“Propagation Fair” is the new name of this annual event. This is a sterile term for a fertile undertaking. For those who wish to propagate misinformation, energy waves, or software; stay home. This show is not for you. In reality, it is a plant seed exchange.
The idea is fairly communist in its inception. People bring extra seeds to a public space. The seeds are distributed among a variety of tables bearing hand written signs reading “tomatoes” or “beets/chard” for example. The spelling varied as greatly as the species represented. Bags of seed potatoes sat next to strawberries. Apple scion twigs waited in empty milk jugs. All were free for the taking. The ghost of Karl Marx has haunted this event for years.
My friend, Stephanie, and I are seed fair veterans. We brought junk mail envelopes to reuse for storing the seeds, pens (both ball point and permanent marker) for marking our envelopes, extra bags for separating fresh items from dry, a comfortable carry-all bag and seeds of our own to share. Since I am nursing the remaining wounds of an ulcer, I also bring tincture and a banana.
The crowd can be fierce. Stephanie has a few tomato seeds that she covets which can be in short supply. We arrive early.
The parking lot is sparsely populated when we arrive. I note that the bus station is empty. “Buses don’t run out here on Sundays,” Steph reminds me. For the guerrilla gardener that attends these events, the choice to hold the event on a Sunday instead of a Saturday this year strikes a serious blow. Strike one.
Many of the crowd that attends these seed fairs garden because they have to, not because they want to. These are my fellow Oregonians who live on a limited income: single parent families with children in tow, elderly couples who survive on a social security check, college kids fed up with Top Ramen dinners and women like me who are used to fighting for everything we have. Cars are a luxury in this group.
The name of event was changed from the Permaculture Seed Exchange to the Propagation Fair this year. I had a number of people ask me when it was happening because they couldn’t find it listed under the old name. Strike two.
The day is bleak. The weather has been cold and stormy all week. Bishop’s rain angles under the eaves of the building soaking the sidewalk. I see a brave soul pulling her toddler out of a soggy bike trailer. How she made that hill in this weather is a testament to her dedication. This is a biking town but the bike rack beside her is abnormally empty. Strike three.
I turn back to the tables in front of me littered with seed packets. This is the future of food in my town for the poor. There are 1/3 of the crowds from last year. The gravity of the situation beyond my own personal investment weighs me down. Each of the seeds that I have in my bag must be planted. Familiar faces that are missing will need these seedlings.
My communist nature is what is truly being propagated this afternoon. I grab a handful of lonely squash seeds from an open container and pour them into an envelope. I have enough for each of my neighbors to grow at least 2 zucchini starts. If I ask each of those neighbors will share their harvest, we can connect with 20 families.The ghost of Karl Marx would approve.