2011-09-22 / Local & State

Historic Central Pa. Seed Company In Jeopardy

By ANDREW SHAW
THE YORK DISPATCH

NEW FREEDOM, Pa. (AP) – A 227-year-old New Freedom company that at one point supplied seed to George Washington and is one of the oldest continuously operating companies in America is in danger of going out of business.

Now staff members are using a fervent online campaign and plea for help to help support the D. Landreth Seed Co., which needs to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars this fall to remain open.

Landreth started in Philadelphia in 1784 and moved around the region until settling in New Freedom around 2006 after being purchased by Barb Melera and her husband, Peter.

Landreth has long been well-known in the gardening world for its heirloom seeds, Melera said.

That’s not to mention Landreth’s introducing America to zinnias and the whitefleshed potato, among other achievements.

Now the company is in danger of folding because of more than $400,000 in loan payments to investors due immediately.

The money was originally due two years ago, and was caught up in courts until a judge recently ordered a freeze on Landreth’s bank accounts.

Landreth is hoping to raise at least $250,000 by the end of the month through donations and sales, particularly off its full-color 2012 seed catalog.

Without at least that much, the accounts will likely remain frozen, bills won’t get paid and 227 years of history and growth – in all senses of the word – vanish.

Melera said she’s not upset people who had lent Landreth money sought payment.

The money was due in 2009, and Melera’s plan to return the company to profitability was behind schedule because Landreth had several broken pieces of equipment and was way behind on technology.

“Accounting had been done on index cards. They were using a typewriter,’’ Melera said of how things were done before 2003.

The loan was to help update Landreth “after 75 years of neglect,’’ Melera said. The company has since become profitable again, she said.

Vendors and customers have both stood by the company’s side, she said with tears in her eyes, offering to make deals to keep Landreth afloat in the short-term.

The online campaign through Facebook has helped drum up about $50,000 in catalog orders, and about $800 has been donated.

Now Landreth hopes to get some big donors or investors willing to buy thousands of catalogs to help raise enough money to make up the significant gap.

The $5 catalogs are Landreth’s bread-and-butter, as the company specializes in 800-plus organic, heirloom vegetable, fruit and flower seeds hard to find in chain stores.

“It’s a resource if you want to know the history of the things you eat,’’ Melera said.

Plus, the catalogs are full of advice, something Landreth officials started including in the mid-1800s to help immigrants.

That’s what Melera said she is hoping to protect, more than just saving a locally owned and operated business.

“This is our legacy. It’s not the Enrons and AIGs. This is as much America today as it was 200 years ago,’’ she said.

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