Seed Catalog

It's time to start thinking about your seed packets for this year. You can even swap seeds. 

–For me, as a vegetable grower, this is a heady time of year. It’s full of possibilities, laid out in the seed catalogues that have started cropping up in my mailbox. But mail-order isn’t the only game in town. You can save your own seeds from year to year, or you can search out local seed-swapping events. There’s even a National Seed Swap Day, observed annually on the last Saturday in January to help promote the practice.

In observation this year, the West Vincent Township Sustainability Commission and the Chester County Environmental Agricultural Coalition (CCEAC) are co-hosting their fourth annual Seed Swap on Saturday, Jan. 25.

Says CCEAC member Jason Mesiarik, “You can bring seeds, take seeds and catalogs, share stories and build community. All budding gardeners and experienced growers are invited to participate. If you have seeds to swap, great! If not, that's OK, too! It doesn't matter what types they are or whether they're in packets or jars or even retail varieties. Tell others about your favorites and learn about new and interesting varieties. Find some heirlooms and rare finds too. You may even find tree seeds.”

Why a seed swap? In addition to helping to build community, seed swaps provide a chance for gardeners to grow food that’s not typically sold in supermarkets, and which is more likely to do well in a specific geographic area. Saving and swapping seeds also fosters crop diversity. As Mesiarik notes, “While people have been swapping seeds since the dawn of agriculture, nowadays people usually buy seeds and the old skill of saving seeds is disappearing from our culture.”

Mesiarik says that he’s observed that while this annual event takes place in Chester County, it draws people from a wide area. “Last year,” he said, “about 500 people attended, coming from all over – for example, from Berks, Lancaster, and Montgomery counties.” The event is open to all, whether people come with seeds to share or not. He notes, “Our goal is to make the swap open for everybody. It’s about community, and getting people excited about growing their own food. He pointed out that in addition to gardeners who bring their own saved seeds to share, seed houses donate seeds to the event.

“It’s really great,” Mesiarik said. “We get all levels of experience, from beginners, to families, to professional growers. And this area is perfect for this sort of event.” He mentioned the large number of people in the Delaware Valley who are interested in local foods, as well as people who are interested in historic preservation. He also pointed out how many well-known gardeners/producers there are in the area, for instance internationally-known food historian, farmer, author, and seed-saver, William Woys Weaver. The area also boasts a large number of gardens, horticultural centers, and Community Supported Agricultural farms. “The Seed Swap is a celebration of all that,” he says.

Mesiarik also commented on something I’ve noted myself, which is that gardeners are among the kindest and most generous of people. “With gardening, and with agriculture in general,” he said, “it’s the one area where pride doesn’t get in the way. People know they don’t have all the answers, and they’re just interested in learning from each other, sharing what they know.”

The Seed Swap is free, and runs from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the West Vincent Township Building, 729 St. Matthews Road, Chester Springs, PA 19425. Refreshments will be provided.

Also Coming Up: On Monday, Jan. 27, entomologist, author, and University of Delaware professor Doug Tallamy will talk about his new book, “Nature’s Best Hope,” coming out this February. The event begins at 7:30 p.m. at the Old Mill, 9 Old Mill Lane, Media, PA. Tickets are $15 at the door (cash/check only). Information at: http://www.upperprovidence.org/CivicAlerts.aspx?AID=341

Pam Baxter is an avid organic gardener who lives in Kimberton. Direct e-mail to pamelacbaxter@gmail.com, or send mail to P.O. Box 80, Kimberton, PA 19442. Share your gardening stories on Facebook at “Chester County Roots.” Pam’s book for children and families, Big Life Lessons from Nature’s Little Secrets, is available on Amazon, along with her new companion field journal, Explore Outdoors, at Amazon.com/author/pamelabaxter.

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