Share seeds and plants for free by organizing a community Seed Swap
This is the fifth year that I’ve helped to organize a community Seed Swap and last Sunday’s event was the best we’ve had so far! We had over a hundred people attend and countless seeds, bulbs, and plants shared among them. I don’t think anyone left without something new to grow and a smile on their face.
A ‘Seed Swap’, or Seed and Plant Share as we call it, is an opportunity for gardeners to break open their seed collections and trade in the ones they probably won’t use against ones they will. Most growers are also seed hoarders (me = guilty as well) so many seeds can go to waste. Our event is about giving those 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.
I think the reason that our own event is so successful is because we’ve had five 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!
1. Get some 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 a ‘Seed Swap Committee’ with gardening pals or members of gardening associations and clubs. 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, the Laxey Sailing Club. It’s a comfortable space with plenty of parking, opportunity for refreshments, and they support our event by not charging us an arm and a leg for the room hire.
One of the benefits of keeping the same venue year in and year out is that people become familiar with it. We have visitors that have come every year and they know exactly where to go each time we host the event.
Our event lasts three hours but the busiest time is the first hour – there’s usually a bit of a scrum in the peak 15 minutes. We also host our event just before spring since gardeners are still taking stock of seed and planning their garden.
Other ideas for venues include community halls, churches, private club rooms, and private homes. Imagine having a seed swap garden party!
3. Decide how you’d like the sharing to work
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 when tell them how the event works: organize the seeds you’ve brought with you into the bins provided – they’re labelled 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. 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 means 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.
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 compost donated to us by Greeba Mushrooms, a wormery composter from the Isle of Man Government’s Waste Disposal Department, an aromatherapy massage from Shaynt as Shee, an apple tree from Manx Native Trees, a voucher for dinner at HQ Bar and Restaurant, and vouchers to Ballanelson nurseries.
Other ways sponsors can be involved include: funding the room or room hire, advertising sponsorships, and seeds for the swap itself. This year Ballanelson Nursery also donated a stack of wildlife friendly flower seeds to the swap.
6. Organize a raffle
A raffle is part fundraiser and part entertainment and the raffle we run every year is the highlight of the second half of the event. We charge £1 for a strip of numbers from the raffle ticket book and write each persons name and phone number on the back of the copy we keep for the draw. 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. I’ve just had a gentleman walk into my office now to pick up a chocolate Easter egg.
We ask for people who attend to consider donating a prize to the raffle too. It could be a pair of gardening gloves, a bottle of wine, chocolate, or gardening books. Most things are welcome.
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 favourite charity.
8. Invite People
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:
- Create an low-ink poster that can be easily be printed at home. Print it on coloured 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.
- Get the Press to help. Contact the newspaper 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.
- Facebook Event. 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
- Blogging about the event. As a blogger I advertise the event to anyone who drops by my site for a visit. If you’re not a blogger, consider getting in touch with a local gardening writer.
- Emailing gardening societies. First I start with emailing everyone in my Allotment (Community garden) but I also email a text version of the poster to other allotment associations and to horticultural societies on the Isle of Man. I ask if they could please forward the event info onto their members which they’re usually happy to help with.
- 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 newletter 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.
- Sign up to our event’s mailing list here. You’ll receive two or three emails per year from me.
Depending on your crowd you should consider entertainment. Last year we had David and Ciara Kilgallon and some other Celtic music musicians play the fiddle and create quite a lively atmosphere. We also had a children’s craft area where kids could colour 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!
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 and visitors will bring cakes in too. Don’t be afraid to ask people to help out in that way! This year Steve Prescott of Manx Native Trees not only brought in an apple tree for the raffle but 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 shoe box, 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 the Childrens’ Centre Community Farm and to the Broadway Baptist Church for their allotment garden set aside for the island’s homeless. 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 Douglas.
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! If you have any questions please leave them in the comments section below and also check out the video I made of how to organize a Seed Swap.