Mendocino Gets Its Own Seed-Swapping Club

Yesterday, Emerald Grown, a cannabis farmer-owned marketing co-op, hosted a cannabis-seed exchange in Mendo at the Laytonville Grange. The exchange served to facilitate the beginning of a Mendocino Cannabis Seed Library, of sorts.

A seed-exchange is as straightforward as it sounds — farmers exchange seeds. And here’s the general idea behind a seed library from this informative page on The Seed Library of Los Angeles site:

A seed library is a depository of seeds held in trust for the members of that library. Members come to the library and borrow seed for their garden. They grow the plants in their garden and at the end of the season, they let a few plants “go to seed.” From those plants, they collect seeds and return the same amount of seed (or more) as they borrowed at the beginning of the growing season. Seeds are free to members.

The library is both a collection of seeds and a community of gardeners. Since seed is a living thing, it must be renewed each year somewhere by someone or unique varietals can become extinct. Even growing one seed and returning it to the library is a valuable contribution.

I caught up with Casey O’Neill at yesterday’s event. He’s a cannabis farmer/activist, master gardener at Happyday Farms in Mendocino and a key player in Emerald Grown. He explained the library-building/exchange process, the inspiration for the event and he gave me some more info on Emerald Grown.

First, Emerald Grown:

O’Neill says “there are a lot of quality farmers out there” and that Emerald Grown will be able to help such farmers build marketing packages for their cannabis farms. “We’re in the process of establishing a way for quality producers to access a legal market and for legal purchasers to find a quality product… The idea is to support farmers and to bring people together so that we can create a legal, transparent system for the future.”

The co-op is essentially an interfacing organization. O’Neill says “the co-op doesn’t produce any product and it never takes possession of product. It creates a relationship through marketing between farmers and buyers.” The Emerald Grown co-op will help farmers network with legal dispensaries and outlets throughout the state so they can distribute their product and “access the consumer who desires the kind of medicine that our farms produce.”

The roots of the seed exchange:

“We’re up on Bell Springs and we were going to do this little seed exchange in the neighborhood,” O’Neill says, “and the interest just kept growing.” He and other like-minded members of the cannabis farming community wanted to try to create a Mendocino Seed Library, a genetic bank to support local farmers. That way farmers can have access to seeds they need to produce whatever medicine is in-demand.

The Laytonville Grange folks were amenable having a cannabis seed exchange go down at their facility, so it was game on.

How the seed exchange/library-building event worked:

Farmers showed up with seeds. The Emerald Grown crew checked the seeds in and divided each variety up into bags of approximately 15 seeds. The seeds were catalogued in the library. Farmers filled out a card with genetic information and proper cultivation practices. Emerald Grown scanned the card to collect that data.

Emerald Grown did not hold onto a supply of seeds for each variety, so for now, the word “library” just refers to the collection of information about the seeds at the exchange. “At this point it doesn’t do us any good to keep the seed in stasis,” O’Neill says. “We need to get it out to the community and get it around… And to build on the genetics that are new, that we haven’t developed yet and that we want to develop.”

Once catalogued and sorted, the seeds were laid out on tables for people to check out. Tables were organized by “early,” “mid” and “late” flowering varieties. There was a CBD table too. Yes, all the seeds were laid out for the taking, and attendees checked their selections out with the Emerald Grown crew upon departure. O’Neill says, “We know who has which seeds, and ideally, at the end of the year, they’re going to bring back more [seeds].”

Some varieties are rare, and O’Neill says those very limited seeds were entrusted to growers who have “proven their capacity to reproduce more.” Abundant seeds were available to everyone in attendance, “that way we’re able to support people who don’t have seed or haven’t had the chance to make seed with good quality genetics that we have plenty of,” he says.

So the exchange was regimented to some degree, yet super casual at the same time. You didn’t have to bring seeds to participate. Every one was welcome to take part in this seed-and-information-sharing/data collection exercise. Emerald Grown collected data on each variety when farmers checked their seeds in, and farmers chatted it up, sharing tips and techniques. “It’s just amazing to see the interest, how many people are here. Clearly, the community’s ready,” O’Neill says. “That’s the beauty of it.”

Looking ahead:

As the exchange continues over time, the farmer collective will amass more and more seeds. Cannabis will, of course, become more and more legitimate, and Emerald Grown member farmers will be able “to enter the legal seed market for diversified outdoor connoisseur production of seeds.” And O’Neill says that because of the many diversified micro-climates in our area, their seeds will hold “great value for farmers all over the country.”

“We would be able to serve as genetic ambassadors for this plant that we’ve been holding onto and maintaining for all these generations…”

O’Neill is hella good at waxing poetic:

“I feel like every day in my life is training for today, and tomorrow will be the same thing… We produce a plant that we love. It grows from seed with water and soil, and we harvest it.” O’Neill says cannabis farming is an agricultural act that “honors the tradition of agriculture that our country has always been about.”

“For us to finally be able to take our place as farmers in this American tradition is a very powerful thing. And the seed bank is a crucial part of it.”

He also says, “Great success!”

FYI: Emerald Grown is hosting a brunch on March 1st brunch at Harwood Hall in Laytonville… You can find them on the Facebook.

Great success!

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