Seed libraries gaining popularity

Julia Baratta, Freelance Writer
An old card catalog is repurposed to hold packets of seeds for the seed lending library at the Branch District Library in Coldwater, MI.

One of the newest trends on the gardening horizon is the development of seed lending libraries, collections that are offered for the intention of renewing the local seed supply. With over 400 locations around the world, it has become a force to reckon with. Fifteen countries boast of having them as well as 46 states of the U. S.

Beginning in the early 2000s, the idea was to promote the preservation of seeds that were grown within an area. This practice encourages the saving of regionally appropriate plants, especially vegetables.

The basic set up of these lending libraries involves the packaging of seeds, a storage unit, and people willing to “borrow” seeds with the ultimate goal to return seeds after harvest. Many systems are requiring library cards to appreciate the service while some make the opportunity available to anyone.

At the Kent District Library (KDL) in Michigan, the communities are invited to visit their library branch to either donate seeds or take some home for their own use. The system began their program in 2014 and all 18 branches have offerings for their area. Each packet is a sample size with open-pollinated, non-GMO seeds inside.

“We were excited to offer something unexpected at the library after a patron suggested we look into it,” KDL Director of Innovation and User Experience Michelle Boisvenue-Fox said. “We have found that not only are the new gardeners excited about it, but experienced ones are finding other varieties to try that they didn’t know about.”

KDL offers a series of programs during the summer to encourage the use of the seeds as well as additional learning experiences. They work with Master Gardeners to teach people to grow their own food, share with others and seed saving.

In Newark, OH, the Licking County Library has been operating their seed library since 2013. They have found a definite increase in the usage with 2016 recorded as their highest yet. While many of the seeds have come from seed companies offering heirloom varieties, they have accepted packets from patrons. The only concern they needed to deal with was the proper labelling of the seeds.

“We need the varieties to be identified correctly,” Adult Services Assistant and Seed Library Coordinator Rhonda Adams said. “We offer one hybrid and that is corn. We just tell them not to save those seeds.”

The system has two permanent locations and two mobile units with the latter available for the other branches and separate events such as the local farmer’s market. A strong Master Gardeners program has supported the library’s efforts by providing training and workshops.

With the increased interest in where food comes from and how it was raised, these unusual libraries offer another option to the local foods movement and gardening.