The Seed Ambassadors Project

Bringing Biodiversity Back

Category: Seed Swaps

Seed Swaps for Everyone – “How To”

The world could always use more seed swaps and here are a few tips for organizing your own Seed Swap. (Thanks to Kim in central Virginia for the e-mail prompting this blog post.)

The folks at Seedy Sunday Brighton have a whole page devoted to hosting a seed swap. Food not Lawns also has a bit about organizing one.

The first thing is to get some friends involved, because it can be a lot of work (organizing, set up, clean up, promotion, etc.). If you don’t know anyone that will help you, post some fliers at garden stores or your local natural foods store, or maybe even the community garden bulletin board if your community is lucky enough to have one.

We have seen a few ways seed swaps can be organized. You have to decide which is best for your group.

Seedy Sunday Brighton has a central table, and when people come in, they give their seeds to the table, then volunteers organize them for redistribution. This way seems overly centralized and impersonal to me, but it works for them, and it may be necessary to do it this way at an event that draws upwards of 1,000 people. They also charge a small entrance fee to cover their expenses and require either a straight across swap of seed for seed or 50 pence for a seed pack, partly because “people don’t value that which is free.” At every other seed swap I have been to, everything is free.

A second way is to set up tables and have people stand near their stuff, so they can explain it to others that might have questions. This is what we do at the smaller fall seed swap.

A third way, which is also good, is to set up tables and have designated areas for different types of plants: flowers, herbs, tomatoes, etc. this is what we do at our large spring seed swap.

Most seed swaps descend into a sort of chaos even with the rough framework, so you could just have some tables and have people toss their seeds wherever they land. Then it’s a real treasure hunt!

Some other tips:

* If the group is 30 people or less, it is nice to stand in a circle and have people introduce themselves and what they’ve brought. This gives the swap more of a community vibe.

* If you know any seed geeks or old gardener types, be sure and personally invite them to help ensure there are some good seeds there.

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Winter Cropping Workshop

Over 35 people turned out for the 6th annual Winter Cropping Workshop at Food for Lane County’s (FFLC) Youth Farm in Springfield.

Nick Routledge talks winter croping

Workshop presenters Ted Purdy, FFLC farmer; Andrew Still of the Seed Ambassadors Project; and Nick Routledge provided a wealth of information about the right conditions for growing good tasting and fresh vegetables—roots and greens—all winter long.  The three fielded questions from the audience about growing regionally appropriate varieties that provide enough calories for gardeners to feed themselves on a 100 mile diet even throughout the April/May hunger gap.

After the workshop a lively seed swap provided excellent varieties for getting a winter garden started.

Andrew Still (looking at the camera) gives away seeds

Andrew Still (looking at the camera) gives away seeds

Spring Seed Swap and a new Local Seed Stewardship Initiative

Yesterday was the Eugene Permaculture Guild’s annual Spring Seed Swap. Every year, hundreds of gardeners and seed savers convene for a few hours on a Saturday to share seeds, plants, and a potluck meal. The event is more than the free gifting of seeds, though, and has become a pivotal community event for the local gardening scene.

This year was the Seed Ambassadors Project’s first appearance at the spring seed swap, and we brought two grocery bags filled with seed that we have saved in the past few seasons. By the end of the day these bags were whittled down to one tenth of their original quantity. It is so great to think of so many local gardeners growing locally saved seeds! Of course, we did not come away empty handed, as we gathered samples of some locally saved tomatoes, orach, mustard, a gourd, a salsify, a parsley, a root parsley, and a blue flat leafed kale that we are really excited about.

Joy Larkcom’s Bull’s Blood Chard Ukrainian Beet Kamuoliai 2 Beet
Joy Larkcom’s Bull’s Blood Chard, Ukrainian Beet, Kamuoliai 2 Beet (from Lithuania)

We believe that it is essential that home gardeners and farmers save seed to preserve genetic diversity. It is apparent that even small seed companies are unable and/or unwilling to do so, as they must respond to the forces of the market and whims of the large seed companies. Locally stewarded seed is of course optimal, though national seed saving networks, such as the Seed Saver’s Exchange, are also very excellent in this regard. One of the goals of the Seed Ambassadors Project is to encourage local seed saving. Each time a variety of vegetable is saved in a particular bioregion (or microclimate or garden), it adapts to the specific conditions of that place. Ultimately, food sovereignty begins with seed sovereignty.

As we have mentioned in previous posts, our seed quest last winter resulted in the collection of more than seven hundred varieties of seed, many not available in the United States. Added to this amount are the fifty or so varieties we collected this year in Romania, and a few dozen other varieties collected by other friends Seed Ambassadorizing in Mexico and Italy. While we are doing everything we can to grow out as many of these varieties as possible in our own large seed garden, isolation distances required by many biennial outbreeders (beets and chard, brassicas, onions and leeks, parsnips and carrots) severely limit the amounts of these species we can grow out to seed in any given season.

Sarah Kleeger and John Herberg Gardening Russian Hunger Gap Kale Sarah Kleeger, Alison Kinney and Sutherlin Kale
Sarah and John Herberg with some onions, Russian Hunger Gap Kale, Alison Kinney with Sutherlin Kale

Last year we grew several of each of these species, not quite knowing how we would isolate them this year for flowering and seed production. Several people have contacted us through our website and offered to help (thank you!), and we are trying to plug these people in as much as possible.

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