- Organise dozens of seed swaps throughout the year
- Received funding from the Gannett Foundation and Henepin County
- Have distributed over 1400 packets of seeds since August 2014
This seed exchange project was set up by volunteer-led sustainability organisation, Do It Green, in 2014. The organisation is mainly an information service, providing advice to the citizens of Minnesota about how to live a green and sustainable lifestyle through their website, talks and workshops. They had been giving away free seeds for years as a means to promote healthy life choices, when they saw an opportunity to apply for funding from the Gannett Foundation. Their application was successful and the organisation received a grant of $2500 to run a series of seed swaps and to create educational resources about seed saving.
At the same time, the freedom to exchange seeds within Minnesota was threatened by the State Legislature, which invoked the state’s seed law, to try and prevent seed libraries from using unlabelled seed packets. A group of organisations including Do It Green, Growing West Side, Seed Savers Exchange and the Sustainable Economies Law Center, joined together to fight against this unpopular ruling. The campaign was successful and in May 2015, a new bill was passed exempting certain organisations, including seed libraries, from the seed law.
Do It Green were one of the key organisations involved in the campaign and were proud to contribute to creation of the new bill. However it meant that the programme of seed swaps was put on hold whilst meetings with the legislature continued. Following the ruling, the project got back on track and they held a busy programme of events throughout summer 2015.
How it works
Do It Green’s seed swaps are held at community centres and farmers markets. At their largest events, they hold a clothes swap at the same time, which helps to draw in a diverse crowd, especially those who don’t do a lot of gardening. They display seeds in jars on a table, so people are drawn to the visual display, and learn to recognise different types of seed. When possible, Master Gardeners are on hand to answer any questions about gardening and to explain how to grow from seed.
People can make up their own seed packets and learn how many seeds to take. Deciding how many seeds to take and labelling the packet is all a part of a learning process. The organisers tend to distribute seeds that are suitable for the time of year. Herbs and flower seeds are particularly popular.
Do It Green are also supporting groups to set up their own seed libraries by distributing Starter Kits. The kits include seeds, envelopes, labels and educational resources. So far about 12 groups have applied for starter kits, including individual gardeners, school groups and community gardens. Do It Green are hoping to expand this area of their work over the coming year.
Winning grant funding has helped to embed the seed library in the Do It Green’s programming. It has enabled them to offer a year-round schedule of activities, which has inevitably helped to reach a broad cross-section of people, particularly those who are new to gardening. However, the grant does not cover ongoing staff costs and the busy schedule of activities may not be sustainable in the long-term. Lead volunteer Eva Lewandowski, estimates she spends about 10 hours a week co-ordinating activities.
Do It Green are exploring ways to make the project more sustainable in the long-term such as establishing a permanent location for the library which wouldn’t need to be staffed all the time, and training a bigger pool of volunteers to lead seed swaps. It is important that they find a model that can be sustained when the grant funding runs out.