Seed Libraries: What They Are & How To Start One by Mia Breitkopf
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 Designs.com. Image courtesy of Westcliffe Seed Lending Library, http://westcliffegrows.weebly.com.
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 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.