For farmers and gardeners who practice the time-honored tradition of preserving seed and trading with neighbors and friends, the swapping circle just got a whole lot bigger.
A collaboration between the Seed Savers Exchange and USC Canada has launched an online resource for seed savers of all experience levels known as the Community Seed Network (CSN). The website (communityseednetwork.org) is designed to serve both as a database with tools for seed savers, community organizers and seed librarians as well as a platform for users across the continent to connect and swap seeds.
In recent decades, community-organized seed preservation has resurfaced as an alternative to purchasing packaged seeds every year from major seed companies. Organizations like the Seed Savers Exchange and USC Canada have long supported grassroots efforts to take back seed sovereignty, but the internet affords a unique opportunity to vastly multiply access to vital skills for seed preservation and to develop community infrastructure.
“Finding good resources for saving seeds can be really complicated,” said Lee Buttala, president and executive director of the Seed Savers Exchange. “But what’s exciting about the Community Seed Network is that a group of people have come together to share their vision and best practices.”
On May 5, 2015, 25 representatives of various seed saving organizations and communities sat in a circle at the International Seed Librarians Conference in Tucson, Arizona, with a similar question. How can all the various groups and individuals saving seeds across the United States and Canada work together to make seed preservation a more accessible task for individuals and communities?
Stephanie Hughes, regional program coordinator for the Bauta Family Initiative on Canadian Seed Security, shared that USC Canada previously worked mainly with larger organizations and was eager to share resources with a broader audience.
“When the CSN started to emerge as a possible project and USC Canada was invited on board, we saw it as an opportunity to support this whole other sector of seed movers and shakers: seed activists, seed enthusiasts, people who are doing informal seed work as a part of seed banks, libraries and swaps that we hadn’t formally engaged with before.”
A spirit of synergy and communication continued throughout the year until July 18, 2016, at the Seed Savers Exchange annual conference and campout, when members of this conversation began an official collaboration between the SSE and USC Canada. This launched the development of the website and toolkits that would become the Community Seed Network.
Key Resources for Seed Preservation
The CSN’s site is divided into two main functions. The first is a map where registered users can place themselves in their growing region and find other users with whom they can exchange seeds.
The rest of the site is a list of toolkits for saving seeds, developing community seed swaps and starting and organizing a seed library. It even includes legal resources. Buttala says, “There’s a strong collection of various materials that have been vetted by multiple sources and written at different levels — both for somebody who knows everything about seed saving and for somebody who has just started.” Buttala explains that the website is designed to provide both basic “recipes” for beginners to follow to achieve true-to-type seeds and in-depth materials for experienced users to unpack the science and to improve more advanced techniques.
The “Organizational Best Practices” feature of the website offers handy guides for community organizers who want to start a seed swap, set up a seed library or teach a seed saving course. Printable documents linked in these pages include topics such as, “Seed Library Checkout Procedures” by Rebecca Newburn at SeedLibraries.net; “Sow and Save” lesson plans for children by USC Canada; and “Seed Democracy Advocacy Toolkit” by the Sustainable Economies Law Center. This cache of resources is an ideal place for community organizers and activists to research and develop their seed bank, library or teaching material.
The social platform of the website offers profiles where users can share as much (or as little) information as they are comfortable with about their experience, garden, seed company, organization, or seeds they have to swap. Hughes says, “We have a mapping GPS page on the site so that you can see where other like-minded folks are.” She says that the feature allows users to discover other seed savers in analogous climate zones and to connect with users growing seeds that are adapted to regions similar to their own.
While the printed yearbook for Seed Savers Exchange members will continue, Buttala encourages SSE members to sign up on the Community Seed Network as well. This “digital yearbook” will allow a whole new level of instant access and connectivity between seed savers and community organizers.
Hughes assures privacy-minded internet users that the Community Seed Network allows users to maintain complete control over the information they choose to share about themselves. “You can use the site to your comfort. The social media platform attached to the site is optional for users who want to engage that way, but the list of resources is immediately available by typing in the URL and a couple of clicks. You don’t have to sign up to access the ‘how to’ guides, best practices and links to other sites, and you don’t have to be an internet whiz to make use of the site.”
At a time when agricultural infrastructure has moved away from communities and collaboration, the Community Seed Network leverages 21st century modes of communication and information distribution to put seeds back in the hands of people. It is committed to spreading principles of conservation, biodiversity and seed democracy — but it only works if users log on, engage and share this traditional knowledge in their own communities.
For more information, to register for a seed-swapping account, or to access the seed resources, visit the Community Seed Network.
By Allie Hymas. This article appeared in the January 2019 issue of Acres U.S.A. magazine.
Acres U.S.A. magazine is the national journal of sustainable agriculture, standing virtually alone with a real track record — over 45 years of continuous publication. Each issue is packed full of information eco-consultants regularly charge top dollar for. You’ll be kept up-to-date on all of the news that affects agriculture — regulations, discoveries, research updates, organic certification issues, and more.