On March 1st, the community of West Plains, Missouri, held their first-ever community seed swap! It was a fun and busy day with over 35 people in attendance. Dubbed the Ozarks Pot Luck & Seed Swap, my dream was to bring together area gardeners to share their knowledge and experience with other gardeners and to promote the concept of saving one’s own seed. I was understandably nervous in the hours leading up to the swap, but all that quickly flew out of the window when I walked into the facility to find a room full of friends who had arrived early and were already setting up the tables!
Since seed swaps are primarily attended by gardeners, I thought it appropriate that the afternoon begin with food. While the act of sharing a meal was intended to be symbolic of the bounty of our gardens, it also allowed everyone a chance to socialize and get to know one another before the festivities began. The pot luck turned out to be a big part of the fun and in the future, I think we will start every seed swap with the sharing of food.
The Yellow House is not a huge space, but it is bright and airy and fit our needs tidily. With a limited number of tables upon which we also needed to eat, we elected to temporarily set our goodies along the edges of the room while we ate. But it sure was hard not to peek into open bags and boxes to see what others had brought!
After lunch, the tables were quickly cleared and the seed swap began in earnest! We had several demonstrations during the event – one on vermiculture (composting with worms), another on soil microbes and one on how to make origami seed packets and our friends at the Ozark Seed Bank generously donated large bags of cucumber, bush bean and tomato seeds along with a ton of pre-made envelopes. The room was literally vibrating with all the good energy and laughter and I had to stand back for a moment and take it all in!
I think the biggest lesson we learned our first time around was that most of the participants were more than willing to just give their seeds, plants and seedlings away to anyone who asked. We did have a few incidents of swappers accidentally taking full packets of seed that were intended to be divided into smaller packets by the owner. This taught us our most important lesson. In the future, we will advise all participants to take out any seeds that they don’t want to give away. It might add a bit of work initially, but will ensure that no one loses whole packets of seed that they didn’t intend to.
In addition to the general swapping of plants and seeds, there were also a few special trades and arrangements for future swaps. Some participants who didn’t have seeds to swap brought other items, including hand-crafted yard sculptures made out of mismatched glassware (beautiful!), fresh farm eggs and even goat manure! Gardeners are nothing if not resourceful!!
We also had several people who didn’t want to, or were not ready to trade, but who came with food in hand and stayed to watch the fun. That’s the kind of spirit we love and the thing that makes gardeners so very special!
Big thanks to all those who helped set up, man the kitchen, take down and clean up afterward. And thank you to Sue Neitzel and Mike Siesel who brought their cameras to record the event and graciously allowed me to post those pictures here! And, of course, huge thanks to everyone who donated money to pay the rent! We got exactly what we needed to cover our expenses for the day!
All in all the swap was a huge success – so much so that a group of participants from a neighboring community decided to hold a pot luck and seed swap in their own town for those who couldn’t drive all the way to ours. Exactly what we hoped would happen! If you are interested in starting a seed swap in your community, I would be more than happy to help you in any way I can.