In January 2006 the first Washington Gardner Magazine Seed Exchange took place in Washington, DC. After the success of this first event, other seed exchanges began "sprouting" up in other American cities and National Seed Swap Day began as an annual celebration.
Seed swapping is a fundamental part of human history since seeds were one of the first commodities valued and traded. In today's world, modern gardeners collect and exchange seeds for many reasons, ranging from cultivating and raising rare, heirloom varieties to basic thrift, Seed exchanges perpetuate biodiversity. Swapping seeds is an act of giving and is the ultimate form of recycling.
Saving and swapping seeds may conjure up images of yesteryear and remind you of the tale of Johnny Appleseed, but they are also paving the way for future generations. Back in Johnny Appleseed's day (John Chapman) there were at least a hundred varieties of apples. But this is no longer true. If you mosey through the produce section in a large grocery store you may, if you're lucky, find 10-12 varieties that have manage to survive. And this is true for more than just apples. With the advent of modern agricultural practices and the growth of corporate agriculture, humans have lost much of their agricultural biodiversity. Farmer's markets and the growing local food movements are helping to change that, as more and more people are taking an interest in where and how their food is grown. Biodiversity isn't just about having more food options, although that's a part of it. Biodiversity is a practical way to protect against disease and pests that can wipe out food crops which, in turn, decrease nutrition and can cause famine.
A balance does need to be found between raising enough food to feed the world's population and protecting biodiversity. Seed swaps and exchanges is a simple way that home gardeners can help. Growing your own food from heirloom and non-hybrid seeds, along with saving and sharing your seeds, is a great way to support biodiversity of your food. You can also buy foods that are sourced by local growers who save their seeds. The goal here is to conserve and promote endangered garden and food crops by collecting, growing, sharing heirloom plants, and supporting the folks who use these seeds and plants! And don't forget seed banks which are an organized effort to preserve seeds for future use.
If you have a seed bank or seed swap in your area, support it. If you don't, you might want to consider starting one. Get your kids involved, too. They'll have fun and it's helpful for them to know that food comes from somewhere other than the grocery store. Your local master gardener club and local librarian are excellent resources that can help you get things growing in your neighborhood. Support your local farmers and growers. Or become one yourself!