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This is the tenth year that I’ve organized a community seed swap and our last event was the best we’ve had so far. We had over a hundred people attend and countless seeds, bulbs, and plants were shared among them. I don’t think anyone left without something new to grow and a smile on their face. That’s why I’m sharing tips for how you can organize a seed swap for your own community. It’s a great way to help people to garden inexpensively and to reduce seed waste.
A seed swap is an opportunity for gardeners to organize their seed collections and get rid of the ones they don’t want. They can also use the event to pick up seeds that they do want to grow. In all, it’s a win-win for gardeners and reduces wastage and cost. Our event is about giving seeds a chance to grow, saving money on buying new seeds, creating an opportunity to pick up new varieties, and making the event a social gathering where gardeners can talk about all things green and growing.
Share Seeds and Plants with a Seed Swap
I think the reason that our own event is so successful is that we’ve had years to perfect it. Each year has been great but by now it’s a well-oiled machine. We know the best way for people to interact and share seeds, how to find the people who’d like to come, and we also know how to make the event free. We actually finished up on Sunday with over £300 without asking visitors to pay for an entrance or participation fee! I remember planning for the first seed swap though and trying to find tips on how to run one. It was hard finding detailed information so I wanted to share 12 tips on how we run ours.
Although there are virtual seed swaps now, these tips are specifically for organizing an in-person swap. As with all events these days, ensure that you provide a safe venue and processes that comply with Covid-19 rules in your area. That could mean social distancing measures, PPE on hand, or running the seed swap in an outdoor area. It’s part of keeping everyone well and ensuring that they can trust you to run a safe event.
1. Get Friends to Help
The entire idea of a seed swap is to get people together to share resources. This starts in the planning stage so form an event committee with gardening pals or members of gardening associations and clubs. You can arrange to meet in person to organize the event or schedule Zoom meetings. The benefits of organizing a seed swap with others include:
- A greater network of potential contacts and people to invite
- Fresh ideas for organizing and running the day
- More people to help spread the word and market the event
- More people to help out on the day
- Making the swap a fun and community focused event
2. Find a Venue and Set a Date
Every year we’ve booked the same venue, and have a great relationship with the society that runs it. It’s a sailing club but if you’re looking for a venue, other ideas include community halls, churches, sports clubs, private club rooms, the back room of a pub, and private homes. You could even run the event outdoors, in a barn, or under a gazebo or event tent. Outdoor and airy venues can be better but if you’re planning a seed swap during the winter it may be less viable.
Our indoor venue is a comfortable space with plenty of parking, the opportunity for refreshments, and a reasonable room hire fee. One of the benefits of keeping the same venue every year is that people become familiar with it. We have visitors that come every year and they know exactly where to go and park each time.
Our event is always on a Saturday or Sunday since more people will be able to attend. It begins in the afternoon and the event lasts around two hours with the busiest time being the first hour. Over the years we’ve hosted the event in late winter and early spring with the latter being more successful. April is a great time for a seed swap since people bring in seeds but also excess seedlings and plants.
3. Decide a Sharing/Swapping Method
In my experience, it can be awkward and inefficient for strangers to have to swap seeds with each other directly. Some of this does happen at our event but the main way that people share seeds is through organized bins.
When people come in the door, tell them how the event works: organize the seeds you’ve brought with you into the bins provided – they’re labeled with ‘Brassicas’, ‘Root veg’, ‘Herbs’, ‘Flowers’, and even ‘Random’. As you move around the circular area where the bins are located, feel free to browse what’s already there and take what you need. For people without seeds to share, there’s a donation bucket in the middle of the table. The suggested donation is 50p for a full packet of seeds.
Other methods might work but this is the best way we’ve found for ordinary gardeners. These are people who’d like to attend without any commitment of having to set up a stall or haggle with individuals over seeds and plants. It’s based on the honor system and in the five years we’ve run the swap we’ve had no issues with anyone taking advantage.
4. Make the Event Free
Everyone likes a free event where you can leave with free things! By not charging an entrance fee you’ll have more people attend and more people mean more seeds. There are other ways to make money if you need to pay for the room hire or are running the event as a fundraiser.
5. Get Sponsors for the Seed Swap
The main way we include sponsors in our event is by asking for them to donate raffle prizes. In the week coming up to the event, I let everyone know on our Facebook event what each prize is and it creates a good build-up to the big day. This year we had donations of free seeds, compost, a wormery composter, an aromatherapy massage, an apple tree, and vouchers to a local plant nursery.
Other ways sponsors can be involved include funding the room or room hire, advertising sponsorships, and sponsoring seeds to share at the swap itself.
6. Organize a Seed Swap Raffle
A seed swap raffle is part fundraiser and part entertainment and can be a major highlight of the event. At ours, we charge £1 per raffle ticket and draw winners thirty minutes before the end of the event. If the person isn’t there when the raffle winners are drawn you can ring them and let them know to pick the item up. We also ask for people who attend the seed swap to bring a prize to the raffle too. It could be a pair of gardening gloves, a bottle of wine, chocolate, or gardening books.
7. Donation Buckets
Aside from the donation bucket, we place on the seed swap table, we also have a bucket at the refreshments area. It’s based on the honor system again and we ask for a small donation towards any cake/coffee they serve themselves or for seeds if they didn’t bring anything to share. We don’t write a suggested donation on the bins but if anyone asks it’s 50p and left to their discretion. Most of the time people donate more though and this is a great way to raise money for your community garden or a favorite charity.
8. Invite People to attend the Seed Swap
Getting the word out that you’re having the event is one of the trickiest parts of the entire event. How do you reach the people who you think would like to come? Here’s how we do it:
- Design a low-ink poster that can be easily be printed at home. Print it on colored paper and share it on notice boards, in cafes, at your work, at your church, tape it inside your car window, and ask local businesses to post it up too.
- Contact the newspaper or radio station to feature a story on the event. You can also advertise in the classifieds, submit event information to online ‘local events’ listings. I’ve gone on the radio in years past and have also featured the event in columns that I’ve written.
- Create a Facebook event and then invite every gardener you know. Ask them to invite their friends too! This year I also sponsored the event for £5 to reach out to local people who liked the topic ‘Gardening’ on Facebook
- Blog and post about the event on social media. If you don’t have a big following, consider getting in touch with a local gardening writer or influencer.
- Email gardening societies to ask if they could please forward the event info onto their members.
- Get in touch with everyone who has attended a past seed swap event – more on that below.
9. Sign-in Sheet and Mailing List
If people have come to a seed swap before and enjoyed themselves they’ll likely want to come back again. What I do to contact these people each year is to:
- Collect email addresses from people who attend as they walk in the door. Be clear that you’re using their email for a mailing list though.
- Save the email addresses in a free newsletter app such as Mailchimp. Such applications will allow you to easily create nice-looking newsletters and send them to everyone on your list. It also makes it easy for people to unsubscribe if they’d like.
- See our event’s mailing list here. Sign-ups receive two or three emails per year.
10. Entertainment for the Seed Swap
Depending on your crowd you should consider entertainment. Last year we had local musicians play the fiddle and create quite a lively atmosphere. We also had a children’s craft area where kids could color or create seed pots out of newspaper. I’d consider the raffle as entertainment as well since everyone has a look at the prizes and some get very excited to win items!
11. Refreshments for the Event
You don’t walk around the seed table once at our event. You come back for a browse every now and again as people come in the doors and leave. To create a more social atmosphere, have a space set aside for sitting down (also great for people with disabilities or who tire easily) and offer refreshments. This could be in the form of cakes, warm drinks, popcorn, or other easily served nibbles.
The organizers of our event always try to bring something with them and visitors will bring cakes in too. Don’t be afraid to ask people to help out in that way! This year someone brought in a huge crate of salad greens he’d harvested from his polytunnel that morning. Many people had a nibble and I took home a bag to serve up at lunch the next day.
12. There will always be leftover seeds!
You’d think people would come in with a few packets and maybe leave with more than they brought. In our experience, it’s the opposite and this year we again have enough leftover packets to fill a shoebox, aside from about ten jars of self-saved seed.
Finding a cause to donate the seeds to will make your event even more part of the community landscape. In years past we’ve donated them to a community farm and to a church gardening program. This year we’re saving some to give away at a gardening event later in the year but we’re also considering donating some to a community garden that’s just started up in a neighboring town.
Ways to Save Money and Reduce Waste in the Garden
I hope these tips will be useful to you and that more seed swaps are organized in communities large and small right across the world! Watch the video above to see what our most recent seed swap was like and if you’d like more ideas for reducing waste and costs in the garden, check out these other ideas:
- Thrifty Ways to Get Plants for Free
- Tips for Organizing an Untidy Garden
- A List of the Earliest Seeds to Sow
- 12 Seed Starting Ideas using Old Packaging