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CLIFFORD J. EIDEMILLER - " The Seed Whisperer"

(view Cliff's obituary here)

It is with great sadness that I must tell you that Cliff, my wonderful friend and "silent partner" in Amishland Heirloom Seeds, passed away on my birthday, February 1, 2017. He fought a long, cowboy-brave battle with cancer. I thought all of you who have purchased the seeds he lovingly grew for me and read his delightful descriptions would want to know.

I will give you a little history and background of how Cliff became a special part of my life.

In 2003, I was selling my seeds on Ebay. I raised and saved these seeds organically from my own garden plants. I wanted to test market them to see if it would be a viable idea for an online website business. One of my first customers was Cliff. He purchased my super rare Black Afghani Carrot, after being the winner in the auction, with bidders vying for the rare seeds at crazy prices. I notified him he had won the auction and gave my him my email address and phone number. And, well, the rest is history. Cliff kept in touch, and kept buying my seeds and we started emailing back and forth.

In one of our telephone conversations, he told me he was a dairy farmer. I was dating a dairy farmer at the time who was having some issues with his calves. I asked Cliff for advice and he graciously helped out. The calves did well and we kept in touch. So I guess you can say seeds and cows actually brought us together!

Its hard to give a clear timeline, but when I started my website, Amishland Heirloom Seeds, about 2 years later, Cliff offered to grow some vegetables and fruit to increase my offerings. He sent me various beans, and cantaloupe, watermelon, cucumber and muskmelon seeds as well. The most memorable moment for me at the time was when he got really excited about growing an almost extinct melon. It was called "Ein Dor" and was from Israel. Now our website is the only place in the world you can get these seeds, thanks to Cliff. The feedback on them is that they are "the most delicious cantaloupes anyone had ever tasted , ever ..."

Living in Pennsylvania, I know from bitter experience it is not a conducive place to grow successful melons in quantity of any sort, as our humid climate and rainfall bring in many fungal diseases that decimate the crops. So, Cliff's offer to grow melons for me was especially welcome.

For a few years he would send me whatever he had grown and harvested, and refused to take any payment when I offered. We finally worked out a payment plan, but he still wasn't getting nearly enough for all his time and effort. But that's the way Cliff was, always generous and always more than fair.

Finding rare and endangered seeds often sounded like a spy novel, with both of us seeking them out in far off lands like Croatia, Slovenia, Belarus and other East European and former Soviet countries. I had my sources in Germany and France, which for some strange reason are hotbeds of tomato growing, despite their cold climate. And so it went. We'd talk on the phone about scoring seeds like it was something a bit dangerous. My history of working for 18th century living-history museums offered great contacts for heirloom seeds as well.

Cliff spent countless hours doing research, especially on beans. He also scoured the internet for sources of seeds, particularly beans. He contacted the best people in the business and made many friends. When I wanted to give him a gift it was usually rare or out of print books on gardening. I also love to do research, and I am a book lover, so we were kindred spirits there.

I remember how thrilled Cliff was when I found seeds for him to grow out in quantity. i recall getting the limas from the "saffron twins," my plain Mennonite friends. They were identical twins who made a living growing and selling saffron. They gave me the greatest gift: 15 lima beans they had been given that had been frozen for 30 years! I sent these to Cliff, who ecstatically reported they were not only beautiful but the most prolific limas he'd ever grown. We called them "HUBER TWINS' FLORIDA BUTTER BEAN POLE MIX" as there were 3 colors in that original handful.

Both Cliff and I found Benjamin Judd, an elderly man in Sparta Tenn. He sold us several types of his "old timey" beans. He included notes in his spidery handwriting telling their folksy history. We now are the only source of his 3 beans: BEN JUDD'S 'GRANNY MESSENGER'S SULFUR POLE BEAN, MRS. CLARK'S SHORT CUT POLE BEAN, and MRS. WALLACE'S CASEKNIFE BEAN. I have very few of these beans left and this is clearly one of the reasons I am arranging to grow these beans for posterity as Cliff would have wanted. Benjamin Judd passed away and if weren't for Cliff and I, his precious beans would have been lost forever.

LUTHER CROOKED GREASY BEAN was a gift from a South Carolina historian who visited me bearing my favorite gift: seeds. It is a rare family heirloom. Again, another bean that would have been lost if not for Cliff's work.

I only actually met Cliff once in person. He drove up from a family wedding (I believe in Virginia), just for us to meet. We spent the day driving all over my beautiful Lancaster County, PA countryside. I took him to see many Amish and Old Order (horse and buggy) Mennonite farms. Cliff was in heaven and couldn't believe how green and lush everything was, and how fat and healthy the cows were! We kept stopping by the roadside just to photograph the cows! The Amish don't want you to take photos of them for religious reasons, but one farmer clearly saw we were only interested in his cows, and waved to us.

I took Cliff to a Mennonite owned dry goods store, which is like walking back in time. Many locals won't use electricity so there are oil lamps and hand tools and so forth from 100 years ago. Cliff spotted saffron bulbs for sale and got so excited he bought nearly all their stock (coincidentally, they were grown by the "Saffron Twins" I mentioned earlier). Oh, and Cliff bought me big, heavy duty steel fence posts there as a gift, as only a fellow grower would know I needed them.

Cliff's breeding work was meticulous and he kept copious notes in his teeny tiny printing. I always marveled how he could write so small with those huge hands of his!

I'd like to share a few stories to help show what a kind, and generous soul Cliff was. I remember him telling me of a black man who came through his area selling his own paintings out of his run down car. As he was obviously down on his luck Cliff bought one of his paintings and paid him $100.

A few years back, Cliff was experimenting with growing garbanzo (chickpea) beans. He would sometimes take his veggies to a small farmer's market he was working to get started. The local Mexican community saw his fresh garbanzos and asked him to grow them and sell them "Mexican style" in little bouquets tied up with a bow made from the stems. He agreed, and they were so thrilled to have a taste of home, many families invited him to authentic dinners in their own homes. Cliff had a rather tender tummy when it came to spiciness or corn. He "died a thousand deaths" as he said, just so as not to offend them.

Cliff not only grew seeds for me but he did so much more. He took very evocative photos of all the beans, cucumbers, and melons as well. Not just a picture of a melon, but he sliced it open to show its colors. He then put it on a pretty plate, with silverware and so on to look especially attractive. And he sent me his short but very detailed and informative descriptions as well. Please take the time to see his wonderful photos and descriptions.

Cliff was a very gifted photographer and over the years sent me several large landscapes of the beautiful Idaho countryside. I have framed them and they are on the wall where I can enjoy them daily when I am on the computer.

Cliff's mind was always going a mile a minute as he planned for the future. I gave him carte blanche to do whatever he saw fit growing-wise. But I did often beg him to re-grow some things that were popular sellers. He liked to diversify and seldom wanted to grow the same thing twice. We never argued but we sometimes didn't quite agree on what to re-grow.

Cliff would always take it so personally if something didn't immediately take off with the customers. I had to remind him that with the kinds of rare seeds we were offering, people had never heard of them and needed time to get used to them. Oftentimes, it would take a year for them to become popular, but then we could barely keep up with the demand. He started out hating lima beans, but this last year that is what he mainly grew in the bean family.

Cliff's passing has left a huge hole in my life. I miss our often daily emails and telephone conversations. I will miss our plans for our shared farming future. He was always working such unbelievably long hours on the ranch, plus at his other jobs as well, and so very earnestly. He had the strongest work ethic of anyone I have known. He was so willing to go that extra mile to save seeds from being lost.

I feel so full of gratitude to have known and worked with him all these years. I do believe that Cliff was the "seed whisperer." 2018