In May 2010, Richmond Public Library launched a new community service: a seed library. That’s right, seeds. As in flower or vegetable seeds. How can a person borrow and then return seeds, you ask?

What They Are

The basic idea is this: you check out a packet of seeds, plant them, and let some of them go to maturity. You then harvest that next generation of seeds, and return them to the library so other people can check them out.

At the Richmond Public Library, community members can find drawers of seed packets alongside books and DVDs. Community members may borrow these seeds for free from Richmond Grows, a nonprofit organization that has partnered with the library.

Borrowers can check out seeds without a library card, and they can access free classes on organic gardening and  how to save seeds at the end of the growing season. They also have easy access to books and other gardening resources from the public library.

Custom-built seed cabinet by Angela Camarillo and Bob Remington of Country Woods Image courtesy of Westcliffe Seed Lending Library,

The Seed Library at the Jane Addams Hull-House Museum in Chicago works just like any other free library—except instead of lending DVDs or books, it lends heirloom seeds. Community members go to the museum, sign up for a free Seed Library Card, and get access to resources on gardening, seed saving, information on urban gardening workshops

Some seed libraries are organized by librarians, others are partnerships between libraries or other community organizations and non-profits. Still others are organized by individuals, artists, school teachers, or local sustainability groups in cooperation with librarians.

Why They’re Popular

Just two years ago, seed-saving organizations were rare in the U.S. Now they’re popping up all over the place. Since Richmond Grows began lending two years ago, more than 35 other seed libraries have popped up, according to Co-Coordinator and Founder of Richmond Grows, Rebecca Newburn. Some of these seed libraries are in public libraries. Others are in churches and other places of worship, cooperative extensions, private homes, and museums.

Why would a community, a library, a museum be interested in a seed library? Some people want to grow their own vegetables because they want to know where their food comes from. Some people want to grow their own food to save money. Community seed sharing ties in nicely with the mission of community gardens, especially in urban areas. More and more seed companies are being bought by large corporations that develop and sell hybrid seeds that can’t be saved, and must be bought again every spring. Heirlooms, the sort of seeds found in seed libraries, can be saved and replanted, from year to year.

How to Start One

Interested in starting your own community seed library? First, watch the tutorial video below, made by Richmond Grows, considered a pioneer and valuable resource among seed libraries. Then check out the organization’s website, where you can find a step-by-step list of how to get started (example: Step 1: Get Your Peeps Together) and a bunch of helpful materials, so you don’t have to re-invent the wheel. Find downloadable labels, marketing materials, drawer-size suggestions, and much more.

For inspiration, take a look the links below and read about more seed libraries:
Hall Middle School’s seed lending library, Larkspur, California
Fairfield Woods Seed-to-Seed Library, Fairfield, Connecticut
Westcliffe Seed Lending Library, Westcliffe, Colorado
Pima County Public Library, Tuscon, Arizona
San Francisco Seed Library, San Francisco, California
East Palo Alto Seed Library, East Palo Alto, California
Manitou Springs Seed Library, Manitou Springs, Colorado
B.A.S.I.L. (Bay Area Seed Interchange Library), California
Jenkintown Library Seed Exchange, Jenkintown, Pennsylvania
Growing Ester’s Biodiversity at John Trigg Ester Library, Ester, Alaska
Pittsburgh Seed and Story Library, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Have you started a seed library? Share your website and tips below!