Every Community Needs a Seed Library

by Bevin Cohen

seed catalog

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

 

 

 

What is Sustainable Seed & Why We Care

By Paris Wolfe, Blogmaster, The Herb Society of America

SSC_Theo

 

Theo Bill, V.P., Sustainable Seed Co

 

Waiting for my big toe to heal from joint replacement, I spent a little (maybe, a lot) of time armchair gardening. That’s how I stumbled on the Sustainable Seed Company.

 

The family-owned company offers more than 1,875 varieties of organic and heirloom seeds, including 10 types of basil.I’m ordering the complete basil collection, but only a few of the 300 varieties of tomatoes.

I chose Sustainable Seed Company after quizzing Theo Bill, Vice President, about the meaning of “organic” seeds. It sounds responsible, but what does it really mean? In his words …

What is “organic” seed?
“Organic seed” technically means untreated or organic seeds that were planted, grown and harvested in an organically approved system.  That means no GMOs, no overt pesticide or herbicide usage, and adherence to other National Organic Program rules.  The “Spirit” of organic seed though is much broader – it covers the health of the soil, pollinators, water conservation, runoff issues, and more.


How is organic seed different?USDA organic

Organic seed is grown in an organic method, so it becomes accustomed to organic growing
conditions. Conventional seed, for example, is often grown using a great deal of herbicides and pesticides.  Organic plants don’t use the same kinds of chemicals and have to be hand-weeded or out-compete the weeds to thrive.  They receive more natural fertilizer (often manures or natural minerals instead of anhydrous ammonia or other conventional fertilizer).

Unfortunately, more intensive manual labor and higher input costs, result in higher production costs. That means organic seed often costs more.  However, you are buying a higher quality seed which is more weed-resistant and less reliant on herbicides and pesticides.

Why is organic seed better?
That depends on how you want to grow your plants, and what kind of inputs (including weeding) you’ll be using.

What are the most popular herb seeds sold by Sustainable Seed Co.?Sustainable seed rosemary
Lavender would be our most popular followed by basil and rosemary.

What herb grows best from seed? What herb is the toughest to start from seed?
The easiest would be cilantro. The most difficult is probably rosemary.

What tips would you give for growing herbs from seed?
For Mediterranean herbs (rosemary, oregano, thyme, lavender, etc.) add clean sand to the soil mix for better drainage.

Thank you, Mr. Bill.


From Sustainable Seed Co. — Discovering “new” heirloom seeds is one of our passions, and we would love to hear from anyone who is growing heirloom seeds that have been passed down for generations. We hope to preserve this part of history and believe that, with the continuing encroachment from large producers of hybrid and GMO seeds, companies like ours, along with our customers, may be a crucial link to saving the future of food.

 

Armchair Gardening Season Begins

armchair_gardening_dreamstime_m_48583763 (1)By Paris Wolfe, Blogmaster, The Herb Society of America

Saturday morning over fried eggs and rye toast at Mary’s Diner, my boyfriend texted me a link to Rodale Organic Life’s “Grow Healthy Plants from Seedlings Every Time.” Yes, he texted me the link though we were in the same booth. (Sheesh. The manners we learn from our kids.)

Fueled by a faux-Fiestaware mug of black coffee and his tall diet Coke, we talked about using a seedling tray and heat mat($15 on Amazon.com) to jumpstart Spring. We were greedy about what we might ripen in early July. He wants Rutgers’ tomatoes. Heirloom tomatoes. And more tomatoes. I want to try slow-bolting cilantro and myriad chile peppers.

The sooner we sow, the sooner we reap. Right?

Thirty-two minutes later, I’m in the corner of his milk-chocolate-brown leather sectional with my feet tucked under me. His laptop is balanced on a muted-yellow, square pillow atop my legs. I’m keyboarding my Northeast Ohio address into seed catalog subscription forms. I realize the catalog industry uses mega-tons of paper, but I’m too old to go exclusively digital. I want to dog ear pages and circle “wants” in saturated Sharpie colors. I want to carry the catalog to my pillow and reread until sleep fuses my eyelids. And so, I justify my decision.

By the way, Herb Society of America members should keep in mind that they get a 10% discount from Richters Herb & Vegetable Catalogue and 15% from The Grower’s Exchange. And, many mail order growers offer early-bird discounts through January. Check out web sites for your favorite company.

While I’m waiting for colorful, slick paper catalogs to be mixed with my bills and sale flyers, I’ll settle for shopping online. I already want 10 types of basil, among them Thai, cinnamon, lemon, and lime. I’m uncertain what I’ll use them for, but I visualize various pestos and noodle dishes from around the globe.

Armchair gardening season is here. And, I’m ready.