Agrarian Sharing Network: collaboratively supporting neighborhood propagation fairs across the PNW

Supporting Neighborhood Interdependence

Farewell Lane County Propagation Fair. Welcome the Agrarian Sharing Network!


2017 sees the evolution of the venerable Lane County Propagation Fair into an entirely new iteration. Eight years ago we morphed the teensy Eugene Permaculture Guild spring-seedswap into the Lane County Propagation Fair. This free, 100% volunteer-driven initiative has since grown into the largest organics-focused propagation fair in the country.

All well and good. But the popularity of our Eugene-based prop fair has brought an unintended consequence: we’ve become something of a centralized ‘commodity event’ where folks happily turn up in great numbers to connect with a vast diversity of germplasm, but not with each other. As it happens, a defining ethic informing our local seed/scion exchange since we began it over 20 years ago, relates not only to the ecological, but the social dimensions crucial to the deep eco-social functionality of such events: “…In cultures typified by mutual caring… Seed swaps and seed giveaways are seen not only as strengthening seed culture, but as critical to nurturing and rekindling intra-ethnic and inter-ethnic relations.”

It is this human dimension – the nurturing of relations between and among communities – which was feeling lost to us and with it, of course, the accompanying awareness of the requirements and responsibilities of assuring such efforts are not only socially but ecologically sustainable. Indeed, along with the increasing ‘depersonalization’ of the event, we have concurrently witnessed our access to germplasm – largely concentrated in a handful of non-profit collections supported by the work of a tiny group of volunteers – progressively succumb to decline, restricted access and, indeed, catastrophic loss.

Simply put, no matter how ‘successful’ our event seemed to outsiders, core organizers were aware we had created a phenomenon failing to connect people – which was also, in the same breath, inherently ecologically unsustainable. In a sense, we had created an event hanging by a fast-fraying thread.

As such, after much in the way of group discussion in the aftermath of last year’s propagation fair, we are embarking on a new approach: namely, we are now in the process of birthing a collaborative network of ‘distributed propagation fairs’, that is, small, de-centralized, neighborhood-scale propagation fairs around our bioregion.

We see this effort to decentralize as crucial to supporting food security across our bioregion, by freely collecting and sharing an unparalleled array of food germplasm through a distributed network of collaborators, while building the know-how and skill sets required to support autonomous, local, self-standing efforts by folks vested in caring for their own and other like-minded communities of interest.

We are currently planning on helping host six propagation fairs around our bioregion throughout March and April.

Our efforts to collect and distribute material throughout Oregon, Washington and California, have already begun. Stay posted for further developments!

Author: Nick Routledge

I'm a Paradise Gardener.

16 thoughts on “Farewell Lane County Propagation Fair. Welcome the Agrarian Sharing Network!

  1. As a long-time farmers’ market manager I understand the problem of events that are not truly sustainable because of the low likelihood of finding people who will keep working under the same crazy conditions. Still, I wish I had seen the monster just once before it divided.

    Although I’m interested in helping you evaluate sites and partners in Benton or Linn counties, I cannot let myself get involved with later steps. Prop fairs necessarily take place at the height of prep for farmers’ markets.

  2. Any plans to include Josephine and/or Jackson County? Or County Extensions?

    • We don’t at this moment, Mary. We are however a very nascent phenomenon, and our ambitions are very largely shaped by who has turned up to our meetings and our awareness of the limited resources, and challenges we are dealing with. Elementally, these community-centered prop fairs grow out of energy and enthusiasm in those very communities of interest. We see ourselves as supporters as distinct from taking the local lead. Currently, we have six consecutive weekends in March and April accounted for although there is a possibility we could fit a couple of events in to one weekend in Southern Oregon if support and demand merited it. Our next org meeting is in early January.

      • I live in South Eastern Oregon (Lakeview) and would be very interested in attending a scion exchange in So Oregon if it was in the Grants Pass/Medford area. Would even happily share scions from our trees

  3. Pingback: Lane County Propagation Fair evolution – Site Title

  4. Nick, if there is anything I can do to help in all of this please let me know. We have 586 members in the Eugene Permaculture Meetup group and growing and I am sure that at least some of them would be delighted to lend a hand somehow.

  5. Sad to see this go.. Just heard about it last year and I was wanting to attend this years. When I heard about it last year I did not have the funds to drive up.. This would have been a great way for me to increase my fruit varieties at a reasonable price. Even if I had to drive a long way to get to it. (5 hours one way) So sad. I was really looking forward to this.

  6. It’s difficult to understand from your article exactly what the objections were with the past form of the propagation fair. From my point of view there was always plenty of social interaction – especially with other gardeners about different varieties and planting techniques. Or is this not what you meant?

    What will the event be like in the future? Will it include grafting experts, free seed swapping, fruit scions, offerings of gardeners’ excess plants and seedlings? Will there now be an entry fee?

  7. Sounds like a grand plan! How do we keep posted on this?y friend has some Ashmead’s Kernel apple tees which is he gettinf scion wood off now, and we are going to graft them soon. He has extra scion wood fof those interested in
    One of the tastiest heirloom hard cider apples which is also a marvelous eater.
    If Nick ( the Brit) gets this, you should
    Know that I am definitely interested in trees and heirloom propagation, as you briefly mentioned at the Water For Life fund raiser. Let me know how I can get involved! Thanks, Chanah

  8. You guys rock! Will you be doing a fair in Washington at all?
    Snohomish county please! When/ where will your fair (s) be this year?


    • Hi, Loki. We just pulled a small event together on Orcas Island around the San Juan Islands Ag Summit this past weekend – we had been moving among plant stewards in Snohomish county among other parts of the Salish Sea, gathering and sharing scion, as it happens. At this juncture we don’t have plans to host anything north of the OR/WA border again this year. For a moment I imagined a vague possibility I might have my act together enough to host another small event somewhere about you. I suspect not, frankly. The potluck/prop fair model involves authentic communal, on-the-ground support/participation. This takes a buncha folks and a buncha prep. Next year, perhaps?

      • So bummed, didn’t know about the Orcas Island thing. They have some amazing fruit growing out there! I live in unincorporated Oso area of Snohomish County and attended your fair in Eugene last year, I believe we chatted about Pound pears . It was WOW!
        I was awed and starstruck. I chatted with Nick Botner! I learned loads from the classes I attended , met lots of great people, gave away all the peach,pear ,apple scions I brought and had a really good weekend visit with the relatives in Lebanon.And Nick Botner! Did I mention Nick Botner? !!! Brought home dozens of scions, lusted for them all! But knew better ; ( some even grew for me! Yea! My baby trees are in a nursery bed and doing good. Over 20 little green darlings.
        I have attended a few rather disappointing grafting events locally between Mt. Vernon and Seattle (expensive, apple oriented, limited varieties ), just doesn’t seem to be the enthusiasm I’m looking for out here. I do grow bunches of apples but I Really want more pears and a few plums. I did lots of studying on rootstocks and varieties and now have a better idea of what I want. Practiced my grafting- lots of which did not make it but I’m learning. Been growing apples but until recently never propagated them.
        Now I just need an event with lots of cool varieties of pear scion and to learn how to get peach trees to graft , not one has made it yet. I have a local peach tree available that was pip grown that is nearly 60 yrs old , disease resistant and a reliable producer of lucious peaches. Going to go to the Seattle Tree Fruit’s fair later this month.
        If you come back this way next year and are interested in scions of ” homeworked” trees I have some pears and plums and hazels which are the results of three generations of my families messing about and cross pollination growouts.

        Have an amazing spring , you guys rock!

      • With peaches, once grafted, keep them in a greenhouse until the graft takes. The extra protection can make all the difference in the world.

      • I’ll help! Have Scion wood, will travel : ). For that matter do you know of/ do any scions swaps by mail? I have some great trees and am looking for some of the less well known varieties like thorn pears and winter banana apple.

  9. So are there going to be any events going on in Eugene this year?

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