What began in 1998 as a dream of then-17-year-old Jere Gettle to start a seed business has evolved into a destination with the largest selection of heirloom seeds in the country.
Located 5 miles outside Mansfield, Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds is based at a picturesque farm and business that sells a wide array of heirloom and other seeds. Visitors can also experience life in an authentic pioneer village, making it an attractive place to visit the next time a trip is planned to the Branson area.
Following his passion for preserving seeds, Gettle founded the company at the farm where he has lived since his family moved from Montana in search of better farming conditions. All of the production and distribution takes place at the farm where Gettle lives with his wife Emilee and their four children.
Gettle started his seed business with $100 he carried in a bucket to the local bank. Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds is now a multimillion-dollar company with almost 2,000 kinds of seeds for vegetables, flowers and herbs.
From an initial mailing of 250 seed catalogs in 1998, the company now distributes more than 750,000 catalogs. The Gettles have also established retail outlets in California and Connecticut.
In addition, they donate thousands of seed packages to fellow seed enthusiasts for gardening clubs, school organizations and community gardens.
In the early days, Gettle and a friend would drive around Mexico looking for seeds and the company funneled seeds into packages by hand. Today, Baker Creek deploys employees to several continents each year to find heirloom seeds and has enough high-capacity machines to pack about 8 million seed packages.
Baker Creek also holds a number of gardening-related festivals every year. That venture began in 2000 when Gettle organized a gathering for gardening enthusiasts, hoping 50 people would attend. In the end, it was an unexpected success — more than 250 people showed up.
Heritage festivals are now held on the first Sunday of every month, March through October, and a two-day spring planting festival takes place in May.
For the past three years, the two-day planting festival has drawn about 10,000 attendees every year. Visitors can listen to live music, tour the farm, make purchases from vendors on site, have a meal and share a love for seeds and gardening.
The festivals are held at Baker Creek's pioneer village, called Bakersville, with a seed store, seed warehouses, music barns, restaurant, old-time mercantile, herbal apothecary, bakery, garden museum, blacksmith shop, Western-themed jail, windmill and various breeds of livestock and heirloom poultry.
The restaurant serves Asian-themed vegan food for lunch Monday through Friday and during festivals. Whatever has been prepared by the chef is what is served that day. There are no prices on the menu, and visitors can donate what they wish for the meal.
The bakery, run by Gettle's mother, doesn't have a set schedule but is usually open on Sundays and during festivals. Visitors can purchase a variety of freshly made baked goods, such as cinnamon rolls, bread and sandwiches.
Baker Creek will also arrange free tours of the farm by request.
"Becoming a touristic destination has certainly been a pleasant surprise for Baker Creek," said Kathy McFarland, who handles media and public relations.
"People come here to share their passion for seeds or simply to enjoy a nice picnic outdoors with the family. We've really have turned into a very popular place to visit."
There is no charge to visit the farm and village, except for a $5 entrance fee for the two-day planting festival. The farm is open from Sunday through Friday.