When people think of eating locally, their first thought is often buying organic products at health food stores or the farmers market. But if you are really serious about it, said Taos Seed Exchange founder Nan Fischer, start farming your own backyard.
“With all the GMO uncertainty and the Monsanto Protection Act we need to know, now more than ever, the source of our food, and food from the backyard is the freshest and most local,” said Fischer.
This is the concept behind the Taos Seed Exchange, a free community service offered by Fischer in five Taos County locations to home gardeners interested in swapping seeds.
“The way it works is very simple,” she said. “People bring seeds and exchange them for the ones we have at our stations. If they don’t have any, they can buy some at Cid’s or ACE Hardware, use part of them and bring the rest here to swap them out. There is no money involved.”
Fischer has three basic rules and expects swappers to abide by them.
“First, be fair,” she said. “Don’t bring two seeds and take five packets with you. Don’t steal anything and please, clean up after yourself. The businesses that have graciously given me the space to hold the Seed Exchange will appreciate your cooperation.”
Fischer also asks people who bring seeds in to provide accurate information about them. There are labels and envelopes available in all the stations.
“Fill out the label the best you can,” she said. “I have examples here. Then put the seeds in an envelope and seal it.”
There are all sorts of seeds available now: onions, winter squash, melon, marigold, carrot and many more. “Every time I go to a station I see something new,” said Fischer.
Though she doesn’t have any rules about what people should donate, most of seeds provided by locals have been organic. “The companies I got donations from are all organic,” she said.
Roots of the project
Nan Fischer has a degree in horticulture from the University of New Hampshire and has been working with plants for more than 40 years. She came to Taos in 1988, lived on a seed farm for a while, started a family and was a landscaper until 2004. She also had a small market garden in Ojo Caliente for a season.
“Plants have always been present in my life,” she said, “and I love sharing them with people.”
She started the Taos Seed Exchange in January, inspired by the Richmond, Calif., Seed Lending Library. “Seed libraries allow patrons to check out seeds,” she said. “After planting them and harvesting the crops, they bring seeds back to the library.”
Another influence was Eating in Public, a Hawaii-based business.
“The organization is all about food, and one aspect of it is seed sharing stations,” Fischer said. “I shared it on Facebook and a friend wrote, ‘Taos needs something like this,’ so I decided to give it a try.”
Her first location was at OptiMysm, a metaphysical book and gift shop, then she realized that people from other parts of town might want a station closer to them. She contacted other businesses on the north and south side of town and in Questa.
“I didn’t even know if it was going to work, but the community support I got was incredible,” she said.
Thanks to the social media and word of mouth, visitors are now coming from Santa Fe, Cimarrón and even Las Vegas, NM.
The five stations will be opened until mid June.
Though The Taos Seed Exchange is strictly not-for-profit at this time, Fischer hopes to turn it into a business and maybe set it up in other areas in Northern New Mexico.
“The Taos Seed Exchange is being used, and I have deemed it successful, so I am going to expand next year,” she said. “Someone suggested to do a fundraiser and garden tour in late summer. I have some special seeds and clay seed jars I’d like to raffle off along with gift certificates to gardening businesses … This is such a rough idea, but I have lots of support in planning and executing it. My only concern is that seed exchange stays manageable, once it becomes a business.”