Why Your Seed Matters

The Community Seed Garden in Sebastopol, CA

Community Seed Exchange in Sebastopol, CA

by Sara McCamant

Seed is the first link of the food chain, yet it is part of our food system that many people pay little attention to. Most gardeners are either intimidated by starting seed and buy starts that others have grown, or they buy whatever seeds the hardware store has on the rack without much thought. Everything from how the plants actually make seed, to all the steps to grow and harvest the seed, are absent from our consciousness when we stand in front of a rack of seeds with pretty pictures on them.

The Community Seed Exchange (CSE) in Sebastopol is trying to change that. Their goal is to increase awareness of the importance of seed and of our seed sources and to build a repository of locally grown and adapted seed for Sonoma County gardeners.   The CSE has a seed library with over 180 varieties of vegetables, grains, herbs and flowers. The majority of the seed comes from their Community Seed Garden where they steward a quarter-acre garden to grow seed for the community. They also host monthly classes on seed saving and gardening. All of this is free to the community.

What people don’t realize is that most seed companies are actually repackaging companies– they buy seed on the global market, sourcing much of their seed from China and Europe. So while we might grow local food to reduce our carbon footprint, the seeds we use have some serious miles on them.

Conventional seeds large amounts of pesticides and fertilizers because they are in the ground longer. Seeds grown this way are adapted to be grown with more water, more fertilizers, and no competition from weeds. Conventional seed is also highly controlled by multinational corporations. Seminis is one of the largest distributors of vegetable seed in the country and it is owned by Monsanto.

When you buy cheap seed you are supporting that system.

When you buy your seed from small organic bio-regional seed companies that tell you who grows their seed, you are supporting a healthy food system. Those seeds are adapted for organic conditions, to be grown with less inputs. Those companies’ seeds include many open-pollinated varieties — not just hybrids.

The Community Seed Exchange also encourages people to start growing their own seed. Consider growing out one of your favorite varieties and sharing the seed with your community through the seed library. Saving and sharing seed supports a food system that is based on caring for the commons (our seed heritage) and committing to stepping out of an unhealthy food system. CSE offers classes on how to save seed and a resource for help with any questions you have about seed saving.


Community Seed Exchange has a monthly gathering the last Saturday of the month from 9 am to 12 pm. The seed library is open all morning, and CSE offers a class from 11 to 12. CSE is located at St Stephen’s Church at 500 Robinson Rd., Sebastopol. For more info, go to communityseedexchange.org

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