Swappers search for seeds adapted to region

Kali Katerberg/Daily Mining Gazette Community members and seed growers browse hundreds of seeds from local growers and business donations Saturday at the Calumet Art Center.

CALUMET — Swapping packages of seeds and gardening stories Keweenaw residents met Saturday for the fifth annual seed swap at the Calumet Art Center.

Around 100 people attend each year, said organizer Dawn Andersson, and she’d like to see more — especially growers offering seed varieties they had success with to pass on.

“Our goal with the seed swap is to develop a regionally adapted seed source,” Andersson explained. When buying seeds from the store, gardeners don’t know where they came from or how the plants will respond to the Keweenaw’s short growing season, cold weather and, in some places, sparse soil. Those seeds often don’t translate to this climate, she said.

The dream of the seed swap is to have locals testing and breeding plant varieties to find or create seeds that grow well in the region and then pass them on to other local gardeners.

Anyone can be a plant breeder, Andersson explained. In fact, many varieties need only three seasons to adapt to a climate.

“The seeds want to adapt,” she said.

By saving seeds from plants that grow better, taste sweeter or tolerate a shorter season, gardeners promote local agriculture, she said.

Very little space or work is needed, and the seeds must be kept cool and dry.

“If most seeds are kept cool and dry, they’ll last longer than we will,” Andersson said.

Andersson brought hundreds of carefully labeled seed packets of varieties she had grown to pass on to other gardeners. The varieties are success cases from her own trials.

Others brought their own packages or even just a box of homegrown potatoes. There were hundreds of commercial packages donated by Shopko for gardeners to try as well, although Andersson noted these varieties have not been tested yet.

“It’s really important…to find out what works for us,” she said.

Andersson sees the work of local gardeners and seed swaps as increasingly important, following a merger between agricultural giant Monsanto and German drug and chemical company Bayer.

“Between the two of them they’ll control more than half of the seed supply for the whole world,” she said.

Monsanto seeds are patented by the company and not usable for breeding. Andersson is concerned the company may cut off certain varieties, making them unavailable. Seed swaps and small seed companies have been popping up in recent years to help combat Monsanto’s influence, she said.

For future seed swaps, Andersson is looking for more seed growers to join in and perhaps even help organize.

“People who don’t come here, they really miss out on something,” said repeat seed swap participant Renate, who would only give her first name.

Renate previously bought a variety of Russian kale that thrived on nutrient-deficient soil, and she also had great success with a yellow cucumber Andersson grew.

“I think this is such a wonderful idea,” she said. “I have met the nicest people here they all care about the environment, they care about using some of that little patch that comes with our houses to actually grow some food.”