This post was originally written by Heather Jo Flores for the Food Not Lawns blog. It has all the information you need to set up and execute an organized seed swap in your area. A seed swap is a great opportunity to meet other members of the gardening community where you live, and to get a variety of seeds for your garden!
Food Not Lawns will be on tour across the United States this year and next year connecting with gardeners and communities to share seeds, skills, tools and information about permaculture, sustainability, organic gardening and local food. To find out more, visit the Food Not Lawns website and Facebook page.
How to Organize a Community Seed Swap in 7 Easy Steps
Whether you save your own seeds or just have a bunch of leftover packets from years past, a seed swap is a great way to expand the diversity of both your garden and your community. But don’t limit yourself to just seeds! I have been organizing events like these for close to 20 years and folks have brought surplus plants, trees, garden supplies, food preserves and homebrews. A seed swap attracts more than just the local permaculture crowd. People from all walks of life have a passion for gardening and seed saving and this event can bridge gaps and build new friendships that lead to a close-knit and more sustainable community for everyone. Here’s how:
Look online and ask around in your area about anyone who has organized seed swaps in the past. It is better to help with a central, large swap than to have a bunch of small ones that aren’t connected. Find out if anyone else around you is doing similar work, striving toward similar goals. A local university is a good place to start. Make a list of contacts and then contact them. Visit garden centers and the farmers’ markets. Look online and ask around for local seed-savers. There may already be seed swaps happening, or you may find like-minded seedgeeks who will help you organize an annual event. Maybe you will find someone who wants to do a workshop at your event. Invite them. Or perhaps you want to do a demonstration yourself. You can also invite activists groups and garden clubs to set up informational tables.
- Make a flier
In order to do this, you will need to decide on some things. First, when and where will you have your seed swap? Your house, the park, a local church or café or a nearby community garden are all great venues for a seed swap and they don’t cost money. Next, decide whether you want to have people exchange just seeds, or if you also want to have them bring plants, garden supplies, potluck foods, preserves, homebrews, etc. Put all of this information on your flier. Pick a date at least six weeks in advance to give yourself time to get seed donations and thoroughly publicize the event. Once you’ve made the flier, you can create an event and a page on Facebook and any other social networks that seem relevant.
- Get seed donations
Many people will bring seeds to the swap, but others will come empty handed. Sequester seed donations from local growers and seed companies in advance so there is surplus at the event. Send a short, polite letter, with your flier attached, to seed companies, local farmers, garden stores and anywhere else that you think might have some surplus seeds from last year to donate. Remember that some of these places get a lot of requests, so be patient and polite. It is fine to follow up with a second email or phone call a couple of weeks after your first request, but don’t harass them! If you don’t get a ton of donations for your first seed swap, don’t worry about it. Once you’ve established an annual pattern, you will always have more seed than you know what to do with. Stash the donations in a cool, dark, dry place until the day of the swap.
When your swap is about three weeks away, start doing a ton of publicity. Send a calendar listing to the local papers. Make an event on Craigslist and promote that Facebook page. Make a handbill and pass it out at farmers markets, post fliers at local garden centers and food stores. Go to garden-related events and invite people in person. The more you hit the streets with this, the more successful you will be. A seed swap is a tangible way to connect with your community in face-to-face, real time. Let it happen and you will be amazed at the results.
- Set up for the swap
On the day of the event, give yourself about two hours to set up the space. Make attractive signs for the different families of garden seeds (beans, brassicas, nightshades, lettuces, etc.) It doesn’t matter if you know botany, just create a system so that people who bring seeds to share can easily find where to put them, and seed-searchers can figure out where to look. Create a few sitting areas for people to socialize when they’re taking a break from seed swapping. Leave a space in the middle where everyone can circle up at the beginning of the event.
- During the swap
Most seed swaps take one of two forms: people either set up their own little area and directly trade seeds, or everyone just puts what they brought out on onto the tables, potluck-style, and then they just go for it. I much prefer the latter format because I feel it contributes to the spirit of community more so than a “this-for-that” format. Assuming you will take my advice, have everyone put their seeds on the tables, but ask them to wait until a critical mass of people have arrived at the event before they start looking. Once you get what feels like a solid amount of people (and seeds), have them circle up. Go around and ask each person to talk for less than a minute about who they are, where they’re from, and what they brought. This is an essential part of the event, as it gives everyone a clear picture of the community that has come together for the seed swap. But don’t be afraid to play facilitator here, so that the go-around doesn’t take more than 20 minutes or so. Introduce yourself at the end, and ask everyone not to take more than half of anything — that way the diversity stays on the tables for as long as possible. And then tell them to go for it!
- Document, document, document
A seed swap is one of the most photogenic events you will ever attend. Take as many pictures as you can. Get close-ups of hands with seeds in them. Take group photos of people laughing and sharing. Climb up high and get shots from above. If you have video or audio recording tools, interview folks and ask them about their relationships with seeds and their experience of the seed swap. All of this documentation will help you promote future events, and can be a wonderful way to inspire people in other communities. If you have skills to edit a short video and put it online, all the better. This is such a simple, free and easy way to build community, so consider your final task as important as the rest, and help get the word out about the glory of a community seed swap!
Once you’ve organized your first community seed swap, you’ll see how easy it is and want to do it every year. If this doesn’t happen—if no one shows up or you feel like the whole thing was too much trouble, don’t get discouraged. My first seed swap only brought ten people, but the second one brought over 100! Reach out to the people who show up and ask them to help you organize the next event. By working together we can overcome any obstacle. Good luck and long live the seeds!