Wednesday, January 7, 2015

How to Host a Seed Swap

Whether just among your neighbors, your garden club/plant society, or your wider community, a seed swap can be a terrific way to get lots of seeds, to meet new friends, and to learn a great deal about what grows best in our area.

   When setting up a seed swap, pick a date well in advance so that you can give participants several weeks notice. Mid-winter is the perfect season for hosting plant seed events so folks who like to start seeds indoors have enough time before the growing season.

   Next you’ll need a location. A big, open space with lots of table surfaces works well. You want some place that can get messy and will allow you to spread out the selections. Tip: contact your local public garden for space and to partner with them.

   Send out the invitations and ask all of your participants to carefully label all their seeds. Ask for volunteers to help you set up and clean up as this is definitely not a one-person job.

   Gather your supplies. You’ll want to have extra labels and baggies on-hand. Name tags are also a good ice-breaker. Extra pens/pencils and paper are a must. Once people get talking, there will be lots of note-taking.

   Asking attendees to bring some food to share potluck-style will get people munching and talking either before or after your swap. If you add food to your event, you will need to also bring a table to serve it on, napkins, cups, plates, etc. Keep the food/beverages in a separate area from the seeds so there is no danger of anything spilling on them!

   On the day of the event, have your volunteers sort the seeds as they arrive into your pre-assigned categories. Make signs for each table with the category names. (It is a good idea to screen for GMO seeds and seeds from invasive plants as they come in.)

   During the sorting and check-in period, have an expert speaker (or two or three) talk about seed-starting and garden-related topics.

   At the designated swap start time, ask each participant to come forward and briefly describe the seeds they brought to swap and a bit about their care. You may want to assign a timer to keep folks under a set limit as many fellow garden nerds can get carried away with their enthusiasm. This is where a whistle can come in handy as well.

   Once everyone has introduced their seeds, you will need to devise a fair way to assign who chooses first. Many groups give first choice to volunteers who helped coordinate and set-up the event. Other groups do it by order of arrival, by oldest to youngest, or by whim. The most common method is to pass around a basket with numbered slips of paper. Participants pick one out and that is their order of seed selection. Since most people bring several packets of seed to swap, there will be several rounds of seed selection by participants. Once the pickings start to get slim, you can announce a "free-for-all" where all-together folks can grab up any of the remaining seeds.

   If there are still leftover seeds, they can be donated to a local school or nonprofit gardens. Be sure to check in advance that these donations are welcome and will be planted in a timely manner.

Bonus Swap Features:

   At the Washington Gardener Magazine Seed Exchanges in DC/MD/VA, they add the following fun, green features which you may want to consider at your seed swap:

~ Prizes for the most creative name tags :-). Attendees are asked to make a name tag or recycle one from another event.

Goody Bags and Door Prizes are given out. Donations for the bags and prizes are solicited from garden-related businesses. Sponsoring businesses are listed on signage and all event promotions. The goody bags are stuffed prior to the swap day.

~ Garden Catalog/Book/Information Tables. A section of tables is set aside for garden materials that are free for the taking. Attendees are encouraged to bring in seed catalogs, garden books and magazines, flyers for other area garden events, public garden brochures, etc. Attendees are asked be sure to rip off the address labels and tear out any order insert with personal information on any seed/garden catalogs they bring in.

Our friends at Southern Exposure Seed Exchange have shared their own "how to host a seed swap" instructions here. There are many ways to structure a swap and we hope to see you at one soon!

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