Nan Fischer is someone you’d love to hate. An Earth mother of the first order, she’s just too dang talented — and maddeningly generous to boot.
With more than 40 years’ working with plants and a degree in horticulture from the University of New Hampshire, her free Taos Seed Exchange could have been for profit, but no, she organizes the whole thing at her own expense and then gifts it to the community.
Must be nice to operate from that kind of largesse.
“I just give stuff away,” Fischer says, eyes wide and bright with joy. “It’s been the most fun thing I’ve done in my whole life. I’m like, Nanny Appleseed!”
Started in spring 2013, she says the seed exchange was really a lark.
“I was about to buy all new seed and put the old stuff in the compost in November and December of 2012 and then a thing comes up on Facebook all about sharing food in Hawaii (nomoola.com), and then another box said Shareseed.com.” She posted the site on social media and a friend replied, “Taos needs this.”
And the rest is history.
Nan in winter
With seed catalogues coming out our ears and stuffing our heads with dreams of lush summer harvests, it’s high time to see what Fischer has been up to since last June, when the seed exchange closed its first season.
Yellow-flowering tomatoes and a couple pots of kale and chard over-winter in the sunny dining room window of her north-valley home. Geraniums, alyssum and Christmas cactus add a bright note and fragrance amid the dun-colored winter landscape.
In a mini-green house she created out of the portal of her former two-car garage, herbs and feathery carrot tops flourish in a few pots, providing tasty accents in the dead of winter.
Dug out of her mesa garden in the fall and nurtured indoors, the carrots and some seedlings’ green shoots fairly shout their vitality from pots snugged into a heat sink under partially covered southern windows, deflecting some of the midday sun.
And everywhere are seeds — counter tops and benches overflow with stacks of seeds in packets, seeds in boxes, seeds in manila envelopes, all from Taoseños, out-of-state seed-o-philes and national seed companies.
“And so far they’re all organic,” Fischer notes with pleasure. “What a great way for people to get rid of their seed stash without buying more.”
“Last year I got everything online and donated. I got three donations of 100 seed packets, then on Facebook I asked, does anyone have seeds and I got hundreds of seed.”
A happy hippie to the core, she used all recycled materials to put together the seed stations.
“I decorated everything with old seed packets. It took more than 200 hours just to get it set up,” she recalls almost fondly at this point. “But you start it up and it basically runs by itself.”
She would check the stations once a week and restock whatever was empty, be it veggies, flowers or herbs.
From the sublime to ridiculous
Her Kickstarter campaign in December 2013 was for the seed exchange — to buy seed, to build stations, to offer starts and native plants.
But instead of money, she says she mostly gets free seeds, free offers to build stations and supply the materials. “Things I thought I was going to have to put money out for I’m getting free.”
Ultimately, she said everybody followed the rules, albeit it with a little help from the business owners.
“The store owners were totally into it. They would chase people trying to steal seeds. They didn’t have to, but they did.”
Only one station was taken advantage of, the seeds being “stolen” instead of “traded” and then plant starts sold from the pilfered seeds. Adding insult to injury, the scotch tape was stolen from that same station (C’mon man … ).
“There are great farm and garden people,” on social media Fischer says. “People want to know more about GMO (genetically modified organisms). They want to take control of their own food. They found out they loved being down in the dirt — because it was fun!”
Fischer said folks ask her to teach them about plants and gardening. She brought one girl a strawberry plant and told her how and where to plant it outside and to fertilize with a 5-10-5 organic plant food.
“One kid had stomach issues and it all went away because they went organic,” Fischer explained. “He (posted) they put in a whole garden after I shared with them about how to grow organic food. Another girl asked me, ‘Can you teach me?’”
While she was certain she would give gardening workshops last year, she never got around to it.
“I just did a lot of writing. Last year became a little market survey.” She said people would go up to the checkout stands at the different businesses and ask if they could buy the packs of seeds. The owners or checkers would say no, you have to “trade.”
In March Fischer is partnering with Not Forgotten Outreach Inc. to do a mega “seed swap on steroids” at the Don Fernando Hotel — tentatively Saturday, March 22 (a regular seed swap but to the nth degree she hopes).
“Not Forgotten Outreach is a nonprofit for vets to heal through farming, so I’m now on their team to help with plants, seed, brainstorming and so on,” Fischer said by email Feb. 4. For more about NFO, visit notforgottenoutreach.org. Since there was so much interest in buying from the stations, Fischer decided to offer her own plant products. In the fall of 2013 she started her company, Sweetly Seeds — “growing through sharing” (see her lively blog at sweetlyseeds.com).
“The online seedbank is LIVE! Buy, sell, trade or give away your seed stash,” Fischer explains on her home page where she offers seed swapping and buying, organic gardening links and CSA shares (Community Supported Agriculture) of starts and seeds where customers pay in advance, giving the grower funds to get the season started.
When she’s not actively seeding the fertile ground of Taos gardens, she’s writing her observations about life in pithy and poetic prose at nanfischer.com.
Check out all-things-Fischer and you will be rewarded a hundred-fold.