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Seed swap events are sprouting up around Centre County. How do they help gardeners?

If you want to start gardening but don’t have the plants you want, there are now local “seed swap” events to help.

“Seed swaps,” events where participants can bring vegetable and flower seeds to swap and learn horticultural information, are sprouting up throughout Centre County.

Emily Sandall is the President of the Community Garden at Penn State, and a Penn State Ph.D. candidate in entomology.

“Seed Swaps offer an opportunity for gardeners to try to grow new things and hear the stories of experiences with growing different types of plants,” Sandall said via email. “If seeds grew well in the area — or from far away, it is always interesting to share them and encourage others to try something new. Plus, you can meet other gardeners in the community.”

Christie and Mark Holloway own Rooted Farmstead in Bellefonte. The couple has wanted to host a community event for a few years, but when they opened the recent spring Magnolia Journal, a publication created by Chip and Joanna Gaines, they found instant inspiration in the photos of greenhouses and families potting seedlings.

On May 5, they will host a seed and seedling exchange from 2-5 p.m. at the farmstead. With the event, “we especially want to be encouraging to new gardeners and children,” Christie Holloway said via email. “Just because you’ve never grown anything before, didn’t grow up on a farm, or have a hard time keeping even the heartiest of succulents alive, doesn’t mean you have no business trying.”

Molly Sturniolo, master gardener coordinator for the Penn State Extension Master Gardener program, thinks there are many reasons why people would want to participate in a seed swap, from looking for new and different varieties of seeds they haven’t grown before to finding seeds to start their garden.

“If it’s a good seed swap where there are a great variety of plants to choose from, it’s about the same as going plant shopping,” Sturniolo said, “except you’re starting with seeds, you’re growing (the plants) from seeds — which is often, I think, a little more satisfying than choosing the plants to put in the ground. Seed swaps are becoming very popular.”

Seed swaps have also been making an impact in State College. On March 20, Centre Moves, in partnership with the State College Borough, hosted a community seed swap at the New Leaf Initiative.

Autumn Busbee, the community engagement specialist in the State College Borough’s Office of Community Engagement, helped organize the event. Because they wanted the event to be inclusive to as many people as possible, the seed swap was free, Busbee said, from information to actual seeds. To get seeds for the event, Busbee solicited donations from companies like Burpee, Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Company, Southern Exposure Seed Exchange and more, for a total of around 1,000 donated packets of seeds.

Emma Keele is an AmeriCorps member with the Penn State Sustainability Institute and Meals on Wheels. Through her work with the Penn State Student Farm, Keele helped organize the Seed Swap. The Student Farm had a table at the Swap with information about creating your own seed-starting light setup, Keele said via email, and a light setup which was given away as a door prize.

Keele believes the seed swap brought education and gardening enjoyment to the community.

“Any type of gardener was able to enjoy the event from experienced to beginners,” Keele said. “There were also community gardens and master gardeners there that were able to answer questions or share their expertise.”

Other community gardening organizations like the Penn State Community Garden, Crop Mobs, and Penn State Extension Master Gardeners had tables at the event, according to Keele. In addition, Schlow Centre Region Library provided gardening books for a reading corner, Busbee said.

At the prior seed exchange, Busbee estimated there were 40 attendees, but said they were certain there were over 100 people at this year’s event. As an avid gardener herself, she enjoyed getting to talk to attendees about seed-planting and “build a sense of community around gardening.” In her own gardening plot, Busbee said her fellow gardeners are some of the most generous people she knows with sharing information, seeds, and techniques.

“So I think (gardening and the seed swap) builds this great sense of community around being helpful,” Busbee said. “And I think even though with the seed swap it only happens once a year or there might be a couple different types of events, it’s just a great way to find out what’s out there, and it’s a very welcoming community.”

It’s important people know what kinds of plants they’re growing and have access to information about how to grown them, when they’re learning about gardening, Sturniolo said. The Master Gardener’s Program has a hotline, she said, available via telephone and email or in person, where residents can go to ask questions about gardening if needed.

Keele’s favorite part of the recent event was when community members brought some seeds to swap.

“I was able to take some Heirloom blue corn that I am super excited to plant this summer,” Keele said via email. “There were so many fun varieties and it is exciting that people will be able to experiment with maybe something new that they haven’t planted before.”

While preparing for their own upcoming seed swap, the Holloways have a goal.

“If the event inspires just one person to grow something they wouldn’t have otherwise, we consider it a success,” Christie said.

For more information on the upcoming seed swap at Rooted Farmstead, visit www.rootedfarmstead.com.

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