Will Bonsall
Will Bonsall

(1949-01-01) January 1, 1949 (age 75)
  • Author, (vegan) farmer, and seed collector
Years activeUnknown–present
Molly Thorkildsen
(m. 0000; div. 2021)

Will Bonsall is an American author, seed saver and veganic farmer who lives in Maine.[1][2][3] He is a regular speaker about seed saving, organic farming and veganic farming.[4]


Bonsall was born in Waterville, Maine in 1949. He graduated from the University of Maine at Orono in 1971[5] and moved to San Francisco and hiked across the U.S. and Mexico. He later returned to Maine to build a homestead on 85 acres in Industry, Maine called Khadighar Farm.[6] In 2010, he self-published a science fiction novel called Through the Eyes of a Stranger (Yaro Tales).

Bonsall was married to Molly Thorkildsen and has two grown sons.[7][8] He is the founder of the Scatterseed Project and does write for organic gardening publications,[9] does talks about gardening,[10] and he does share vegan recipes.[11]

Will Bonsall's Essential Guide

In 2015, Chelsea Green published Will Bonsall’s Essential Guide to Radical, Self-reliant Gardening: Innovative Techniques for Growing Vegetables, Grains, and Perennial Food Crops with Minimal Fossil Fuel and Animal Inputs.

Seed saving

In 1981, Bonsall founded the Scatterseed Project.[12] In 1986, the Christian Science Monitor reported on Bonsall and his work saving seeds and saving heirloom crops. In the early 1990s Bonsall did help found Seed Savers Exchange in Iowa to preserve heirloom seeds and share seeds.[13] Differences with Seed Savers Exchange later caused problems. Potato Grower reported: "The Seed Savers Exchange and Bonsall quit each other at roughly the same time, with the group no longer giving him what Torgrimson said was an annual stipend of between $13,000 and $15,000 to grow out his collection for them, and Bonsall no longer listing his vast collection of potatoes and seeds in the group’s annual yearbook. His mysterious absence from the pages of those books, and the possible cause of it, became a question bandied about on Seed Savers’ online forum throughout 2013."[14]

In 2014, Bonsall founded the Grassroots Seed Network and the Portland Press Herald reported: "Nationally and even internationally, Bonsall is known as the curator of a collection of both rare and common potato varieties. The U.S. Department of Agriculture sends him potatoes it thinks might interest him. Someone in Norway might send him a few samples."[6]

In 2016, Bonsall was featured in the documentary "SEED: The Untold Story."[15][16][17]

In 2020, Down East Magazine wrote: "Bonsall’s dispersal efforts have been so prolific that he often finds himself chasing his own tail. He’ll receive what he’s told is a rare variety of such-and-such, but in trying to trace it back to its original source, he’ll find it came from someone who got it from someone who got it from an old hippie in western Maine."[5] DownEast Magazine later did report the article about Bonsall was the #1 most-read story of 2020.[18]

In 2020, WCAI radio reporter Elspeth Hay reported: "Around 2013, Bonsall says his collections collapsed. He couldn’t get the funding or the labor he needed to keep growing so many thousands of seeds. He still has a lot—his potato collection for instance is down to 200 varieties—but remember it used to be 700, and for him, it’s a huge loss. He says he can get many of the seeds he had back—since he’s sent so many to other growers around the world. But he’s seventy. He doesn’t want to build up his collection again just to lose it—he wants to make it sustainable, to find a way to train young farmers and pass The Scatterseed Project on."[19][20]

Veganic farming

Bonsall is a vegan and a proponent of veganic farming, which doesn't use animal products such as manure.[21][22] In 2015, Chelsea Green published Will Bonsall’s Essential Guide to Radical, Self-reliant Gardening: Innovative Techniques for Growing Vegetables, Grains, and Perennial Food Crops with Minimal Fossil Fuel and Animal Inputs.[23] He writes articles about crops for farming publications.[24]

Bonsall was quoted by The Guardian newspaper in 2019 as saying that - "We vegans like to put on our plates [vegetables] grown in methods that are very un-vegan."[25] He said manure, blood meal and other animal products that are being used for agriculture are what is causing the vegetables to be un-vegan. In 2018, the Portland Press Herald vegan columnist Avery Yale Kamila reported: "Bonsall credits his “obsession with self-reliance,” interest in sustainable living, appreciation for organic farming, and an allergy to ruminant meat with propelling him toward vegan eating and farming. About five years after starting the farm in 1971, he began to question the conventional wisdom around obtaining fertilizer from animals."[22]

In 2019, The Guardian said of Bonsall's farming: "Bonsall’s is one of just 50 or so veganic farms in the United States, according to research by Professor Mona Seymour of Loyola Marymount University."[25]

In 2019, Bonsall shared his recipe for succotash with PBS program Kitchen Vignettes. Host Aube Giroux said: "For his version of this traditional Native American dish, Will uses four main ingredients grown on his farm: corn, red pepper, zucchini, and the star of the show: shell beans."[26]

He has been described as a "vegan homesteader."[27]

In 2020, Bonsall was interviewed by radio host Caryn Hartglass and he said that veganic farming is better than organic farming or permaculture farming because those systems "involve growing a lot of things from seed to an animal and then eat the animal. To me, that basically nullifies the main advantage of permaculture; not killing and all that kind of stuff. When you put that stuff through an animal then you loose so much of the efficiency of it, like 90% throwing away. I just don’t get it. I think there is something more organic than organic and I think there’s something more permaculture than permaculture. Those are the things I’m trying to aim at and discuss in a lot of my books."[4]

Vegetable claims

In 2019, The Guardian reported that Bonsall said most vegetables are "very un-vegan.”[25] Bonsall has said he is one of the "few vegans in the world who actually eats a 100 percent plant-based diet" because he grows his own food and "can vouch that it’s animal-free."[28]

Personal life

In late 2021, Will briefly mentioned he was going through a divorce with his now-former wife, Molly Thorkildsen while teaching some students about composting. He also mentioned that he was 72 years old, although an exact date of birth is still unknown.


In 2020, The Portland Press Herald awarded Bonsall the Source Seed Saver award. Portland Press Herald reporter Bob Keyes reported: "He has 1,100 varieties of peas and other legumes, including chickpeas, favas and runner beans. He has one of the largest Jerusalem artichoke seed collections in North America, and has more varieties of parsnip seeds than just about anybody anywhere."[29]

Selected works


  1. ^ "The Maine Farmer Saving the World's Rarest Heirloom Seeds". Down East. March 31, 2020. Retrieved April 21, 2020.
  2. ^ Thompson, Sylvia (August 27, 2016). "Seeds of change". The Irish Times. Retrieved February 11, 2020.
  3. ^ "Preserving 'heirloom' crops Down East". Christian Science Monitor. December 30, 1986. ISSN 0882-7729. Retrieved January 7, 2021.
  4. ^ a b "Will Bonsall, Radical, Self-Reliant Gardening | RESPONSIBLE EATING AND LIVING". Retrieved August 20, 2020.
  5. ^ a b Poppick, Laura (March 31, 2020). "The Maine Farmer Saving the World's Rarest Heirloom Seeds". Down East Magazine. Retrieved April 9, 2020.
  6. ^ a b Pols, Mary (February 16, 2014). "Maine farmer, seed curator forms new grass-roots group". Portland Press Herald. Retrieved February 11, 2020.
  7. ^ Northeast Organic Farming Association of New Hampshire
  8. ^ Dawling P. Book Review: Will Bonsall’s Essential Guide to Radical, Self-Reliant Gardening. Sustainable Market Farming: Intensive Vegetable Production on a Few Acres (Blog)
  9. ^ Bonsall, Will (January 1, 2016). "Using Green Manure - Organic Gardening". Mother Earth News. Retrieved February 12, 2020.
  10. ^ "Waterville Seed Library starts April 12". Kennebec Journal and Morning Sentinel. April 9, 2021. Retrieved April 10, 2021.
  11. ^ "Yacon – An Exciting 'Root' Crop from the Andes". www.mofga.org. Retrieved May 16, 2020.
  12. ^ English, Jean (December 30, 1986). "Preserving 'heirloom' crops Down East". Christian Science Monitor. ISSN 0882-7729. Retrieved February 11, 2020.
  13. ^ "The Seed Saver's Predicament". Modern Farmer. October 27, 2020. Retrieved December 17, 2020.
  14. ^ "Maine Seed Curator Forms New Grassroots Group". www.potatogrower.com. Retrieved December 17, 2020.
  15. ^ DeFore, John (September 23, 2016). "'Seed: The Untold Story': Film Review". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved February 12, 2020.
  16. ^ Anna, Brones (April 27, 2017). "Fighting for Seed Diversity: Documentary SEED: The Untold Story Now Screening on PBS". Paste Magazine. Retrieved February 11, 2020.
  17. ^ Turiano, Jennifer (March 31, 2017). "Maine farmer and seed-saver speaks at film screening in Greenwich". GreenwichTime. Retrieved February 12, 2020.
  18. ^ "The 10 Most-Read Down East Stories of the Year". Down East. December 31, 2020. Retrieved January 5, 2021.
  19. ^ Hay, Elspeth (April 2, 2020). "A World-Renowned Seed Saver Shares His Story". WCAI NPR for the Cape, Coast & Islands. Retrieved May 16, 2020.
  20. ^ "A World-Renowned Seed Saver Shares His Story". CAI. March 25, 2021. Retrieved April 10, 2021.
  21. ^ Glenza, Jessica (December 24, 2019). "Are vegetables vegan? The man taking aim at animal products in organic farming". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved February 12, 2020.
  22. ^ a b Kamila, Avery Yale (June 20, 2018). "Ever heard of veganic farming? Neither had we". Portland Press Herald. Retrieved February 12, 2020.
  23. ^ Wallace, Janet (September 1, 2016). "REVIEW - A farming book with attitude". Small Farm. Retrieved February 12, 2020.
  24. ^ "GRIT | Rural American Know-How". grit.com/. May 21, 2021. Retrieved June 20, 2021.
  25. ^ a b c Glenza, Jessica (December 24, 2019). "Are vegetables vegan? The man taking aim at animal products in organic farming". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved March 11, 2020.
  26. ^ Aube, Giroux (August 21, 2019). "Will Bonsall's Succotash | Kitchen Vignettes for PBS". PBS Food. Retrieved May 16, 2020.
  27. ^ "Food Autonomy: Will Bonsall on Vegan Homesteading & Radical Self Reliance". SOLE. April 25, 2019. Retrieved May 9, 2021.
  28. ^ LaVaux, Ari (September 29, 2016). "Vegan food may not be as "vegan" as you think". High Country News. Retrieved March 20, 2021.
  29. ^ Keyes, Bob (May 24, 2020). "The Seed Saver". Press Herald. Retrieved May 28, 2020.