Baker Creek Invites and Un-invites Cliven Bundy to Speak

A deleted Facebook announcement for Bundy’s appearance.

This week the sedate world of edible gardening saw an unusual burst of controversy not related to either double digging or the use of Miracle Grow. Baker Creek Seeds found themselves at the center of a social medial firestorm after inviting Cliven Bundy to speak at their Spring Planting Festival on May 5th and 6th at their headquarters in Mansfield, Missouri. Bundy is the patriarch of a family at the center of a grazing dispute that led to an armed occupation and standoff with federal law enforcement at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon in 2014. Bundy’s talk was to be about a crookneck variety of watermelon that he grows.

Reaction on social media to the announcement was swift and pointed to Bundy’s politics as well as racist statements in which Bundy suggested that African-Americans would be better off as slaves. A hashtag got started: #BoycottBakerCreek.

After initially defending the invitation, Baker Creek decided to cancel the talk. In a statement on Facebook Baker Creek said, “Although we had seen a few news clippings over the years, we were naively unaware of the controversies surrounding him.” Their equivocal apology concludes with, “We do believe in rights of free speech and letting people be heard, even if we disagree with their ideals. But at this time, due to security and other issues raised by many of you, all parties think it would be better to research the situation, read the information that has been sent to us by customers.[sic]”

Given that an interview of Bundy, posted on Baker Creek’s blog and posted to YouTube, took place at the Nevada Southern Detention Center and noted a “nationally publicized dispute,” it’s hard to believe that they would be unaware of the events that led to his detention (he was released in late 2017 after the judge declared a mistrial in his case). Promoting him as a “living legend of the Old West” and a “lands rights activist” implies a less than neutral endorsement of Bundy’s beliefs and tactics, in my opinion. One is also left to wonder if their apology suggests that they would have gone through with the talk if they had the budget to keep threatened protestors at a distance.

It’s not the first time I’ve witnessed some haphazard curatorial decisions on a Baker Creek event roster. Speakers at their Santa Rosa Heirloom festival, in past years, included many well known experts in gardening and farming but also pseudoscientists such as “Food Babe” Vani Deva Hari and Joseph Mercola. This week’s Bundy kerfuffle leaves me scratching my head about Baker Creek’s ideological commitments and discernment.

For an in-depth dive into the story of the Bundy Family listen to the six part Oregon Public Broadcasting podcast Bundyville.

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14 Comments

  1. Gayla Trail of You Grow Girl alerted everyone in her IG feed to this and I was astonished—but moreso that I didn’t realize there was a history with Baker Creek and Bundy already. I’m not on Twitter but I did go to the source feed that outed this and was not impressed with BK’s replies.

    I’m sad to say they are on my ‘do not buy’ list now—and I love their cookbook and what used to be their magazine.

  2. I stopped patronizing Baker Creek several years ago. I now see that my intuitions were correct.
    Too bad, but I try to do business with entities that are consistent with my beliefs.

  3. They have beautiful seed selection and catalogue, but I can find most everything they sell, by being a Member of Seed Savers Exchange, plus several other seed organizations.

  4. Oh no! I was going to order some tomatillo seeds from them as good ones are hard to source down under. I found their catalog enjoyable and exciting (all those tomatoes!) even if I was a little put off by all the gingham. Even a weak association with Bundy makes my skin crawl a bit. Thanks for this. I didn’t know.

  5. Wow, I’d missed this whole story. This just sounds like either pure laziness on the part of Baker Seeds or else (more likely) playing dumb when they realized it was going to hurt them.
    Also, disagreeing with someone’s ideals yet respecting them is one thing, but being a racist does not count as a personal ideal in my book, it just makes someone an a-hole who should not be invited to anything.
    Their promotional language for him sounds more a bit romanticizing of the white colonialism of the “Old West” though, so maybe they find his politics charming.

    • I agree. Seems to me like the original announcement is an endorsement of Bundy’s political ideas and when that wasn’t greeted well they backpedaled when, as you suggest, they realized it was bad for business. It’s one thing to interview a controversial subject for a journalistic endeavor but it’s an entirely different matter to invite that person to speak at a gardening event. In fact, it’s just plain bizarre–almost like having Richard Spencer come to talk about his favorite cucumbers.

      If anyone from Baker Creek is reading this comment thread and wants to talk to me and clarify what happened please send Root Simple an email.

    • Not to mention that Bundy’s family has been stealing from the American people since he stopped paying on the use of federal lands AND that he raised that group of crazies that took over the Wildlife Reserve in Oregon a couple years ago.

      There is NOTHING defensible about this family and anyone who does business with them does it at their own peril, if you ask me.

    • Well, another suspicious thing about this whole kerfuffle is marketing watermelon seeds as coming from an “ancient Native American” source. Watermelon is from Africa and wasn’t grown in the New World until at least the later part of the 16th century.

  6. Bundy is pretty egregious since he was on national news in an armed stand-off and all. It also seems that Beker knew what they were getting when they booked Bundy in the first place.

    But I honestly wonder in general, when inviting someone to talk about watermelons or some such, how much of a background check should the host do to see if the speaker is a nut-job of some non-gardening variety?

  7. This makes me so sad! Baker creek has always been a bit odd, with all the long dresses and overalls and an unusual combination of fundamentalist Christian and vegan hippie ideals. But I’ve been willing to go along with it because the Heirloom Expo in Santa Rosa has always been a wonderful place for our business to connect with thoughtful gardeners.

    Also, to add more confusion to the political mix: the Baker Creek Owners’ daughters are named Sacha and Malia.

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