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How to Host Your Own Seed Swap (& Grow So Much More Than Gardens)

The fact of a seed.

It’s nothing new and no less miraculous: All fall and across the long winter we’ve watched squirrels move acorns, munching as they go, new oaks soon sprouting from this dance and happenstance, millions of years unfurling.

Since their earliest existence on planet Earth 400 million years ago, seed-bearing plants have gifted the world with lush, delectable diversity, as fluid and free as water and air to move in the world, becoming and abundant everywhere they land. 

As robins sing and snows melt, let us remember that we, too, are harbingers of spring both in vision as well as the material world.

For 10,000+ years our ancestors have shared, swapped, sowed and grown alongside seeds; only recently have we left this ‘to the professionals’ as Will Bonsall says, as seed moved from a commons (can you imagine ‘owning’ air?) to a commodity. Rowen White, Mohawk mother, seedkeeper and storyteller, reminds us that, ‘150 years ago seed companies didn’t exist. If we do our work well, they won’t need to exist in 150 years.’ 

Friends, we are the seeds.

We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. 

Like tucking our children into bed each night, let’s not leave our relationship with seed ‘up to professionals.’ 

This looks like a thousand things: planting a seed in the soil, giving thanks with a song, sharing a bouquet of flowers on the doorstep of a friend. One of my favorites, ever and always, is ‘swapping seeds’ in community with friends old and new, in gatherings large and small, and here are a few tips so we might all participate, host and celebrate seeds shared for generations to come.

seed saving in hands

Before we begin:

There is no one way to be and do anything in this world, so resist the illusion of perfection. Like each seed, each seed swap will be unique and invite us to trust ourselves, our community and the process unfolding. Explore! Experiment! Play! Learn! Repeat!

How to Host Your Own Seed Swap

1. Explore what local and/or regional seed swaps already exist.

Great minds think alike and if you’re thinking it’s time your community swap seeds, you’re not alone. If one is already happening, are there ways you can support the event before, during or after? Here is a far from complete list of seed swaps we’re aware of in our region and if there is no seed swap close by, here are some keys to keeping it simple.

2. Who might be fabulous co-organizing companions/organizations? 

As seeds teach us, we are only as resilient as the world around us. Who will enthusiastically dream and bring a new seed swap to life by your side? Friends, libraries and community gardens are all extraordinary places to start.

The annual Rochester Seed Swap (join us Friday, March 31st, details below!) began with three friends and their organizations partnering (490 Farmers, Taproot Collective and Fruition Seeds) with other individuals and organizations adding extraordinary layers of accessibility, capacity and joy. 

800 x 400 seed swap 1

3. What space might be beautiful & accessible for a Seed Swap? How many people would you love to attend? 

Libraries are amazing! What other municipal spaces might be available? Do you have a local Grange Hall? A church with a cozy basement? As lovely as exchanging seeds under the sky is, the slightest breeze will send seeds flying, so finding a welcoming indoor space makes all the difference. 

Whenever possible, find a home for your seed swap that is as passionate about the event as you are and perhaps even will host for free, trusting there is much more to generate beyond dollars with such a gathering.

How large a space do you need? Depends on how many people attend. Ten friends can likely be cozy on your kitchen table. If you’re hoping thirty-ish folx come, plan on at least five tables (see key #5). If you’re hoping for one hundred or more people, plan for a table for each ‘seed type’ and/or seedkeeper. It’s easy to overthink this step if it’s your first time and Friends, as best we can, let’s trust the seeds and our communities to learn as we go in celebrating abundance shared.

4. Set the date & spread the word! 

After you’ve set the date (late winter and early spring are fabulous seasons), spread the word.

This is sometimes the hardest part and also the most fun! If your goal is small and sweet, a few phone calls and follow-up texts among friends are likely all you need. If community building is part of your goal, lean into networks: social media, email, text and calling, always inviting friends to bring more friends. Is there local radio that might air a conversation about seeds and swapping? What community calendars exist in your area, online or in person? If making flyers to post around town sparks joy, don’t resist! Bringing and building community is a fine art; as you’re considering collaborative partnerships, keep these skills in mind. 

800 x 400 packet

5. Organizing Seeds for Swapping

Friends, it’s worth repeating: There is no one way to be and do anything in this world. Seeds enthusiastically swapped may hail from home-saved as well as commercial seed packets, so here are approaches to keep seed swapping simple with plenty of opportunities to make your own magic. No two seed swaps will be the same! 

Sharing Seeds in Commercial Packets

Though the vast majority of seeds shared in the last 10,000 years have not been sold or otherwise commercialized, many of us only have access to seeds from seed companies these days. As the pendulum shifts, let us be clear: Like each of us, all seeds are sacred and have stories to share — there is genius and generosity in every seed! — so let us share joyfully both the seeds we harvest from our own gardens as well as those we’ve found in packets.

Swapping commercial packets on wide-open tables is marvelous, especially with ample space to loosely organize them by seed type. These categories may be specific (tomato) and/or general (roots) with simple signs to accompany them. Or not so simple! Chloe Smith of 490 Farmers created gorgeous watercolors for the Rochester Seed Swap of about twenty crop types — an ear of corn, a slice of melon, a vivid zinnia — dangling from the ceiling above their corresponding tables. Creating collages from seed catalogs is another fun way to make signs, too. Perhaps Martha Stewart’s vote for most quaint: Attaching the crop-type sign to a pencil-sized branch tucked in a small terracotta container with potting mix. Also, consider making a ‘miscellaneous’ section: Most of us don’t fit neatly into categories and neither do seeds.

If you’re bringing seeds to a seed swap that are meaningful to you, consider tucking a label on each packet with your name and contact info: Seeds grow so much more than gardens and these connections and community are the foundation of resilience as well as deliciousness. 

As people arrive, invite them to place their seeds on tables with their corresponding categories.

Also, scatter empty envelopes and pens throughout the swap so seed can be shared even more abundantly! 

800 x 400 seed swap 3

Sharing Seeds in Communities of Seedkeepers

If your community has many seedkeepers, how marvelous and oh our hearts sing! Absolutely include them in the planning from the very beginning. They’ll likely have experienced at least a few seed swaps and have great wisdom to share. In our experience, it’s dreamy to give each seedkeeper their own table to share seed from.

Many Canadian communities share a marvelous late winter tradition of annual ‘Seedy Saturdays’ or ‘Seedy Sundays’ where all are welcome to share in the joy and abundance of seeds. At these events, homescale seedkeepers as well small seed companies are also there to sell seeds, as well. 

No matter where the seeds come from in your swap, find ways to keep the stories of relationship and kinship beyond species at the center. 

6. Centering Connection & Gratitude: Let the Swapping Begin! 

There are as many ways to swap seeds as there are seed swappers: Keep it as simple or as structured as sparks joy! Trust that gratitude and connection inherently infuse seed swaps. We can also intentionally cultivate nodes of interdependence and awareness, deepening the capacities of seeds to nourish us.

Here are just a few of the many ways to center seeds, connection and respect in seed swaps:

a) Welcome folx at the door. Especially in larger seed swaps, a helpful, convivial ‘greeter’ answering questions as folx arrive ‘seeds’ convivial connection and practices the community care so many of us dream of. 

b) Consider name tags for both humxns and seeds. At the Rochester Seed Swap, we have classic adhesive name tags and markers for people to share their names and pronouns as well as a button maker with dozens of seed catalogs so folx can create less disposable name tags, as well. We also have a stack of avery labels so people can label seed commercial packets with hints, sentiments and contact information, if they wish.

c) Center ‘Mindful Encouragements for Seed Swapping.’ Detailed below, infuse these and other guiding sentiments into promotions for the swap. Make little signs to scatter throughout the event. Chloe Smith painted a magic banner to welcome folx to the Rochester Seed Swap with these invitations. Read them aloud for all swappers to hear! What is the magic and medicine you bring to the world? How can you let these gifts shift our culture toward collective care and abundance shared?

d) Pause the swap for a moment of connection and reflection. The potential to invite a powerful moment of reflection together is vast and worth considering, whether it’s a moment before ‘swapping’ begins or mid-flow once most attendees are present. 

Here is a simple flow to create a magic moment of deeper meaning and connection: Gather in a circle. A few moments of shared pause and silence is often powerful, as are a few words of thanks. Consider thanking ourselves, thanking each other, thanking the seeds and the land, the ancestors and all abundance and generations yet to come. Perhaps read a Mary Oliver poem. Quote Leah Penniman. Perhaps share a simple call and response song. Consider hearing from several voices. Know your audience, keep it short, sweet and close the moment with a collective cheer. 

e) Center the Stories. Consider inviting a few folx to stand up (even hopping on a mic!) to share a few minutes of a seed story. Perhaps a poem. Perhaps a song! How might we together nourish a culture where we celebrate seeds as muses, teachers, friends and adaptive allies? 

f) Center Seedkeeping Skills. Seed swaps often inspire curiosity about seedkeeping and if there are folx in your community open to being asked questions or even leading a conversation about seedkeeping large or small, open the door! 

However you invite opportunities for connection and gratitude to bloom in your seed swap, know you’re courageously rehydrating a vast lineage of seeds and people embodying resilience.

Let the swapping begin!

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 7. Finding a Home for Surplus Seeds

One of the many magical elements of a seed swap is witnessing all the abundance shared and almost always there is an impressive amount of seed that hasn’t been swapped by the event’s end. Before the swap, make a plan for where these seeds will go next. Libraries with seed libraries often love to welcome such seed. Community gardens will be over the moon. What other mutual aid networks exist in your community? Who often receives such abundance? Who does not? Let this be not an afterthought but an active way we imagine, plan for and live into the abundance of the world.

8. What’s Next?

Sharing seeds has the potential to grow so much more than gardens. From a few friends to a few hundred strangers sharing space together, seeds remind us that we are in community and what we tend grows. In the spirit of connecting like-minded community for future events, consider collecting emails and always bcc in such invitations to respect privacy. Creating a Facebook group or hashtag is another an option. If you would love to learn more about seedkeeping (or seed saving, who’s saving who?!), there are a thousand places to begin. Fruition Seeds shares seedkeeping info on every seed we share, including in-depth Growing Guides and a free online course, Saving Our Seeds, Saving Ourselves, to surround us all with abundance for generations to come. 

6 Lessons Learned for Joyful Seed Swapping:

1. Many of us learned scarcity & transactional patterning around so many things, including seeds. Sometimes seed swaps can harbor a ‘grab & snatch’ energy that devalues the abundance and generosity of seeds as well as ourselves. We share ‘Mindful Encouragements for Seed Swapping’ below so we all can practice and embody the abundance of seeds at swaps and beyond.

2. Extra empty seed packets & pens spread the love! Scatter them throughout the swap so everyone can bring home the seeds they dream of.

3. Resist bringing seed more than 3 years old. Though many seeds germinate after 5 years and often longer, offering seed that will confidently germinate embodies the abundance of the seeds we’re sharing.

4. Jumping worms & other potential diseases may spread on plant divisions (sigh!), so keeping swaps simple with seeds alone is often a great place to start. Swapping transplants is much less risky and oh so satisfying!

5. Plan ample space for seeds as well as connection: Seeds nourish our communities in so many ways beyond calories. 

6. If you’re starting a seed swap in your community, consider thinking of it as an annual rather than a one-time event. Seeds are as foundational to our lives as the water we drink and air we breathe; who and how can you cultivate this in an annual celebration? What shifts, if you’re imagining abundance shared beyond our lifetimes? 

800 x 400 squash seeds

6 Mindful Encouragements for Seed Swapping

  1. There are no ‘rules’ beyond being respectful of life and amplifying collective abundance.
  1. All are welcome!
  1. Everyone is encouraged to bring seeds home, even (especially!) if you don’t have a single seed to offer. 
  1. Take only what you need: Be generous & embody the abundance of the seeds, our 400 million year old teachers.
  1. Encourage care and intentional connection: Many of us learned scarcity & transactional patterning around seeds and, well, everything. How might we learn new patterns of abundance and deepen our relationship with seeds and with each other, at Seed Swaps and beyond?
  1. Say hello to people and seeds you don’t yet know: They are a part of you that you do not yet know!
choc runner bean

If you’re hungry for more detail to help organize your first seed swap, Seed Savers Exchange shares a more comprehensive guide at https://www.seedsavers.org/site/pdf/Start-Seed-Swap.pdf including checklists and great questions to consider.

Also, if you’d love to share our beautiful postcard-sized planting calendars at your swap, we’d love to send you some, compliments of Fruition! Send a sweet ask of an email to support@fruitionseeds.com and they’ll soon be winging your way. 

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Calling All Seed Swaps! 

In the spirit of nourishing community seed networks beyond commercial seed systems, here’s our blog sharing seed swaps (primarily in the Northeast US and Canada) we’re aware of. A beautiful fact: This will never be a comprehensive list! If you know of a seed swap that isn’t on the list, thank you for emailing us the name, location and contact information for the swap.

If you’re close to us here at Fruition Seeds, hope to see you soon at one of our local swaps in 2023:

Rochester Seed Swap | Friday, March 31st 5-7 pm at the Edgerton Recreation Center, 41 Backus Street, Rochester NY, ASL interpretation available.

Fruition Seed Swap + Potluck | Friday, April 14th 5-7 pm at Fruition Seeds!

Trumansburg Seed Swap | Wednesday, May 3rd 4-7 pm at the Trumansburg Farmer’s Market, Trumansburg, NY

Geneva Seed + Transplant Swap | Friday, May 12th 5-7 pm at the Finger Lakes Welcome Center, Geneva, NY

Check out our Events Page for more upcoming!

Here’s to seeds growing us even before we grow them!

Sow Seeds & Sing Songs,

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with the care of the Fruition Crew

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