Meet Michelle, an active CSRP (Community Seed Resource Program) member, who is bringing seed saving and swapping to life in her Wisconsin community.
In 2010 I attended a seed swap at the Urban Ecology Center in Milwaukee with a friend. And it was such a simple event: share what you don't need, take what you plan to use. I really enjoyed it, and when they didn't host one the following year, I was able to track down a different one in Milwaukee. During this same period of time, I relocated from closer in to the city to a suburb about an hour away from these venues. My husband, Aaron and I purchased our first home with an acre yard and LOADS of landscaping with perennials to share. Also, we became new parents. The added distance from the venues, plus the new baby and some encouraging friends, ended up pushing me toward simply hosting my own event at my home with personal friends, members of the Mukwonago Moms group (of which I was a new member) and a couple neighbors.
People really enjoyed it, and since it was in my home, they felt comfortable bringing little kids. Plus it was really a social event (cookies, coffee and on a cold Wisconsin day in March) that celebrated the joy of collective garden dreaming. The yearning for sunshine, and dirt and green and LIFE was a strong theme. In our minds, all our gardens are still perfect in March. No vine borers or squash bugs had ruined our pumpkin plans yet. And our winter amnesia had caused us to forget the hours spent lugging water during last summer's drought. I loved the shared daydreaming so much that I decided to throw a swap in my office too. And in both my office and my Mukwonago moms group, people discovered that perhaps they had hostas that needed to be split, or Johnny Jump Ups taking over their lawn, and that these things needed to be shared. The swaps started as a single day events, but people with too much garden exchanged information with those looking to expand and new friends connected later in the season when the time was right to dig and share.
Then came the Friends of Lincoln Park. Through my workplace, CH2M, I became involved in a USEPA/ Great Lakes National Program Office sediment clean-up project. Basically, there are legacy sites of old pollution from up to a hundred years ago that USEPA has committed funding to cleaning up. As a biologist, I was involved in the restoration aspects of the project, helping oversee native plant re-vegetation in coordination with Milwaukee County, the EPA, and Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. Based on this experience and in coordination with a co-worker, Bobbie Hughes, who is active in the Friends of Lincoln Park, I had a continuing investment in this socio-economically challenged food desert in an area of north Milwaukee. For the past two years I have been able to contribute seeds from the Mukwonago community and CH2M staff as well as the CSRP program to their spring extravaganza event.
And my children are catching onto seed saving too. My son, Soren, 5, insisted that pumpkin seeds from our garden were so special that I was not allowed to share them with anyone other than his two favorite cousins. He then presented the seeds to Jesse and Gracie as Christmas presents. Evelyn, 2, heads out with me to the garden every other night to "pick matos." She likes to pick our Mexico Midget cherry tomatoes from Seed Savers Exchange. She sits on my shoulders holding a purple sandbox bucket with a yellow handle. I pick the tomatoes with my right hand, transfer them to my left, and hand them up to her. As she balances on my shoulders, she grabs them one by one from my left and plunks them into her bucket. The lessons that these two learn from their participation in the harvest is another of the crops that I am cultivating.
Why I Save Seeds
My favorite thing about saving seeds and sharing plants is the giving, and the relationships that grow because of the giving. These seeds grow more than just plants, they grow community.
The free nature of saving one's own seeds and the joy when friends and family plant them is thrilling in its simplicity. I love it when they snap a proud photo of their thriving seedling and send it back to me to show off how well they are treating my green offspring.
I think there is a craving in our culture for things of old. Our technology keeps us so hyper connected: Facebook, LinkedIn, email, text, Snapchat, Facetime, etc. I'll be the first to admit that I use it, AND enjoy doing so, regularly. But I think that as a reaction to the fast pace of life, our culture has a yearning for imperishable pass-times. I see it in the push for community gardens, CSAs, and the rejuvenation of canning as a hobby. I love being connected to the digital world, but sometimes, I prefer the harmony of soil and seed in the same way that my ancestors have felt it for millennia.
We're building a nationwide network of seed libraries, community seed banks, and seed saving educators! The Community Seed Resource Program provides tools and guidance to community groups in the United States who are interested in creating seed-focused events, exchanges, libraries, and gardens. The program is a collaboration with Seed Matters that supports community seed initiatives and empowers community organizing around sustainable seed. Learn more.