by Bevin Cohen
Community seed sharing programs bring people together. So many times, as I’ve stood in front of a crowd at a seed library opening or other similar event, I’ve looked out among the faces and been amazed at the sheer diversity of people in the room: people of all ages, ethnicities, and gender. Seeds are truly a part of everyone’s story; without seeds we simply cannot survive. And with each passing year it seems that more and more people are realizing this and returning to the Earth, to the seeds that feed us all.
When people talk of saving seeds, inevitably they mention the importance of preserving genetic diversity. While genetic and historic preservation, adaptability, and self-reliance are all important aspects of the seed saving movement, it’s community building that is the foundation on which the entire movement stands.
As the movement toward increased food security and localized diet continues to grow, local control of our seed supply is a topic of significant relevance. One of the fastest growing facets of this movement is the seed library, a place where community members have access to a selection of seeds that they can “check-out” just like you would books from your public library. In fact, a number of these programs are actually housed within a local library. I always like to joke that if you want to see a librarian get excited just give them a new reason to use those old card catalogs! There is certainly something beautiful about those old drawers filled with packets of seeds eagerly awaiting a gardener to take them home and give them a grow!
To continue with the library book analogy, after a gardener checks out their seeds and takes them home, when the fall harvest is complete, participants are encouraged to bring their seeds back to the library to restock the supply. If properly executed, the seed library can become a closed circuit sustainable program offering its community a wide selection of regionally adapted, local seed. But it’s this part of the program that has proven to be the most challenging. The general consensus among the directors of these programs is that getting community members to return seed at the end of the season is the most difficult challenge they face every year.
In my eyes one of the most beneficial aspects of a seed library is its ability to strengthen a community. When like-minded people gather together for a common cause, the friendships and relationships that develop have a value that’s far too great to measure. If a seed library’s sole accomplishment was to get people talking to their neighbors again, sharing seeds and recipes or even just their surplus zucchini, I would consider that a win. But what a seed library offers is also so much more.
Seed libraries are on the forefront of the local food movement, empowering communities with the tools and skills they need to regain the independence we must have in order to live happy and healthy lives. Every neighborhood deserves access to locally grown and adapted seed; every neighborhood should be home to a community seed library program.
–an excerpt from the book ‘From Our Seeds & Their Keepers; a collection of stories”
Here is how you can start a seed saving library in your community.
Step 1: Consider contacting your local library and if they don’t already have a seed library in place, maybe it’s time for you to plant that seed.
Step 2: Many hands make light work. Connect with like-minded community members to form your seed library working group. Consider Master Gardeners, community gardens, your local herb society and other similar organizations.
Step 3: Time to gather your seeds! Many seed companies are willing to donate to community gardening programs. Reach out to them and make contact. The best time to solicit seed donations is in the winter when companies are hoping to clear out the previous year’s stock.
Step 4: Decide how your community seed library will organize and distribute your seeds. Will participants need to sign up and become members of your seed library? Or will your library be more of a “hands-off” give and take freestyle program? You’ll need to assess your community’s needs as well as your seed library’s resources to determine what the best fit is for your program.
Step 5: Budget for success! While you may be able to acquire your initial seed stock for free, there will be other small expenses you may incur during the setup phase, such as envelopes, labels etc. Plan accordingly!
Step 6: Have fun! Sharing seeds and stories is a fun and healthy way to support your community. Local seeds grow local food and healthy communities are happy communities! Together we can make the world a better place, one seed at a time.
Learn more about seed libraries and Bevin’s work at www.smallhousefarm.com
Bevin has published two books on the subject of seed saving:
From Our Seeds & Their Keeper; a collection of Stories, Small House Press, 2018
Saving Our Seeds: the Practice & Philosophy, Small House, Press 2019
Both titles are available via Amazon or directly from the author at www.smallhousefarm.com