When Tim Mountz was given an old jar of beans one day, he never would have known it would lead him to his calling. But learning about extinct and heirloom seeds excited a passion, and today his company Happy Cat Farm grows and sells their own seeds, edible plants, produce and artisanal foods. Read on to hear his story, along with his farming philosophy and the inspiration for the name “Happy Cat.”
Tell us the story of your grandfather’s legacy and how you became interested in gardening.
“Legacy” is a good word for it, because a legacy chooses you, you don’t choose it. The journey begins with deep family roots, ancient soils and an old jar of beans.
As fate would have it, my grandfather was killed in a car accident, and while settling the estate my grandmother came across a jar of beans. Me being the next serious gardener of the lineage, the jar was passed to me. The following Christmas my aunt gave me a book by William Woys Weaver, “The Heirloom Vegetable Gardener.” I contacted him and told him what was given to me, and he was overwhelmed with excitement at finding beans in a jar from Lancaster County, Pa. This was the beginning of a friendship, and I ended up working for him for a year. The first time we met I showed him the jar, and he poured the beans upon the table and read me the story of them, one of which was traded directly from Native Americans to Germanic colonists. Another was traded from freed African Americans or runaway slaves. Two of the beans, we are still doing research on. And the one he saved for last he pressed into my hand and said that this bean had not been seen in 70 years. It was extinct!
After that, seed saving became my passion. That passion became my way of life.
What is the philosophy behind your products? How does sustainability play into your approach?
Our philosophy is, we are gastro- farmers who are bound to our region. Happy Cat Farm is dedicated to growing the best tomatoes ever in our pursuit of seed-to-table agriculture. Our farm is given over to capturing the moments of a Pennsylvania summer.
We borrow a view of sustainability from the writer Wendell Berry. He says, “We stand for what we stand on.”
What is the process involved in sourcing and collecting the seeds you sell?
Our collection comes from very diverse sources. People gift me seeds when I’m lecturing — international seed collecting organizations and the ever-growing American seed swap scene. The best seeds come from our friends and family who are entrusting us with their family heirlooms. These seeds are domestic and international.
What does “seed-to-table” farming mean to you, and why is it important?
Seed-to-table farming means that the kitchen starts in the field. The seed is the beginning of the story that ends on every plate. It’s important because without intact local seed systems, we have no true local food systems.
What are some of your favorite seeds you sell? Which do you use most?
We really enjoy selling tomato seeds because they make people happy. The seed that we use the most is arugula, because we have been saving our strain for eight years and, after tomatoes, it is what we are best known for.
Why “Happy Cat?”
Every garden needs the perfect sunny spot for the best tomato and a happy cat.
What are some of the biggest challenges of creating your products? Biggest rewards?
The biggest challenge is keeping up with the demand. Our biggest rewards are sharing our passions with a larger audience.
What are the most important things to keep in mind to succeed in gardening?
Grow what you love. Success in gardening comes from passion. You will spend more time and more effort towards what you care about and have greater focus on the things you find important, and that equals success.
What is your favorite way to enjoy tomatoes?
I like to quote Euell Gibbons, as what he refers to as “eating in the wind.” Picking a tomato off the vine and eating it under the humid Pennsylvania sun. We really also enjoy taking people on tours of the fields and making them walk through 300 plus varieties of tomatoes, teaching them about each varietal. Everyone leaves the fields with tomato seeds stuck to the front of their shirts.
P.S. The stains don’t come out.