Seed exchange helps Flag gardening “grow”
Last Friday, downtown Flagstaff showed a “seedier” side — pumpkin, squash and corn seed, to be exact.
At several tables inside the local restaurant The Seasoned Kitchen, students, faculty and members of the community held their annual “seed exchange,” an opportunity for residents with a green thumb to exchange various germs and kernels and to talk about a subject often forgotten during a snowy Flagstaff winter: gardening.
The event was put on by Students for Sustainable Living and Urban Gardening (SSLUG). Joanna Hale, a community member and SSLUG gardener, said she would like to see more people involved in urban agriculture.
“Basically, what SSLUG does is try to educate people that you can actually grow food on the Colorado Plateau,” Hale said. “So, we do a lot of education on what kind of seeds are good up here, ways to extend the season — because we have a very short growing season — ways to deal with pests, all that kind of thing.”
Hale said calling the event a seed exchange is a bit of misnomer since it is more of a free-for-all, so long as participants do not abuse the privilege.
“We call it a seed exchange, but for the most part, it’s very much buffet-style,” Hale said. “So it’s not necessarily that Josh has to negotiate with Amy and say, ‘I’ll trade you three squash seeds for a pepper [seed].’ Really, everyone has just laid their seeds out on the table, and everyone has a little packet. There’s an ethic that goes into a seed exchange: You don’t take more than you can plant, and you don’t take all of everything.”
Patrick Pynes, a professor of applied indigenous studies, sustainable communities and environmental studies who described himself as a professional gardener and beekeeper, said the exchange of seeds can allow novice and experienced gardeners alike to acquire seeds adapted to dry and cold environments such as Flagstaff.
“This is such a hard place to grow things; it’s so cold here,” Pynes said. “So, we’ve got these locally adapted seeds that are really encoded to grow really well here. So we can really exchange all these locally adapted seeds through a seed exchange like this, and sort of spread out into the community what we do well here.”
Seeds may be traded and knowledge might be dispersed, but in the end, Pynes said, such events are really about the gardening community coming together.
“Seed exchanging is all about building community through seeds and through meeting one another and learning what works here and what doesn’t,” Pynes said.
Hale said her organization has had annual exchanges for the past few springs, but this is the first year they have planned the event around downtown Flagstaff’s First Friday Art Walk.
“This is the first time we’ve done it on a First Friday,” Hale said. “It’s been great so far.”
Nina Porter, a sophomore chemistry education major, said she thought moving the event to coincide with the monthly festival helped the group get exposure.
“I think it’s a great idea, first of all,” Porter said. “It adds a whole ‘nother dimension to the idea of the evolution of community within a city. They have a great turnout tonight. Sure, the Art Walk is helping out, but things look good — people are participating.”
According to Hale and Pynes, participation — especially by university students — is a key goal of SSLUG. Hale said the group has already established a presence on south campus but has plans to expand.
“We have a garden on south campus, near the business building and the social and behavioral science buildings, and we’re also expanding into north campus this upcoming season,” Hale said.
Elaborating on Hale’s words, Pynes said the north campus garden would be in front of and inside the atrium of the Applied Research and Development (ARD) building — an ideal location for a garden because of the large glass windows that reflect light to generate heat in front of the building.
“We’re looking at other possible gardens on campus,” Pynes said. “The first one we’re working on right now is at the ARD building. So, we’re working with a lot of other people; it’s a fairly complex process that involves coming together and finding out what each of us is interested in with what we can do with the ARD.”
Pynes said the northward expansion of campus gardens is the result of Green Fund monies, which will help pay for a specialist.
“So, we applied to the Green Fund to get funding for one year’s salary for a campus organic garden. It was approved — took some time, but it was approved. So, SSLUG is going to hire that gardener … and that person is going to take care of the existing [south campus] SSLUG garden, as well as helping with the design and implementation of the garden at the ARD.”
Yet, Pynes said the organization does not plan on stopping there, but instead plans on using NAU’s other large glass-fronted structure — the Communication building overlooking First Amendment Plaza — to help heat a third garden, and possibly even an orchard.
“The other place we have been looking at is the Communication building,” Pynes said. “We’ve been looking at that because it looks like a really nice, south-facing spot. We’re thinking maybe we might even put a garden in there or even an urban mini-orchard, with apple trees and cherries and things like that. We’re looking to expand what we already have.”
Hale said she encourages students to get involved with SSLUG, and that the group is doing all it can to make gardening fun and accessible for students.
“People can come and garden with us, and we take care of it,” Hale said. “People are done: They do their final exams in the spring, and then they go home. We take care of the garden in the summer, and when they come back they can help with harvesting and all that. It’s a great opportunity.”