[Ed. note: This article is part of our series of weekly church activities, Cultivating Community, published on Thursdays]
For the avid gardener, there are few events more eagerly anticipated than a bustling, bounteous plant swap. After all, what could be better than sharing the abundance of your garden with fellow green thumbs while expanding your own green space at virtually no cost? A plant swap (or exchange), where everyday gardeners come together to trade all manner of plants, cultivation tools, and garden accessories, builds community among people while encouraging good caretaking of the creation.
In that same spirit of caretaking, your church community can open its doors to host a plant swap. Here’s how to set up the perfect environment of sharing and generosity into which you can invite both church members and others from outside the church, and together you can stretch God’s bounty further across the earth:
1. Map it out
Plan the plant swap ahead-of-time and advertise it in both church-related and community-related publications and forums. Be clear about your expectations for the event.
- When will it happen? The season and geographic region of the plant swap will help determine what kinds of plants will be acceptable for swapping. As for the day of the event, block out a period of time during which the actual trading will take place, and then set aside some time at the end of the day to sell unclaimed plants. The proceeds from this part of the event can go to the cause of good stewardship.
- Where will it happen? An indoor-outdoor location is the best location for a plant swap to be held, as it allows plenty of space for the activity and gives some plants the sun they need. If a fellowship hall with access to a parking lot or lawn is not available, provide a pavilion that can be placed out-of-doors to attain a similar effect.
- What items will be accepted? Indicate to potential participants what will be expected of them in terms of the items they contribute to the swap. Limiting the exchange items to full-grown plants may be easiest, but you may also want to expand the options to include bulbs, seeds, seedlings, or even gardening tools or decorations. In general, it is best to accept plants that are healthy, decently mature, potted well, and clearly labeled. Indicate expectations forbulbs or seeds, accordingly. Also consider limiting the number of items participants may bring to make the trading more efficient.
- How will it happen? The easiest way to carry out an exchange is to give participants raffle tickets according to the number of items they provide, and then allow them to exchange these tickets for new plants that strike their fancy.
- What will you need? Tables, raffle tickets, boxes for organizing seeds and bulbs (if applicable), signs to mark the event and different categories of plants, bags or boxes for attendees to take their plants home in, refreshments (if desired), andvolunteers to direct and assist attendees will all be crucial to making the plant exchange organized, helpful, and attractive for participants.
2. Plant the seed
A plant exchange, at least a formal one, may be a new event for many folks, but not one anyone should miss! It will be a good opportunity for your church to demonstrate its stewardship priorities and get to know folks with similar interests in the larger community. But plant the seed early through good advertising!
- Spread the word: There are plenty of local groups, outside of your church community, that would be excited to hear about a plant swap. Be sure that news about the swap is posted at nurseries, landscape centers, libraries, historical or display gardens, and hardware stores, and shared with gardening clubs, 4H chapters, local branches of your state’s cooperative extension offices, and Girl and Boy Scout troops.
- Be clear: Include as many details as possible in your advertisements to be sure that the exchange goes smoothly. Make sure potential participants know the protocols you have already arranged: when the event is, where it will take place, what items will be accepted for trade, and how they should be potted and marked.
3. Reap what you sow
If you have done solid planning ahead-of-time, your church’s plant swap will be a beautiful gathering of new and old friends,
alllearning about each other and God’s creation over some garden plants.
- Set up: Organize the plant swap space so that it’s clear to participants where they should drop off their plants in exchange for raffle tickets and where they can find the plants they are interested in taking home. It may be easiest to designate tables or floor space to plants by alphabetization so that participants can find what they’re looking for according to name.
- Roll on: Once the exchange gets underway, keep tables or floor areas where plants are displayed looking neat and organized so that participants will be interested in the plants there. Provide attendees with simple refreshments if desired, inviting participants to chat and build community can be encouraged over a cup of coffee or a few cookies. And be attentive to participants, advising them as best as possible and encouraging everyone to have fun!
- Sell out: Toward the end of the day, at a pre-determined time, end the trading activities and sell the remaining plants at reasonable prices. Alerting participants to this change in the day’s activities ahead-of-time will encourage more people to show up as early as possible to trade plants, but it will also allow for any proceeds gathered from the event to go to a charitable cause.