Seed swap inspires Master Gardeners to plan similar event

David Broyles

January 22, 2014

DOBSON —Local Master Gardeners are seeing if a kernel of an idea inspired by the annual Slow Food Piedmont Seed Swap and Potluck meal will inspire a similar event in Surry County.

Slow Food Piedmont, with support from Old Salem Horticulture, held its third swap for new and long-time heirloom seed growers Saturday at Old Salem. Local Master Gardeners in attendance included Sue Johnson, Kathleen Demers, Sharon Poindexter, Wayne and Joy Barlow and veteran apple grower Ken Holdaway.

Johnson said the first of the day’s two events which had a significant impact on her was the “Stories Behind the Seeds” time where participants drew chairs up into a circle and shared stories about farming as well as the varieties of plants.

“This year I came with some of my own seeds. People shared remarkable stories from their own lives,” said Johnson. “I’m not that much of a seed saver (because of storage space) but it’s always interested me. One gentleman there had seeds from 2008. They are just fascinating. We went last year and I got some Lima beans handed down from Old Salem’s gardens and when you realize their story it’s awesome.”

She said she feels Cooperative Extension is “one of the best kept secrets” in the area for educational offers to citizens. Johnson said shortly after they arrived at the swap they began considering how to organize an event just like it locally.

“I think variety is key,” Demers said. “I’m trying to learn all I can before I plant. I’ve already learned so much and I’ve been here for more than five years. I have learned so much from local farmers. Seeds from our area which do well you already know will grow here. It’s important to look at what is naturalized here. Planting these varieties will attract beneficial insects which I believe will help against invasive species.”

Demers explained she is studying native flowers to plant to supplement her landscaping and said local gardeners often have better results using local seeds and plants from local nurseries.

“Seed from catalogues comes from up North and many times it will not do well in our area,” Demers said. “Old time breeds from local families are really important to me. I want to find and use heritage and native seeds. I so hope we can do this here.”

Demers said one thing she has learned from her fellow gardeners it to save seeds from the first part of the season because they are the ones least likely to have disease and insects because the plants are stronger at the beginning of their season.

“Everyone waits till the end of the season to save seed,” said Demers. “Your first new seeds from the plant, even though it will continue to flower and produce fruit, are the best. It talks this about this in The Bible. I think there is a lot of natural science in the Bible that is wise.”

Jackson said the event surprised its organizers from the onset as a crowd of 400 overwhelmed the workshop of The Single Brothers home in Old Salem. He credited media coverage as well as social media for getting the word out on the event.

“This year was a tough year and I couldn’t tell if it was the larger area or not which made it look like there was fewer seeds,” said Jackson. “This is money to be saved on seeds and a lot of community gardens cut their costs by coming to the swap. All seeds which are not used go to the Extension service for community gardens in the area.”

He explained a large part of the effort is geared towards getting gardeners together to socialize and share their knowledge.

“I think people just love to get together and talk about gardens,” Jackson. “The stories about seeds was powerful this year. You form a personal connection. I’ve been trying to catch up with so many participants and document their story with pictures. Our gardens have the historic cutoff date of 1850.”

Jackson appears to relish his dual role of preservation, discovery and making plants and their devotees personalities popular. He says the cost of commercial seeds is only one factor as the dictates of business result in less diversity of plants offered because they do not meet an industrial model.

“There are lots of diverse varieties of vegetables among one species,” said Jackson. “Every year is different and sometimes local seeds are more adaptive.”

Persons interested in the ongoing discussion of a seed swap in Surry County or the upcoming Master Gardeners class set for Feb. 6 may contact the Cooperative Extension Service at 336-401-8025.

David Broyles may be reached at 336-325-1952 or on twitter @MtAiryNewsDave.