January 26, 2006, was a frigid and blustery day in the nation’s capital. Yet despite the unforgiving weather, gardening enthusiasts of all ages zipped up their coats, pulled on their boots, and left their toasty homes or offices to take part in a fun, yet functional, community event—a good, old-fashioned seed swap.
So successful was the event that National Seed Swap Day was declared soon thereafter by the event’s organizer, Kathy Jentz of Washington Gardener Magazine. Since then, seed swaps have continued to sprout up in towns and cities across the country to help gardeners and farmers celebrate the day on (or around) the last Saturday each January. National Seed Swap Day 2017 (January 28) is right around corner. What do you need to know about attending (or perhaps even organizing!) one?
What’s a seed swap?
First off, it’s nothing new. Whether in huts or halls, we’ve been congregating for literally thousands of years to share seeds, seed stories, and gardening tips and tricks. What can you share? You decide! As long as your seeds are viable and (typically) from open-pollinated plants, you should be good to go. Most often, seed packages are labeled and displayed on tables with growing tips and, if known, information about the seed’s history.
Why should I participate?
Seed swaps are an inexpensive way for you to meet and swap rare, heirloom, historic, or other open-pollinated seeds with fellow gardeners. The potential rewards are priceless, not only for your garden but also for the biodiversity of your region—seeds that often pass from hand to hand at a seed swap can be tough, if not impossible, to find in traditional seed catalogs. And, honestly, can you think of a better way to break the winter blues and start (or continue) planning your spring garden?
How can I find one?
If you haven’t read or heard about any coordinated exchanges in your area, see if there's a Community Seed Resource Program (CSRP) participant in your area. The participants—local seed libraries and groups—promote seed saving and sharing in their local communities. Or try searching online or contacting your local cooperative extension office.
What should I expect?
A great time, of course! If bringing seeds, be sure to follow the guidelines of the particular swap with regard to the type of seeds welcomed (heirloom, historic, open-pollinated, or hybrid), how they should be packaged and labeled, and what type of additional information (name, variety, history, and growing tips) you should provide about your seeds.
How can I organize a seed swap?
Seed swaps can stand alone or be part of other events—and they need not be tied to National Seed Swap Day. There’s even one held as part of Seed Savers Exchange’s Annual Conference and Campout each July! Whether you’re organizing one as part of another event, starting from scratch, or planning a seed swap for just a small group of friends, consult this helpful guide developed by Seed Savers Exchange.
Seed swapping lies at the heart of the Seed Savers Exchange mission to conserve and promote American crop diversity by “collecting, growing, and sharing heirloom seeds and plants.” Learn more about the benefits of Seed Savers Exchange membership here.