The daughter of seed savers, guest blogger Steph Gaylor has been saving seeds since she was a child. She founded Invincible Summer Farms in 2005, selling fresh vegetables and saving rare seeds. She and Cheryl Frey started Salt of the Earth Seed Company last year. The Long Island Regional Seed Consortium (LIRSC) was founded in 2011 by Ms. Gaylor and Ken Ettlinger. LIRSC is a participating group in Seed Savers Exchange's Community Seed Resource Program. Here, Steph presents what she learned from hosting LIRSC's first event in February.
Humans have been exchanging seeds as long as we've been intentionally growing plants – about 20,000 years, give or take a millennium or so.
A successful community seed exchange requires some planning. Even if the event is completely free, if people leave feeling frustrated or confused, that can be worse than having no event at all. So here are our tips to help you prepare a successful swap. Don’t worry too much – I’ve always found that people who love plants and seeds are generous by nature, and it isn't hard to keep their good energy going once you have it.
Four tips to make your seed swap a success
1. Pick good partners
Collaborate with people who can help make the day a success. It takes a village to create the event and maintain the exchange on the big day. Depending on the size of your event, it will require a lot of time, planning, and execution to make it a success. Swaps can encompass the need for things like seed donations, maps, advertisement, and organizing the volunteers. The larger the swap, the more details come into play, and the more people needed to ensure a successful event. For our event of roughly 300 attendees, we had three people doing intensive planning work for two months before the swap. For example, we created a website to answer FAQs and list materials for participants. We solicited seed donations because the idea of a swap was new, and we weren't certain there would be a lot of folks who already had seeds to share. On the day of the event we had 15 volunteers who were each assigned different jobs to help the swap run smoothly. We couldn’t have done it without this team.
2. Create a welcoming atmosphere
Even though ours was a first-time event for the area, there was already much interest in a seed swap. Long Island has a large group of farmers, gardeners, and homesteaders, so we had an inkling that the swap would be on the larger side. We held our event at a college, so the size of the group could be flexible. Make sure your swap reflects your community and is inviting to newcomers. In addition to the swap, we included some raffle prizes and had two seed saving talks that created interest and both answered questions and invited more conversation. For people new to seed saving, this had an enormous benefit. They were able to walk away feeling confident that they had the tools to implement a seed saving plan, even though they had never saved seeds before.
3. Let everyone know what to bring
What constitutes an acceptable item for your exchange? We were primarily interested in creating a seed saving community, so we agreed that while folks can bring commercial OP seed left over from last year, F1 hybrids would not be allowed. You might also allow scions, bulbs, and tubers at your event. Make sure your swappers know in advance what they should bring and how they should bring it. Do they need bags? How should the seeds be labeled?
The fourth critical piece is getting the word out. We contacted many people in a wide range of organizations whom we had worked with previously and who had shown an interest in what we were already doing with seeds. They responded enthusiastically and gave our event a shout out, wrote an article or took photos. While this was a first-time seed swap for our area, the broad publicity efforts brought together a diverse group of people who, unbeknownst to each other, were already saving seeds in small groups. We formed a brand new community around a shared interest in seeds!
To learn more about SSE's Community Seed Resource Program, click the button below.
Seed Savers Exchange is a non-profit organization located in Decorah, Iowa, with a mission to conserve and promote America's culturally diverse but endangered garden and food crop heritage for future generations by collecting, growing, and sharing heirloom seeds and plants.