Seed packets at a seed swap
Credit: "Seed packets - seed swap" by Local Food Initiative is licensed under CC BY 2.0

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A seed shortage brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic created growing pains for would-be gardeners last spring. Whether looking for a new hobby or fearing food shortages, city dwellers started “panic planting” anywhere they could, from community gardens and backyards to porches and window sills. Anticipating demand could be high once again, a local organizer has birthed Share a Seed, a seed-sharing initiative with the nonprofit organization Slow Food USA. 

Reana Kovalcik, a Slow Food DC board member, says she was inspired to start Share a Seed after getting involved in mutual aid work during the pandemic. She found volunteer networks could be nimble and serve the community effectively with minimal resources. Conversations she had with neighbors revealed a high level of interest in growing food. 

“I was thinking about where commercial outlets are failing us right now,” Kovalcik says. Some of the big seed sellers, like Johnny’s, have periodically had to limit sales to commercial customers and farmers. She presents a hypothetical. “Can we substitute in community? People power? I can’t order from Johnny’s or Burpee and my Ace Hardware is closed, but my neighbor has a half a packet of squash seeds.” 

Kovalcik also hopes Share a Seed fosters human connection, something that’s also been high in demand but low in supply due to pandemic isolation. “People have a strong desire to connect to something,” she says. The initiative recommends participants include an encouraging note, gardening tips, or a recipe along with the seeds they donate. “That way of connecting, even if it’s in one direction, can fuel the soul right now.” 

Those interested in donating their spare seeds can go to the Share a Seed webpage. Registration opened March 1. Participants will find out where to send their seeds and notes after submitting the form. According to the Share a Seed: “All seeds are welcome, though we recommend donating seeds that are no more than one year old and have been properly stored in a cool, dry place. We also recommend that seed sponsors donate seeds appropriate to the climate of the receiving chapter(s).”

Slow Food USA chapters in Dallas/Fort Worth, Denver, Las Vegas, and Springfield, Illinois are also participating in the pilot program.

In addition to mailing in seeds, Washingtonians will be able to drop off packets at various FRESHFARM Markets throughout the spring. FRESHFARM and Slow Food DC will release a tabling schedule online and on social media.

Once the seeds have been received, it’s up to partnering community organizations to get them into the right hands. Kyanite Kitchen, a mobile community pantry founded by Kya Parker during the pandemic, is one such group hoping to connect D.C. residents with the seeds they need to get growing. 

Right now Kyanite Kitchen holds food and produce giveaways Tuesdays from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. on Minnesota Avenue NE near Friendship Collegiate Academy Public Charter School. Parker’s focus has been on feeding residents in Ward 7 and 8, where healthy food options are limited compared to the rest of the city. She also sets up two sites for “Feed The City” events every other Saturday. The best way to track Kyanite Kitchen’s whereabouts is on Instagram.

Parker says there will be a separate table for Share a Seed drop-off and pick-up at Kyanite Kitchen events going forward. She hopes she can make seed donations go even further by tacking on “a mobile plant pantry” where people can also offload excess seedlings, gardening tools, pots, and soil.

“I want to help people get that relationship back—learning about growing their own food, learning about sustainability, and getting back to nature,” Parker says. “Everyone is in rooms or houses or apartments and there’s not that much green space. But you can still grow on your windowsill, on your porch. Anywhere that gets sunlight.”

“Seed packets – seed swap” by Local Food Initiative is licensed under CC BY 2.0