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A Farmers’ Fair

By Greg Rössel

After braving the winter snow, scion hunters see visions of summer apples, vegetables, and flowers at the Seed Swap & Scion Exchange in Unity. Photo by Greg Rössel

Not even a surprise late March storm that brought heavy snow inland and ice to the coast could keep a large crowd from attending the 40th annual 2024 Seed Swap & Scion Exchange at the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners’ Common Ground Education Center in Unity.  

The promise of more than150 types of scion wood for grafting, cuttings, and seed and food vendors were all part of the draw. Then, there were the workshops with experts whose offerings ranged from seed saving for home gardeners to favorite apple varieties for the backyard orchard to the benefits of native plants in our gardens—hands-on information that would be hard to find elsewhere.

The vibe was a mix of a cabin fever reliever, pot luck supper, and farmer’s market. Backyard orchardists and sharp-eyed gardeners prowled the neat stacks of bundled scion wood and jars and packets of garden seed piled on the tables. Day packs were stuffed with scion wood emerging like arrows in a quiver. And, there were treasures to be found on those tables as Maine has many varieties of fruits and vegetable that are simply no longer commercially available. There was a plethora of examples of our pomological past and unique apples as well as less familiar (non-apple) offerings, such as Korean nut pine, American chestnut, black walnut, hazelnut, and more.

Madi Whaley, Educational Programs Coordinator on the MOFGA event staff, explained: “The Seed Swap & Scion Exchange is an opportunity to share and connect over things that grow. We are glad to offer this space each year; and incredibly thankful to the many partner organizations, presenters, and community members that make it possible.” And for those who are unable to make it to the event, MOFGA also maintains an on-line Seed & Scion Wood Swap Sheet list that you can find at

In addition to donations from individual growers, many of the apple scions came right from the decade-old Maine Heritage Orchard located at MOFGA’s campus in Unity. For years Maine’s apple expert John Bunker had searched for a permanent home for the historically significant varieties he had collected and propagated, and to make them available to the public. Russel Libby, in his last year as executive director of MOFGA suggested that they do it right down the street from the fairgrounds where the Common Ground Country Fair is held each September.

Planted in a 10-acre reclaimed gravel pit, the orchard is dedicated to preservation, propagation of old apple cultivars, and education. It is home to more than 360 varieties of apples and pears traditionally grown in Maine, with more being added each year. The collection includes varieties from all 16 counties in Maine, some dating back as far as 1630.

Fedco Seeds is another long-term partner in the seed and scion exchange. At its table, in addition to offering catalogs, tools, and cultivation paraphernalia—such as grafting tape and tree-coat dressing—there was also advice. Fedco representative Soren Dickenson said visitors to his booth are most interested in learning the craft of grafting. Customer Annette of Unity agreed, saying she wants “to learn all I can about it.” 

One 88-year-old gentleman waiting near the fresh bread booth said he was there to learn how to finally get his grafting right—the first time. 

Over at the Maine Tree Growth Alliance booth, staffed by Jack Kertesz and Tom Vigue, business was brisk. Displays ranged from apple picking and pruning gear to the proper method to skewer apple borers with wires. An earnest note-taking couple peppered Kertesz with dozens of questions on the art of apple propagation.

But from its inception 40 years ago, education and communion are what the event has always been about. In his short history of the Scion Exchange, Kertesz, who is both MOFGA’s Landscape Coordinator and founding member of the Maine Tree Crop Alliance, wrote “The Seed Swap and Scion Exchange is an event that was initiated and then organized for many years by the Maine Tree Crop Alliance. The first event was held at the Forest Entomology Lab in Augusta in March of 1983. The following year the event was held at a church in Augusta, and then for a number of years we set up at Unity College. In 1999, the event moved to the Exhibition Hall on the MOFGA grounds, and we teamed up with the Maine Seed Savers Network that same year. Fedco also became a supporter of this program.”

Looking out at the smiling attendees perusing the seed packs and bundles of scion wood, Kertesz observed, “This is a place where people can swap their favorite varieties of plants. In the past, folks used to do this sort of thing at Grange halls and other gathering places. It’s about communities and sharing—sharing wealth, intrinsic wealth.” 

Greg Rössel lives in Troy and is a boatbuilder, instructor at the WoodenBoat School and its “Mastering Skills” video series, author, and host of “A World Of Music” on WERU FM.


Learn more about the Seed Swap & Scion Exchange at The page includes a link to the on-line list for sharing and swapping. 

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