SEED Brown County may have started with a single seed donation, but it has since grown to house a library of more than 65 varieties of heirloom corn, bean, herbs, grains, native plants and wildflower seeds.
“Seeds are often overlooked, but they are everywhere. They are kind of a basis of a lot of economics and I think they’re important,” explained Torrie Rae, who is the founder and organizer of SEED Brown County.
The organization, a nonprofit that started in 2016, has a mission of cultivating leadership and stewardship within the community to help preserve diversity, sustain food security and grow a more resilient Brown County, Indiana.
SEED Brown County offers annual seed swaps, workshops, lectures and a seed lending library, but COVID-19 has added a twist.
“We usually have two big seed swaps a year, but this year we had to cancel,” Rae said, noting that folks have recently been relying on no-contact swaps and the mail to exchange seeds.
“The biggest impact from COVID was instead of organic seed swapping happening at annual events, the trades went to Facebook groups and online.”
Despite the current culture of social-distancing, Rae, who has a background in urban agriculture, believes that the future for seed swapping is positive.
“As far as the future for swaps in Brown County, it’s bright because we have outside spaces and it’s enticing to people who are looking at socially-distanced options,” she explained.
The organization’s humble beginning came out of a local seed donation that held a history of growth in Brown County.
“It all started with a seed donation from a local grower who passed away. In his honor, we decided to try to grow out some of the corn varieties he left behind. This started a quest to locate the elders, the growers and the locals who are growing and saving seeds unique to Brown County, Indiana,” Rae said.
That initial seed donation was rich in Brown County heritage and included corn and vegetable seeds that were bred specifically for the area’s topography – which is made up of steep, tree-covered ravines, clay soil and unique growing conditions.
Since then, the organization has collected enough seeds to form the Brown County Seed Lending Library.
“A seed library is often managed by different groups of people and traditionally hosted at libraries. It has no fees. You can take the seed, learn to grow it and then return some seeds to the library. Through this, seeds are made available to people,” Rae explained, noting that in the past SEED Brown County library exchanges have been well-attended events that have often been held at the farmers market in Nashville.
Rae hopes that the future of SEED Brown County is marked with continued growth along with education about the importance of seeds at the grassroots level.
Ellen Jacquart, president of Indiana Native Plant Society, said seed saving is crucial to the future of endangered plant species.
“Seed banks have been established to keep seeds of species that we are losing, like white ash,” she said. “Some seeds, but not all, can remain viable for many years, allowing their preservation even if the existing populations all die.”
Jacquart said the importance of seeds is often overlooked.
“The reasons are that it takes more knowledge on how to collect, store, prepare and plant the seeds,” she said. “This process varies for every species, and it is much slower to establish plants by seed. It’s easier and faster to propagate by splitting a plant into two, which is possible for many species, but not all.”
Jacquart has noticed an increased interest in native plants and seeds in Indiana.
“There has been a tremendous increase in the number of people interested in growing native plants from seed,” she said. “Winter sowing is a new phenomenon where seeds are planted in milk jugs. It’s an easy way to grow lots of plants from seed that you can later transfer to your garden.”
INPS is a nonprofit group with about 1,000 members in Indiana. The group promotes the appreciation, preservation, scientific study and use of plants native to Indiana. Learn more about Indiana native plants and how to identify them by checking out the INPS Facebook group.