Grow Food Northampton’s seed swap stirs growing ambitions

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  • Caitlin McKinnell, right, of Northampton portions onion chives seeds into individual packets as she volunteers at Grow Food Northampton's annual Garden Day seed swap held in the Coolidge Museum of the Forbes Library on Saturday, March 7, 2020. Having fun making faces while she watches the activities, at lower left, is Addie Argetsinger, 4, of Holyoke. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Zahra Cresto, right, 4, of Easthampton browses through “From Seed to Plant” by Gail Gibbons while she and her brothers, Aaryis, left, 7, and Angel, 6, wait in the Forbes Library Community Room for the next presentation by Grow Food Northampton. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Leah Stanton of Northampton lamented that she was five minutes late to the start of the Grow Food Northampton seed swap. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Raye Cooke, left, of Leeds waits as Grow Food Northampton volunteer Cathy Wanat of Florence packs up various seeds, including dill, lolla rossa lettuce and prickly seeded spinach, at the nonprofit’s annual seed swap in the Coolidge Museum of Forbes Library on Saturday. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

Staff Writer
Published: 3/8/2020 11:41:29 PM

NORTHAMPTON — As the onset of spring brings longer and warmer days, the greater opportunity for outdoor activities is a welcome development for many who have spent the last few months mostly stuck inside.

For gardeners, the change in the weather also marks the beginning of the growing season. On Saturday, many of these local growers came together at Forbes Library for “Garden Day,” an afternoon filled with seed exchanges and educational programming for kids and adults. 

“Gardening is a cornerstone of being able to create fresh and local organic food,” said Alisa Klein, executive director of Grow Food Northampton, the nonprofit that put on the event. “With the impending climate disaster, it’s incredibly important for people to produce their own fresh and healthy food. It’s at the very top of our goals to give people the tools to grow their own food.”

Upstairs in the Calvin Coolidge Presidential Library & Museum, local gardeners young and old hovered over black plastic tables stocked with seeds and plants of myriad varieties during the seed swap. According to Klein, participants did not have to give seeds to take some, though she said donating to the swap was encouraged.

Ready to be planted were a wide variety of vegetables, legumes and herbs on display, including familiar crops such as corn, carrots, cilantro and thyme. But there were also some unusual inclusions such as cardoon, burdock, endive and purslane. 

Vadim Tulchinsky of Florence owns a plot at Grow Food Northampton’s organic community garden in Florence where he grows tomatoes, radishes, cucumbers and beans. He said he picked up seeds from a variety of different sunflowers at the swap, since he’s getting married in the summer and wants to experiment in growing his own flowers for the ceremony.

“What I was looking for is to preserve a sense of locality to the growing varieties,” Tulchinsky said, adding that he wanted to see what people grew and what was native to the area. “It’s sort of more of a plant geek kind of approach, I guess.”

Leah Stanton recently moved to Northampton from upstate New York and owns a community garden plot, though she hasn’t yet had the opportunity to plant anything. Stanton said she plans on growing lettuce and Swiss chard.

“To me, local seed swaps are a No. 1 priority,” Stanton said. “It’s so important for our Earth and for our smaller community.”

In addition to the seed swap, Grow Food Northampton also held workshops and talks in the library’s community room, including a discussion about seed saving and a kale salad cooking workshop for kids.

Michael Connors can be reached at 

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