This New Matchmaking Website Makes Seed Swapping Easier Than Ever

Global Seed Savers Network wants farmers to swap heirloom seeds and avoid buying commercial GMO varieties to protect genetic diversity.

May 17, 2017
man planting saved seeds
Mint Images - Michael Hanson/Getty

We’re always in search of new heirloom, rare, and unusual plant varieties to try out in our gardens, and now a new seed swapping website, Global Seed Savers Network, is making it easier than ever to get our hands on them. Once you become a member of the site, you can search the database of seeds that growers are willing to swap, find something fun and unique that you want to try—such as Cattaraugus Cranberry pole beans—and request the seeds. You can also post your own saved seeds for sharing with others.

(On just a quarter-acre of land, you can produce fresh, organic food for a family of four—year-round. Rodale's The Backyard Homestead shows you how.)


But Global Seed Savers Network wasn’t created just for the novelty finding cool varieties to grow. The Center for Food Safety (CFS), a nonprofit environmental advocacy group, is behind the tool, and their goal is to preserve ancient and genetically diverse plant varieties. They hope making it easier for farmers to connect and trade seeds will help to preserve crop diversity. According to the United Nations, seventy-five percent of genetic diversity of food crops has been lost to farmers since the 1900s as local varieties were overlooked in favor of commercial, high-yielding varieties that are all genetically uniform. Many of these are owned by companies like Monstanto and Syngenta. 

Related: 26 Plants You Should Always Grow Side-By-Side

That’s a problem, first because it makes cooking and eating far less fun, and, more seriously, because it’s crucial for food security. Imagine that a plant disease begins killing, say, wheat. Since almost all commercially grown wheat is genetically uniform the crop will eventually be decimated. Other heirloom varieties of wheat that aren't widely grown may be resistant to the fungus, but we’ve basically put all our eggs in one basket, so to speak.

Related: 5 Of Your Favorite Foods That Could Soon Be Gone Forever

Actually, we don’t have to imagine this scenario. It’s already happened—and is currently happening for the second time—with bananas. The Gros Michel banana used to be the variety eaten around the world, but in the 1950s it was completely wiped out by a fungus. These days the Cavendish is the only banana you’ll see on grocery store shelves. It’s smaller and said to be less tasty than the Gros Michel (though we’ll never get to find out for ourselves), and all of these bananas come from plants that are clones of a single plant developed 180 years ago. Now an even more powerful fungus is attacking the Cavendish bananas, and unless we can find a more genetically diverse variety that is immune to the disease there may come a day in our lifetimes when bananas will be very, very scarce.


Related: This Is What Your Favorite Foods Used To Look Like

That’s where Global Seed Savers Network comes in. Seed swapping communities aren’t a new idea for protecting biodiversity (the wonderful Seed Savers Exchange has been around since the 1970s), but Global Seed Savers Network does a few things differently. For one, you don’t need to pay a membership to join the community, which may entice more farmers and gardeners to test it out. And then there’s the interface of the site itself.

The site was developed by the same company that created, and it functions much the same way. Swappers can create profiles, rate other growers, and leave reviews. You can also search by the region where you live or local climate and the site will—ahem—match you with seeds that other farmers are growing in similar geographical areas.

Related: 7 Things You Need To Know Before Buying Seeds

CFS is hoping the new site will appeal to millennial farmers who are used to communicating and networking online, Rebecca Spector, the site’s project coordinator, told Civil Eats. The site encourages young farmers to learn how to save seeds and provides resources for doing so. It also outlines state-by-state seed sharing laws that are important to know when mailing seeds across state lines.  

Global Seed Savers Network won't singlehandedly fix the world's plant diversity problem, but hopefully it will get more farmers and gardeners excited about saving, swapping, and talking about seeds, and that could get the gears turning in the right direction a little bit faster.