Sustainable America Blog

Seed Sharing in the Age of Climate Change

Woman saving seeds at a community seed swap

Photos: Howard County Library System via Flickr

Spring is on its way, which means it’s time to get your garden plans in gear. As you plan what you’re going to grow (and where you’ll grow it), do you think much about where you get your seeds and plants? Yes, you can order from seed companies and shop at local nurseries, but seed sharing is another great way to source your plants. It not only saves money, it’s also a way to help foster biodiversity, connect to our agricultural heritage and learn from other gardeners.

What is seed sharing?
Sharing seeds is the age-old practice of saving seeds from your own plants and sharing them with others. At first glance, it can seem like a quaint hobby, but seed saving and sharing can actually be an act of building resilience. In the United States, we’ve lost approximately 90% of our fruit and vegetable varieties. Preserving the diversity of crops we still have is important to our future food security, especially in the face of a changing climate. Here’s how Sustainable Table explains it:

“…in the event that a particular crop variety fails due to drought, flooding or a disease, another variety might survive to avoid food shortages. In stark contrast to this model of agrobiodiversity, the Irish Potato Famine of the 1840s was the result of a fungus that completely destroyed the Irish potato crop because only a few varieties of potatoes had been imported from the Andes to Europe, none of which were resistant to the disease. Because of a lack of crop diversity and overreliance on one crop to feed many of its population, Ireland experienced widespread famine and death.”

Seed savers work to preserve and share seeds to preserve heirloom varieties and protect local varieties that can help a community build food security. Sharing seeds is also a way to take “local food” one step further. When you buy seeds from big seed companies, you might not know exactly what you’re getting and where it came from. Seeds from your neighbor, on the other hand, sometimes come with a rich story.

There’s a lot more to learn about seed saving and sharing. Here are a few ways you can get involved.

1. Find or host a local seed swap.
Seed swaps, also called seed exchanges, happen around the country and probably right in your own community. Each operates by its own rules, so it’s a good idea to find out how your local one works before you go. Some might require you bring seeds to share or focus on certain types of seeds. If you can’t find one in your area, here’s a guide to starting your own. In-person swaps are a great way to meet other gardeners and swap tips as well as seeds.

Seeds in bags at a seed exchange

2. Find or start a seed library.
Seed swaps are sometimes hosted by seed libraries, which are collections of seeds that are available for the public to “borrow.” Seed borrowers plant and grow the seeds, then save some of their plants’ seeds to “return” to the library. Seed libraries are often hosted in public libraries. Here’s a list of several hundred seed libraries around the world — and here’s a guide to starting your own.

3. Learn how to save seeds
You can often go to a seed swap or library empty handed and come away with some great seeds, but to fully participate, you can start saving your own seeds for your own use and to share with the seed-sharing community the following year. Here’s a beginner’s guide and a book from Seed Savors Exchange.

4. Swap seeds online.
If you don’t have active seed swapping groups in your area, you can still participate. There are many networks of active seed swapping communities online, including Seed Savors Exchange and Global Seed Network. Here are some others.

5. Watch SEED.
To learn more about the story and humble yet vital seeds, and why they must be saved, watch the 2016 documentary SEED: The Untold Story. The award-winning film follows seed savers, farmers, scientists and indigenous communities that are working to protect the world’s seeds and fight the corporate interests that control our food supply. Here’s the trailer.


6. Shop at local farmers.
Even if you can’t get your hands dirty with seed saving, you can help your support local crop diversity by buying produce from local farms and asking those farmers about their seeds and heirloom varieties that they sell. Buy the purple cauliflower or a variety of apple you’ve never heard of.

RELATED ARTICLES
How to Start a Shared Garden
We’re Digging These Techie Garden Tools
5 Easy Ways to Start Growing Food

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By the Numbers

Currently 50 million households suffer from food insecurity, meaning that family members cannot always meet their basic food needs.

10 million people a year could be fed through the recovery of just one-fifth of food waste.

Only 2% of food waste is composted or otherwise recycled—62% of paper is recycled.

Consumers throw out about 40% of the fresh and frozen fish they buy.

The U.S. produced 208 pounds of meat per person in 2009—60% more than Europe.

Low income commuters spend a much higher proportion of their wages on gas—8.6% versus 2.1% at $4 per gallon.

Food prices rose 35-40 percentage points between 2002–2008.

Americans consume 25% of the world’s produced oil, but our nation holds less than 3% of the world’s proven oil reserves.

The International Energy Agency says greenhouse gas emissions rose 3.2% last year, with a 9.3% increase in China offsetting declines in the US and EU.


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