This story is part of an ongoing Barebones series where we highlight individuals with like-minded values and missions that are working to make our local community a better place.
Story by Reana Kovalcik, Share a Seed
Photos by Hannah Packman, Reana Kovalcik, Emilia Kawashima
Share a Seed is a mutual aid aligned seed sharing and gardening program started at the beginning of 2020 by Reana Kovalcik. The program, which originally launched as a pilot project with six Slow Food chapters across the country, has blossomed in Kovalcik’s home base of Washington DC over the last year and a half. Share a Seed replaces scarcity with abundance by collecting spare seeds and gently used garden equipment from growers and sharing it with newer, would-be, and under resourced growers in the community.
How Did You Get Involved in this Work?
The path that brought me to becoming a grower and seed sharer has been anything but straightforward. I grew up in the Chicago suburbs, an only child with two parents who worked over forty hours every week. We had a well-kept lawn and some rose bushes, but no herbs, no food, no crops. Inside, my busy parents did their best to provide nutritious meals, but we rarely talked about what we ate, why, or where it came from.
Blame the Supply Chains
Even before the U.S. declared a public health emergency due to the coronavirus, supply chains had started reacting. For most of us, the supply crisis culminated around two items: toilet paper and hand sanitizer. But it also extended to things like seeds and gardening tools.
Almost overnight, neighborhood hardware and garden supply stores shut down—even online stores became stretched thin, as Barebones fans could likely attest. Many big name organic and sustainable seed companies also tightened supply by pulling their rack seed and restricting or even suspending orders to non-commercial buyers. As households across the country were starting to think about gardening for the first time (or the first time in a long time), garden supplies were nowhere to be found.
As someone who was active in local and national gardening and growing communities, I knew two things:
- that this was an important moment to capture if we wanted to connect waves of potential growers with plants and the land, and
- that the disappeared seeds and other supplies were still available, if you just knew where to look.
Taking a cue from long-established mutual aid movements,
I struck out to re-home all the spare seeds I could – the ones sitting in the back of junk drawers, out in the tool shed, or in neatly labeled and tucked away glass bottles wayyyyy in the back of the cabinet.
By partnering with Slow Food USA, Share a Seed was able to launch as a national pilot program in six states, including DC. While the focus was always intended to be local, gardeners and growers from across the country were also able to participate by sending in their spare seeds to the chapter of their choice.
What is Happening Now?
Eighteen months into the work, Share a Seed is continuing to grow and evolve. In DC, Share a Seed has been able to connect with more partners and neighbors than I ever could have imagined at the beginning of this journey.
We’ve collected and redistributed well over 100 pounds of shared seeds (roughly 2.7 million seeds!) directly to our neighbors, shared with hundreds of millions of seeds with schools and community gardens thanks to a bulk donation from Bejo Organic, and are this year launching our first "Little Free Seed Libraries" in partnership with the University of the District of Columbia's Bertie Backus Food Hub.
Friends of the National Arboretum, Washington Youth Garden staff and volunteers receiving Barebones tools and gloves for the garden.
Of all our events, however, I’d have to say that ones in the community gardens are my favorite. They’re the perfect opportunity to immerse new gardeners into this green universe and to put my favorite Barebones Living tools to work.
Usually, when we have events with community garden partners, we like to include an interactive demonstration or volunteer work element.
Enter my two favorite tools:
the Hori Hori Knife and Garden Scoop.
The Hori Hori is a workhorse of a garden tool and one I always keep clipped to my hip. At a recent event at DC’s Wangari Gardens community garden, I used the Hori Hori to help me cut loose stubborn sod roots from a path we were working to clear. I also love using it to cleanly remove ripe veggies from the vine and as a trowel when I’m planting.
The Garden Scoop by comparison seems pretty simple, but the deep scoop design has really helped me reduce the level of mess I make with planting soil. Because the scoop carries so much and reduces spillage, I can also work faster and more efficiently.
As we enter new seasons, I get excited thinking about the next steps for Share a Seed in my community and for programs like it all around the country. Even once the COVID-19 pandemic is fully behind us, sharing and solidarity programs like Share a Seed have an important role to play in connecting communities and increasing access.
Working together with my local and national partners
– and my favorite Barebones garden tools –
I look forward to continuing to help folks get growing.
Reana is a DC-based policy and communications professional dedicated to making the food and farm system more equitable and sustainable. She has worked on food, agriculture, and social welfare issues for over ten years across three major US metro areas (Chicago, NYC, DC). Reana is master gardener who serves on the board for the Farmers Market Coalition and Slow Food DC and currently works in organic agriculture. She launched the Share a Seed project in the early days of the coronavirus pandemic to address the simultaneous loss of resources and rise in gardening interest. Reana loves connecting to fellow community members and showing that there is no one "type" of gardener, farmer, or outdoor enthusiast – getting your hands dirty is for everyone.
Follow along Share a Seed's Journey