The Cooperative Gardens Commission

local seed hub, Philadelphia, pa

The Cooperative Gardens Commission (CGC) has one mission: to facilitate resource sharing between people who have growing knowledge and resources and the people who need them. The CGC encourages the free sharing of resources such as seeds, soil, labor, land, and most importantly, knowledge. They are building a network of growers to produce as much food as possible. The COVID pandemic has highlighted the problems in our current food system, but lack of access to food has always been an issue. “While CGC began developing a new network in the face of this tragic pandemic — and the ineffective government response to it — we recognize that the movement for food sovereignty, and against food apartheid, is wide and deep, so we primarily seek to support the work of existing networks and projects” (CoopGardens). 

With empty grocery shelves, panicked resource hoarding and food being caught in restaurant supply chains, many people are thinking more about where their food comes from. There has been a rise of urban farming since the lockdown, and more gardens are popping up around the country. People realize how important it is to be self sustainable. This interest in food sovereignty has been great momentum for CGC. Much like the surge of victory gardens in the U.S. during WWI and WWII, Cooperative Gardens Commission is trying to revive the movement to grow in whatever space is available, to become self-sufficient and build community based food security. 

This campaign started with an instagram post featuring DC superheroes tending a victory garden, and has been growing ever since. Early on, the facilitators of the commission, upon learning about the racist history of the Victory Garden movement in WW2, chose the name Cooperative Gardens Commission. Their original survey asking for people with resources to share (seeds, soil, tools, tractors, skills, etc.),  was filled out by more than 800 people showing interest in the project. Now the Cooperative Gardens Commission is made up of hundreds of volunteers across the country, all wanting to help increase local food production and resource sharing. The group hosts bi-weekly conference calls, often with over 100 people in attendance discussing next steps.  

The first main project that the CGC has been working on is free seed distribution to people having trouble getting seeds. They are trying to focus on communities struggling with food access before the pandemic, especially BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) and other marginalized or historically oppressed communities. They have gotten donations from about a dozen seed companies including FEDCO, Johnny’s, Experimental Farm Network, Siskiyou, Adaptive, Southern Exposure Seed Exchange, Common Wealth Seed Growers, Row 7, Restoration, and Seed Savers Exchange. A group of volunteers has been meeting at the Making Worlds Bookstore in West Philly packing millions of bulk seeds into smaller packages that can be sent out to individuals, but mostly regional seed distributors and seed hubs around the country. The average box being sent out has about 100 packets of seeds, including some bulk packets that the local distributor will be able to split up further. Seeds are seasonal, with the recent batches filled with squash, lettuce, beet, chard, basil and more. They have sent about 24 lbs of bulk seeds to the Indigenous Seed Keepers Network. They have gotten 600 requests for seeds from different tribal groups around the country. Since the beginning of June, seeds have gone out to more than 150 local seed hubs from Alaska to Florida, and counting! With all their success, they may end up doing another distribution for fall crops. They have already started strategizing about seed production for a process like this next year.

A Philly native, farmer, community activist, and one of the founders of The Cooperative Gardens Commission, Nate Kleinman says, “I've been inspired by the people who are coming back week after week for these calls because they are trying to find out how they can contribute. Some people have been on these calls 8 weeks in a row without saying anything. The fact that there's so much interest in what we're doing is pretty gratifying. There's so many people right now who want to be productive in this time and so many people who are taking this opportunity in this strange world we're living in right now to focus on what's really important.” Nate is also the co-founder of the Experimental Farms Network (EFN), a non-profit that “facilitates collaborative plant breeding and sustainable agriculture research in order to fight global climate change, preserve the natural environment, and ensure food security for humanity into the distant future” (Experimental Farms Network). 

You can give directly to Coop Gardens through their GoFundMe page or donate here. If you have seeds to donate, email them at [email protected]. They have a Facebook community group, Craigslist hashtag and list of working groups you can subscribe to. You can also follow their Facebook and Instagram where they often post volunteer opportunities, needs and good resources.

Photos: The Cooperative Gardens Commission and Environmental Farm Network