On The Importance of Seed Swaps

Published on January 19th 2019
It’s that time of the year. Christmas has passed, but the weather is still cold. Although there is still a lot to do in the garden, you might find yourself sitting back and imagining just how wonderful those warmer months are going to be.
It is in these bleak times that across the country, gardeners, allotment holders and alike, gather to swap seeds with each other.
At these events, often organised by enthusiastic volunteers at allotments or community centres, seeds can be swapped or bought for a small donation.
Seed swaps are beneficial, not only because they allow gardeners to save a considerable amount of money, but because they have strong cultural and biological significance.
In the European Union, all farmers are required to register seeds that they wish to harvest and sell, which, unfortunately, costs money. Therefore a variety of species have only been available through private swaps. The Heritage Seed Library offers its members yearly seed packets as ‘presents’. By doing so, they are very much in a grey area of the law, as marketing these seeds is otherwise an illegal activity.
Seeds acquired through these means can also be healthier and more suited to your local climate. Seeds sold through big companies are often grown somewhere far away, meaning there is less chance of them thriving in your location. As the seeds you bought are potentially from your next door neighbour, and they have been saving them for years, it means they had time to adapt to your climate.
These swapping events also ensure genetic diversity in different crops. Neil Munro, manager of the Heritage Seed Library collection, remembers looking at a list of seeds available to purchase:
‘What you are losing, is the diversity and choice of that seed. There was a list, produced in 1972, just before the national listing, and I read through it. There was about a 180 cauliflower on the UK national list at that time. But from that original list, there is only 30 left available to purchase.’ (BBC, 2010)
Last but not least, these seeds, saved and swapped by so many all over the world, are not only important because of the food or flowers they produce. They also carry the lives of the people who tended to them, dried them and made sure they were ready to be passed on. They bear cultural heritage, flavours of national dishes and childhood favourites. They are, in a way, 'suitcases in which people can transport their culture with them'.
So if you have a few saved up seeds which you would be happy to bargain with, or would just like to have a look, head down to your local swap, or even better, organise one for your community.

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