While some people ventured downtown for the West Michigan Home and Garden Show, those with an eye on sustaining and promoting local produce gathered at the Kentwood District Library for the second annual Grand Rapids Community Seed Exchange.
The seed exchange was sponsored by NoGMO4Michigan. Event organizer, Tanya Hawley, explained that the seed exchange program, “educates the community about growing and saving heirloom seeds. This forms a connection between individual gardeners, local farms or Community Supported Agriculture (CSA), and farmer’s markets.”
In recent years seed exchanges have become more popular among those who wish to avoid GMO (genetically modified organisms). Speaker Ryan Kelly from NoGMO4Michigan began the day by highlighting the history of seed saving, going back to colonial days. Kelly then explained the difference between hybrid produce, such as crossing two types of apples to create the Honeycrisp apple; two of the same species combined to make a new type of apple. GMO produce, on the other hand, is created from injecting bacteria into produce a DNA mutation of the product. These GMO products can, themselves, be classified as pesticide products. The resultant produce are bred for uniformity and shelf life, not taste.
Seed exchanges are utilized for those who save the seeds at the end of the growing year to strengthen the healthiest and tastiest crops and to make them thrive in the local Michigan climate. Heirloom seeds can be like expensive jewelry or furniture handed down through the generations.
Throughout the day breakout sessions were held on topics such as hydroponics, urban gardening, the basics of seed saving, and the importance of local produce. Don Rewa also spoke on the “Amazing Honeybee” and the consequences of declining numbers of honeybees in recent years and the natural process of pollination they provide.
Rachelle Bostwick, of Earthkeeper Farm, set up an interactive display for participants to learn how to separate and save the seeds from parsley plants. Bostwick and her husband, Andrew, use only organic and biodynamic practices and boast a USDA Stellar Certified Organic Produce rating. Their farm, as many of the farms represented this weekend, operate a CSA. Community Supported Agriculture is a locally based model of agriculture and food distribution. It is a group of people who financially support a farm and their growing efforts in exchange for a share of the food produced. You can pay a seasonal fee or volunteer for work shifts for the anticipated harvest. As harvest season begins, you’ll be able to pick up your “share” of food – which will change as the season changes.
In the spirit of growing and saving seeds of heirloom plants, the Kent District Library system now maintains the KDL Seed Library, operating at 14 local branches. Michelle Boisvenue-Fox with KDL offers a diverse and strong seed stock collected from Wild West Seeds, Earthkeeper Farm, Seed Saver Exchange, High Mowing Organic Seeds, Wintersown, and Seeds of Change.
“People just need to fill out a participation form, take free seed samples, and hopefully bring back seeds at the end of the season to build the seed library.”
You do not have to be a library cardholder to participate. Local branches will have their displays set up within the next several weeks.
Having only the experience of backyard gardening, and buying the bulk of my produce from local stores like Meijer, Family Fare, and Horrocks, the seed exchange was very eye opening and informative. For more information on local produce, GMO-free seeds, and CSA cooperatives you can contact the following:
Green Wagon Farm
Chimney Creek Farm
New City Urban Farm
Growing Green Family Farm
Another source of information is the Grower’s Fare, Community Supporting Agriculture, taking place at the Downtown Market on March 15, 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Hear from farmers about what they’re growing and how to use your produce all season long. There will be presentations on health and nutrition, produce share, and cooking demonstrations.