When: February 7 from 1:30 to 4 p.m.
Where: Suffolk County Community College, Riverhead Campus, Shinnecock Science Building, Riverhead Campus, 121 Speonk Rd., Riverhead
Edible readers have met Steph Gaylor before. She’s been the Tomato Lady, and she started Salt of the Earth Seed Company. Now she’s started the first Long Island regional seed swap, which will take place in Riverhead on Saturday, Feb. 7. I don’t even save seeds and barely garden given my deer problem, but after talking to her for a half hour, I’m definitely going because the event will be a galvanizing start to a seed saving culture on Long Island.
“Seed swapping is about community,” says Gaylor. “It’s a generous, giving community of amazing people that share seeds, and importantly, stories. I’ve missed going to them, so I wanted to get it going here.”
It’s taken her nearly four years, but she believes Long Island is ready. A confluence of home gardeners, students and colleges concerned with food safety, reliable produce and creating something unique to Long Island have approached Gaylor, who gives seed saving talks at places like Hallockville Farm Museum, with the desire but not the know-how.
“People are asking and wanting to learn and bring back varieties that used to be all over Long Island,” she says. “It’s not a rarity anymore.” One such success was Ken Ettlinger’s work with the Long Island cheese pumpkin, which all started because he wanted to make a pie just like his mother’s.
How It Works
If you want to participate in the swap, you have to make sure your seeds are swappable. Seeds from hybrids are not allowed, and to bring seeds, you must know their provenance. At the swap, volunteers will be on hand to OK the seeds. Ideally, the seeds have been saved from a previous harvest that was planted with seeds from a company that supplies heirloom varieties. “The seeds have to be labeled with how and where you saved it, who you got it from,” says Gaylor. “You can’t just bring a pound of peas or something you found in a ditch.” Gaylor expects mostly vegetables seeds, but she will be bringing seeds for edible flowers too. Including nasturtium, the seeds of which, Gaylor recently found, can be pickled and used like capers. “I was talking to a local artist and she told me her mother used to do that,” she says. “It’s a great example of what you can learn when people start talking.
“This is about local seed sovereignty. That is the only agenda; we’re not trying to sell anything,” says Gaylor. “This is solely about advocacy, education and research into new varieties for our region. It’s a vision unmolested by outside competing interest.”
It’s OK to come without seeds, but you’ll only be able to go home with two packets. Gaylor doesn’t expect a lot of seeds coming in this year, but will have on hand seeds from her collection, Ettlinger’s collection and donations from seed companies. Children are welcome to come, but swapping will be left to the adults.
The event is being running under the auspices of a nonprofit started by Gaylor, the Long Island Regional Seed Consortium, which is slowly gaining traction and more board members. Currently, Gaylor is working with Dan Heston of Salt Air Farm in Cutchogue. The group plans to give seed saving workshops throughout the coming year, to help gardeners and small scale farmers learn the basics, like the difference between wet processing and dry processing, and the advanced, like how to set up an isolation garden.
“Ten years ago, I don’t thing this could have happened,” says Gaylor, “but now the time is right for it.”