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!