Germination presents a series of stories on the 20 most influential people in the seed sector in 2018. Want to nominate someone for 2019? Email email@example.com with the subject line “Top 20 nomination”!
In a world where big-box stores everywhere now offer products (including seed) aimed at the backyard gardener, 33-year-old Emily Tregunno has made it part of her life’s work to show that an independent family business can not only survive, but also thrive in a world where even green thumbers are a major target of corporate Canada.
She’s a fourth-generation owner of Halifax Seed, a company founded in 1866. Halifax Seed operates two retail locations — one in Halifax, Nova Scotia, and the other in Saint John, New Brunswick.
It’s actually Canada’s oldest continuously operating family-owned seed company and has evolved to be a market leader in the horticultural and agriculture industry in Atlantic Canada for both wholesale customers as well as home gardeners. The company has been a recipient of the Canadian Association of Family Enterprise’s Family Enterprise of the Year Award.
Tregunno and her sister Alison currently operate it together along with a management team, taking over for their father Tim, who was known as a stalwart of the Canadian seed industry. He served as president of the Canadian Seed Trade Association and posthumously received the CSTA’s Honorary Membership Award in 2012.
“When I eventually chose to get into the family business, I really wanted his business vision to be carried on. He believed we have something special to offer that no one else can. Sure, you can purchase the same tomato seed here as you can down the road in a big-box store or a parking lot pop-up. The difference between what you get here versus what you get there is that at Halifax Seed, we’re going to ensure you’re successful,” Tregunno says.
Halifax Seed trains its staff to ask the right questions. Are you a new gardener? Have you grown these varieties? What direction does your patio face? Is it really windy where you live?
“We want our customers to be lifetime gardeners, and that won’t happen if we sell them something that’s not right for their needs.”
Tregunno has embraced social media and says it has been a boon for the company. “Because we’re a small business, we’re able to stay on top of connecting with people and engaging them. Being up on gardening trends is important.”
The company has seed racks in almost every small community in Atlantic Canada. Halifax Seed’s immense reach offers Tregunno and staff the opportunity to educate consumers about modern technology like GM.
“For the most part we stay out of that debate, but it’s an opportunity to inform people that there is no GM lettuce on the market, for example. We’re able to help educate them and ease people’s minds by explaining how these garden varieties are derived, that GMOs are not developed for the home garden market. Those concerns have really decreased in general over the last two years, as we’ve been able to arm them with knowledge and good information.”
Tregunno herself has followed in her dad’s footsteps, volunteering her time to the industry in a number of capacities. She attends CSTA meetings and also makes a regular habit of attending the American Seed Trade Association’s Vegetable and Flower Seed Conference. She’s been involved on the CSTA turf and forage committee and has also been the Seed Sector Value Chain Roundtable’s vegetable seed representative.
Her daughter just turned two, and while entering the family business will certainly be an option for her, Tregunno says there won’t be any pressure to do so.
“I want her to have the same opportunity I had to do what she wants. Growing up, I knew my dad owned a seed store. I knew what he did, but it was never forced on us. It was never discussed at the dinner table. He was my dad when he was at home — he was not a businessman. He coached our soccer games, took us skiing and always kept work out of family life.”