian Elders
Norbert Kungl and Jack Algiere), and Johnny’s Tool
Inventors/Advisors Agrarian Elders Eliot Coleman &
Barbara Damrosch. Also in attendance was Peacemeal
Farm’s Ben Wilcox who in later years had become a
Rob and his wife, Janika Eckert
(as well an accomplished seed breeder), own a house in
France and have been spending increasing amounts of time
there. They also share intensive bicycling as
another passion enjoyed together. This article
in ‘Downeast Magazine’
background on Rob and his phenomenal achievements with
Johnny’s Selected Seeds. Well-respected in the seed
industry, Rob leaves behind quite a legacy.
Click Here for our Organic Wood Prairie Family
Farm Maine Certified Seed Potatoes.