Gardeners, foodies and lovers of seeds will gather in the Church-Chapel on Saturday for the second annual Michiana Regional Seed Swap. 

The seed swap, organized by staff at the Merry Lea Environmental Learning Center, is a free educational event in which gardeners, businesses and community organizations working in the regional food system will share seeds, learn about new varieties and build relationships. 

Marcos Stoltzfus, director of environmental education outreach, was inspired to organize the event after attending a seed swap in central Michigan. He was impressed by the diverse group of over 400 gardeners from Michigan, Indiana, Ohio and multiple Canadian provinces that gathered to exchange seeds. 

“I realized that seeds and gardening was something that attracted people of all types and all demographics and all backgrounds,” he said. 

In 2013, a survey from the National Garden Association found that more than one-third of U.S. households grow food in a home or community garden, and the 2019 National Gardening Survey found that the number continues to grow, especially among millenials. 

Karen Golden, a speaker at the event, is the owner of Michigan Heirlooms, a garden supply center that sells plant starts to thousands of buyers in the Michiana region. She specializes in growing heirloom tomatoes and will speak about the benefits of growing them in local gardens.

Golden said that heirlooms come from open-pollinated seeds that have been passed down through families or communities since around the 1950s, when hybrid seeds became conventional for U.S. farmers. 

John Sherck, a seed-saver and distributor from Bristol, Indiana, is experimenting along with other farmers to grow and preserve open-pollinated varieties of indigenous corn from Indiana and Mexico. The seeds are part of an effort he calls the Heritage Corn Project, which he will speak about at the seed swap on Saturday. Sherck hopes to provide Mexican tortillerias in the region with corn that can offer the authentic flavor of tortillas that have been made in Mexico for centuries. 

For indigenous communities, the ability to save seeds and exchange them at seed swaps is important because of the depth of the relationship between native people and plants, said Dani Tippmann, director of the Whitley County Historical Museum and a member of the Miami Tribe of Oklahoma. 

On Saturday, Tippman will speak about the traditional Miami uses of plants as food, medicine and technology. 

“These seeds represent our history,” Tippman said. “These are the same plants that my great-great-great-grandparents used.” 

Over the past two centuries of colonization, some traditional Miami seeds, like the Miami Red and Miami Blue corn were lost, Tippman said.

“I’m always looking for them,” she said, and local seed swaps offer one more place to look. 

Three speakers featured at the event—two farmers and an indigenous historian—will present about the importance of saving seeds in the health of local cultures and the environment. The event is free, open to the public and will last from 10 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.