Monday, June 15, 2015

Craig LeHoullier: Start a Seedling Swap

Want to feed your local food system? Pass on the passion for growing food.

Photo © Stephen L. Garrett, excerpted from Epic Tomatoes
For gardeners who have truly been “bitten” by the bug, gardening is more than cultivating plants from seed. Gardeners hope to grow people who are passionate about growing food. To me, there are two ways to “grow gardeners.” Sharing histories and pictures of plant varieties can be utterly captivating. It changes a garden from a patch of green to a living museum — a place to bring friends, tell stories, and find peace and enjoyment. Making seeds and plants available through seed libraries and plant donations also affords opportunities to those otherwise fascinated but perhaps economically strapped. If you are lucky enough to be able to combine the two — sharing both stories and plants — that is true gardening gold.

I call my own gardening habits a “hobby grown slightly out of control.” For the past 15 years we’ve sold a plethora of tomato, pepper, and eggplant varieties, and the various people we’ve met in this time have become our “annual seedling friends” — like-minded, giving, and warm and wonderful people we eagerly anticipate seeing each spring. Once we’ve saturated our local market, the best part, for me, arrives: finding an easily accessible, well-publicized event or venue to bring plants and give them to those who will grow and cherish them.

Through serendipity, I’ve become good friends with folks involved with a library located in downtown Durham, North Carolina. This year we christened my plant giveaway “Plantapalooza.” I load my truck with plants (twice — it needs two trips!), and we gather in the parking lot early in the morning. People begin to arrive well in advance of the event, read tags, and fire several thoughtful, curious questions at me. Within a few hours, 600 plants find new homes. There are countless hugs, a few tears, stories exchanged, contact information swapped, pictures snapped. Nothing makes a seed-starting gardener happier than the knowledge that the offspring will find good homes in which to mature — garden patches where the results will be wondered at, discussed, loved, and handed down. During the summer I receive e-mails with pictures attached and stories of meals where the tomatoes, eggplant, and peppers we gave away as seedlings in the spring are scrutinized, eaten, and appreciated.

Sharing seeds and seedlings is never just about the tomatoes, the peppers, or any other single crop. Getting other people growing is about sharing both plants and techniques. It is about food, and food is about more than just physical nourishment: it is about stories and community. It is about growing future gardeners, cajoling young folks away from their smartphones and laptops and TVs out into the warm air, sweet-smelling garden soil, and chorus of bird song. It is everything, really, to those who get it. And, hopefully, all of us who garden and share can bring more and more people into our world of joy.

Craig LeHoullier is the author of Epic Tomatoes. Find more from Craig on his website, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

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