Sunday, September 24, 2006

Traveler Gives Away Seeds

All over the world in his mission to grow gardeners...


Not long ago a dear friend introduced me to Rick Schamber, a man with a great idea. About 20 years ago, Schamber decided to start traveling with a purpose. Instead of simply being a tourist, he would distribute packets of easily grown seeds to gardeners in other countries as well as our own.

Over time, he traveled widely in the United States and throughout Mexico as well as Central and South America. He's also been to the British Isles, Europe, Africa, the Middle East, Asia, the Far East, Australia and New Zealand, visiting more than three-dozen countries.

Wherever he goes, he seeks out folks who are interested in his gifts of seed. In large cities and small communities, Schamber connects with people of all ages by offering what he calls his "work-play" mission of sharing seeds and teaching the basics of organic gardening. His goal is simply to encourage people to grow at least a little bit of their own food.

He started by saving the seed of open-pollinated vegetables that come true from seed, like heritage corn, squash and beans. Over time he added simple fruits, like melons, that are easy to grow from seed. Eventually, he added flowers, finding that most people responded warmly to the idea of sharing flowers from distant lands.

About 10 years ago, Schamber developed what he calls "a modest self-funded endeavor" that he named Seeds of Life. Then living in Colorado, he registered Seeds of Life there as a not-for-profit educational charity.

He explains, "It's mostly been me traveling solo around the world, often staying in impoverished areas," places where gifts of food have powerful meaning. He also has occasionally mailed seeds to traveling friends who wanted to share his mission. Through Seeds of Life, Schamber sometimes supplies seeds and basic organic gardening information to groups traveling to other countries.

He's been more of a homebody for the past few years, building up his seed stocks and, as he says, "modestly buttressing personal finances" in order to help his mom stay home rather than enter a nursing home. She died peacefully a few weeks ago at the age of 93, and now Schamber is getting ready to start his travels again.

Schamber does not accept financial donations, preferring gifts of seed instead. He explains, "At first, I mostly got my seeds from my own garden and those of friends. I've also happily accepted seeds supplied at little or no cost from companies and community gardens."

He's also received donations of out-of-date commercial seed and been allowed to buy up seed at discount rates from unsold stock late in the season. At times he makes very large purchases, saying, "When I buy in bulk, I and/or Mom put the seed into family or small community-sized packages for distribution. Over time, we've given away over 40,000 bags of seed."
Schamber recalls spending an afternoon turning many tiny seed packets into a big one for the director of an Ecuadorean orphanage. "For some reason, they really wanted lots of cauliflower. I didn't want to waste any of the seed packets, so we carefully emptied the personal-sized ones for re-use. Now I often take some larger packets for communities."

On the road, Schamber usually stays in youth hostels or other inexpensive places. "In many countries, $2 to $4 a night provides a roof and sometimes -- like in parts of Turkey, Syria, and Southeast Asia -- that might even score you breakfast!"

He loves to stay with families connected to SERVAS, an international organization started about 70 years ago to promote people-to-people contact. Members can stay in homes all over the world as long as they agree to stay at least two nights.

"You are treated like one of the family," Schamber explains. "You might be asked to help cook, clean, or whatever is needed, just like any family member. It's a wonderful way to experience life in another culture."

After hearing Schamber's stories, I knew he needed to meet Ed Hume, whose company, Ed Hume Seeds, has earned the reputation of being an outstanding corporate neighbor. Hume is extremely kind and generous, so it isn't surprising to learn that his company donates about $1.5 million worth of seed each year.

Ed Hume Seeds donates mainly through World Concern, a regional charity with worldwide arms. After connecting with Schamber, Hume decided to help him out.
Schamber says, "I was floored and thrilled when Ed sent me a huge box of about 1,500 packets of seed -- peppers and carrots, beets and squash, all kinds of cool stuff."
If you would like to offer flower or other seeds to Schamber, you can send them to the address below. He gladly accepts seed of most kinds, especially if it comes from organic gardens. Hardy annuals, perennials and edibles would all be welcome.

Package clean, dry seeds in plain envelopes labeled with the contents. If you like, include a snapshot of yourself and your family in your garden that Schamber can give to the recipients.

Africa and South America are on the agenda for his next trip, which will probably start in November. I've asked him to keep us posted about his travels and send back some stories about the people he meets and where your seeds end up.

Before October: Rick Schamber, c/o Winn, 10010 Edgecomb Place N.E., Bainbridge Island, WA 98110

After October: Rick Schamber, c/o Lovejoy, 8959 Battle Point N.E., Bainbridge Island, WA 98110

Ann Lovejoy, a Bainbridge gardener, is the author of several gardening books. She can be reached via mail at: 8959 Battlepoint Drive N.E., Bainbridge Island, WA 98110.

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