It’s a challenging time for communities around the world, and this is no less true for seed groups, seed swaps and seed libraries. However, this is the Season of the Seed, the time of the year when people come together to trade tips, experiences, and seeds they have saved from the past growing season and pour over seed catalogues. Anyone who was growing food over the last year, whether for themselves, their community, or on a commercial scale, will have experienced the grounding, calming effect brought on by the process of cultivation; the reliable and restorative process of seed to plant to seed. This is something we all need now more than ever, so we’ve been talking to community groups in our networks to see how they are creatively (and safely!) bringing people together to swap seed this winter.
As always, please work within your local COVID-19 restrictions.
Indoors: Seeds can be dropped off by participants the day before allowing a coordinator to sort and display them, limiting the amount of people in contact with the seeds. Time slots are then allocated to swappers for the day so only a handful of people are in the space at any one time.
Pros: Allows for an event that resembles a traditional seed swap, and participants can browse the selection of seeds to find what they need, whilst still limiting interaction.
Cons: Still potential for risky interaction – would not be allowed during full lockdown. Requires a physical space and some coordinator time.
Outdoors: Swap can take place in an existing outdoor community venue such as a garden. Potential for engaging ideas such as the SaatgutRad portable seed bank bike:
Pros: Potential to be very engaging, and safer than an indoor event. It’s easier for people to take part if you come to spaces they’re already using.
Cons: Still only possible in areas with low transmission rates. Building, housing, and transporting any ‘portable seed library’ equipment a factor.
Postal Seed Circle: a coordinator invites a number of people to join a seed circle whereby each member commits to growing and sharing something. The coordinator then invites each person to send in their seeds in individual packets with enough for each member of the circle. They include a larger stamped self-addressed envelope in with their seed packets. The coordinator then allocates seeds of each type to each person in the group and they get sent back a pack of each of the seeds involved in the circle.
Pros: Limited to a small number of people so less work overall, especially since people will be organising the individual seed packets. Avoids face-to-face interaction
Cons: Limited in size and you can’t choose what seeds you receive.
Online Seed Swaps with Tech options:
Google forms – participants send seeds to a coordinator, who then makes a google form for what’s available. Participants submit form for what they would like, submits money through paypal/similar for postage, coordinator posts them out.
Pros: Participants get some choice and avoid face-to-face interaction
Cons: A lot of work for a coordinator and collecting money for postage could be problematic
Airtable –‘members’ of group all are able to view Airtable. Send seeds to coordinator who updates Airtable, requests are sent in and coordinator updates stock on Airtable accordingly so members can see what’s still available. Requests can either be posted out or picked up at events, Covid-allowing.
Pros: Organised, clear what’s available, free to use
Cons: Still requires either in-person pickup or collecting money for postage, and a lot of work for coordinator(s). May be a barrier for those less comfortable with tech.
Online food-oriented shop platforms: These platforms like the Open Food Network proved their worth last year for small-scale growers trying to connect directly to their customers. Could the same be used for seed? Rather than inputting a price for seed, ‘donation’ could be selected which would allow for free swapping and also a way of collecting the shipping costs.
Pro: Existing infrastructure with proven effectiveness
Con: Has yet to be tested for seed, would still require a coordinator to curate and post out.
Purpose-built seed exchange platform: Feeling really ambitious or are you a bit of a tech pro who could whip together a resource for seed savers in UK and Ireland? Here’s a whole website dedicated to seed exchange in the US which is really inspirational!
Our friends over the pond on Turtle Island really are way ahead in terms of seed saving, so here’s some things to consider for when we can meet face-to-face again and help thinking through the who, why, when and what of seed swaps: https://www.seedsavers.org/site/pdf/Start-Seed-Swap.pdf
Closer to home there’s a whole wealth of information from Mark Ridsdill-Smith who usually organises an annual seed swap in autumn. On his website, Mark of Vertical Veg, shares a downloadable guide and webinar with Darja Fiser of Zelemenjava, Slovenia, who became a national legend when her swap really took off.
Whatever you decide to do, please stay safe and best wishes for a fruitful growing season! Get in touch with us if you’re trying one of these options or something else with your community.