Guelph barber sprouting seed business during pandemic lockdown

Matthew Forbes’ home backyard greenhouse features a piece of glass salvaged from his downtown barber shop. Looking for something to do during the pandemic lockdown in the spring of 2020, Forbes started a seed company. He still cuts hair, but moved that b
  • Matthew Forbes packs seeds at his kitchen table.  The barber started Saturday Seed Co., which he describes as a "very small business," to give her something to do after pandemic restrictions closed her store.

Matthew Forbes knows that something small can also be amazing – full of potential.

When lockdowns related to the COVID-19 pandemic forced the Guelph barber to temporarily close shop in the spring of 2020, he did what many in similar positions have done: he started a new business.

But the Saturday Seed Co. isn’t just a small business, according to Forbes, it’s “a very small business.”

Through his company Saturday Seed Co., Matthew Forbes sells a variety of organic seeds for everything from vegetables to flowers.
Through his company Saturday Seed Co., Matthew Forbes sells a variety of organic seeds for everything from vegetables to flowers. | Graeme McNaughton/Metroland

What he sells are seeds – organic, open-pollinated, non-GMO, untreated seeds – for vegetables, herbs and flowers, counting them and packing them in small, brightly labeled envelopes at his kitchen table.

“I’ve always had a great interest in seeds and I love gardening, so I thought, ‘How hard can this be?’ “says Forbes.

He learns as he goes.

In a black-jacketed notebook, he has drawn in pencil a plan of the vegetables he will cultivate this year on land he is borrowing for this purpose from friends of Moffat. He thinks he knows what the plants will do well side-by-side, but after writing his plan, he double-checks.

“I have books,” says Forbes, noting that the Guelph library was happy to sell him reference materials. “There are some really good books you can buy on the subject.”

He learned that some vegetables you might expect to grow here don’t grow well in this climate, and he learned that others take two years to produce seeds.

But Forbes doesn’t grow all the seeds himself. It focuses on sourcing organic seeds that are open pollinated – meaning the plants have been pollinated by birds, insects, wind, etc. – which will in turn produce “true to type” seeds.

Its selection includes heirloom varieties and rare seeds as well as popular gardening staples.

“My seed selection is curated,” says Forbes.

Currently, one of its most popular sellers is the Beefsteak Copia tomato, but it’s another tomato that is its most unique offering.

“Last summer I grew a variety of tomatoes that only I had,” Forbes says.

He calls them Nino’s Dough Tomatoes, named after the man who brought the seeds with him to Canada from Italy when he immigrated 60 years ago. The man was a neighbor of one of Forbes Barber Shop customers, who passed on the seeds.

It is a tomato that has been gradually acclimatized to the region for decades.

“It’s perfect for Guelph because it’s been there for 60 years,” says Forbes.

Other seeds he has grown himself include yellow pear tomatoes and Jamaican chocolate Scotch Bonnet peppers – the seeds from which he has to wear gloves and goggles to process them.

While Forbes’ seed collection includes things that will do well in Guelph, because it sells on its website— www.saturdayseedco.ca — its customers are all over the country.

“I currently have an order for Maple Ridge, British Columbia, and one for New Glasgow, Nova Scotia,” he says. “I ship nationwide.”

While Forbes is once again cutting hair full-time, having moved his downtown Guelph hair salon into his home, he has no plans to give up on his very small seed business.

In fact, he hopes to see Saturday Seed Co. thrive in full-time gigging and keep barbershop as a side business.

“Right now it’s only two full-time jobs,” he says.

Forbes says he took the second job because of the pandemic, but also because of his seeds of love — a love that kept growing.

“The reason I love seeds so much is the potential,” he says, awestruck by the experience of watching seeds sprout under the grow lights in his basement.

“It amazes me, every time.”

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