Propagation Fair plants seeds for food security

A volunteer grafts scion to rootstock as a budding agrarian watches.

The Cottage Grove Armory filled with seed swappers, orchardists and gardeners of all levels on Sunday (March 6) as the Agrarian Sharing Network hosted one of its annual Propagation Fairs.

The event gave community members an opportunity to diversify their own growing projects with access to vegetable seeds and fruit scion.

The Agrarian Sharing Network started out as a modest plant propagation gathering at Lane Community College but gradually grew in popularity.

“That event got so big we decided to take it to smaller communities and create a way to enhance food security,” said Marjory House, an Agrarian Sharing Network volunteer.

The Agrarian Sharing Network is a decentralized, collaborative network focused on distributing plant diversity to communities and creating a shareable, reproducible model for others to implement. It is currently aspiring to become a 501(c)(3) nonprofit.

The group has been putting on events for at least seven years, House said.

To pull off an event like Sunday’s, volunteers commit to weeks of preparation work.

House herself is also an orchardist, working in many orchards across the Willamette Valley. Prior to Sunday’s event, orchardists cooperated to process scion and order rootstock.

“Scion” refers to a young shoot or twig of a plant cut for grafting or rooting. That piece of wood determines the type and variety of plant.

At Sunday’s Propagation Fair, some 700 varieties of fruit were available. Scion of flora like quince, medlar, pear, plum, grape and apple were carefully labeled and identified and separated into buckets containing water for attendees to select.

The fair also featured a “seed swap”, which allows people to bring their own seeds and exchange them with others spread out on tables. House noted that seed swapping was how the first event in Cottage Grove started at Coast Fork Feed Store, eventually growing from there.

At another table, volunteer grafters sat ready to teach. Fair attendees selected their preferred scion, picked a rootstock to determine the size of the tree, and presented these to volunteers who demonstrated the grafting process, which involved matching the pieces and fusing them together with tape.

Besides rootstock, which cost just $3, all items at the fair were free, made possible by extensive volunteer efforts and donations. A skilled volunteer even germ tested seeds to make sure they were viable.

At the end of these events, whatever is leftover is grafted by volunteers and potted. At the next year’s fair, these are sold.

“All the money we make goes back into doing this,” explained House, emphasizing that the events are truly made possible by people donating their time.

Besides the numerous volunteers, House said it has helped, too, that the City of Cottage Grove and Chamber of Commerce have been so supportive of the event.

While giving people access to plant diversity for their own gardens or orchards is part of the Agrarian Sharing Network’s mission, House pointed to a deeper need to equip communities with the ability to create food security.

“As farmers, we know that if something catastrophic were to happen, people are going to go to the farms,” she said. “And so, our interest is to get food rearing in the hands of the public as well so that we can all be supported.”

As such, House is very supportive of ideas like community gardens.

Last year, nonprofit Huerto de la Familia received $5,000 from the City of Cottage Grove to complete a Cottage Grove Community Garden in the wetlands at Bohemia Elementary School.

The Eugene-based nonprofit focuses on providing Latino and immigrant families in Lane County opportunities to grow their own organic food. The group takes particular aim at providing culturally relevant foods which are otherwise hard to find in local stores, but their gardens and services are open to all community members and the Cottage Grove project in particular is intended to be connected deeply with South Lane School District.

House hopes that people will see the need for more gardens like this.

“Because we have so many working-class people, a garden is a good place to have respite and to grow food and have food security,” she said.

Though the agrarian network encourages people to enhance their own household food security, taking on this task at the individual level is more than a hobby.

“Because growing your own food it’s a lifestyle,” said House. “There’s a lot that goes into it.”

As such, the push for food security is also about creating options while acknowledging that not everyone can become completely independent.

The Propagation Fair will come back in Cottage Grove next year around the second week of March, but events will continue all this month up to April 2 in other areas such as Eugene, Springfield, Williams, Cave Junction and Sweet Home.

For more information about Agrarian Sharing Network and its events, visit online at agrariansharing.net or find its Facebook page under the group’s name.

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