The Olympia Seed Exchange (OSE) began in the fall of 2007 as a website.
With the hope of strengthening the local farming and gardening
community, Caitlin Moore and Michael Wilde collaborated to build this
site where local food growers could freely exchange seeds.
In the fall of 2008 Caitlin joined up with Claire Ethier and the two
plotted to create a physical exchange. They envisioned a space where
community members could come to receive seeds free of charge, learn
about seed saving, and donate seeds for use by other local gardeners.
With a small selection of seeds and a dream of creating a seed
sovereign community, the OSE – graciously hosted by Fertile Ground Guest
House – opened its doors in the spring of 2009.
As word spread, many people came to use this new resource and seed
donations began to pour in. Seed contributions from the Olympia Food
Coop and supportive community members ensured that the Exchange was
kept well stocked throughout its first season.
Realizing that there was a community need for seed saving skills,
OSE developed and began to teach free classes. The classes taught
by Caitlin covered planning a seed-saving garden, the biology behind
seed saving, pollination and fertilization, and the how-to of growing
and processing seeds.
That year also saw the beginning of seed saving demonstration
gardens. OSE began growing seed crops to supplement the seed donations
with locally adapted varieties. OSE cultivated demonstration beds at
Fertile Ground Guest House’s Community Garden and at the Wendell Berry
Community Garden. Lentils, arugula, quinoa, radishes, fava beans,
lettuce, calendula, and kale were all grown for seed. These gardens
were also educational sites where the community could see seed saving
As the community of seed exchangers grew, so did OSE. In 2010 every
aspect of OSE expanded and new projects were taken on. Needing a bigger
space to store seeds, OSE relocated to Chez
Cascadia. The demo garden at Wendell Berry Community Garden doubled in
size to grow runner beans, lettuce, kale, chickpeas, California poppy,
and calendula. OSE began our first plant-breeding project, selecting
for extreme cold-tolerance in seeds from the previous season’s Lacinato kale
crop. Volunteer Seed Stewards grew vegetable seeds for the Exchange on
private land, and OSE collaborated with Sustainable South Sound, GRuB,
and the Olympia Food Co-op to put on the free series of “Better Living”
In 2011 OSE moved all seed growing operations to private land owned by a local resident interested in supporting community asset building and local economies. 2012 saw the second year of that operation expand and flourish.
Since then we have experienced many ups and downs. In 2013 we lost our seed bank location at Chez Cascadia when they closed their doors. We also stopped growing seeds due to a family illness.
In spring of 2014, we operated as a mobile seed bank, hosting swaps at various locations around town, including the downtown library and at Garden Raised Bounty. The land we previously farmed transitioned into a commercial seed farm, run by local seed company Root and Radicle Seed Co.
In late 2014, our wildest dreams came true when the Eastside Urban Farm and Garden Center volunteered to host our seeds. We are now located in the upstairs portion of their building, and are extremely excited to be working in partnership with the South Sound Seed Stewards based in Yelm to form the South Sound Seed Coalition.