5.08.2014

SEED LIBRARIES // the local food report

This week on the Local Food Report, I interviewed the founder of the country's first seed library in a public library. His name is Ken Greene, and he came to the Vineyard recently to take part in a symposium on seed saving on the island. He believes local seed libraries are important for all kinds of reasons: increasing food security, strengthening community, passing down history, and preserving varieties that do well in all of our micro-climates. 


All seed libraries work differently, but the basic model is this: you "check out" a variety of seeds in the spring. You plant the seeds, grow the vegetables or fruits or flowers in your garden, and at the end of the season, save a few seeds. Then you return these seeds to the seed library. Next year, someone else can check them out! 

There are a lot of little details for each community to figure out—how much education they want to have go along with the seed library, if they want to focus on specific varieties, and if so, which ones, how broad of an area they want to cover. The Vineyard community has just started this process, propelled by the non-profit Island Grown Initiative. Here's what they've decided so far:

The seed library will be hosted by the West Tisbury Public Library. This will be the physical location for the seed collection and the library will host seed saving workshops in its space. 

The seed library will focus on a few varieties at first. This growing season participants will grow skunk bean, a traditional Mohawk variety with beautiful black and white mottling that was on the verge of disappearing until recently; flashy oak butter lettuce, a variety Ken grows in the Hudson Valley; and either Fox cherry tomatoes or Rose de Berne tomatoes. Participants from the seed symposium will grow them in their home gardens, document their progress with notes and pictures, and see how they perform on the island. If they do well, they'll do a community seed saving activity in the fall and these seeds will be the first in the local seed library.

The idea fits in well with the public library model on a lot of levels—kind of like the "One Book, One Island/Town" program, it's about forming some common communal knowledge and trying to engage as many people as possible. It's also about sharing stories and information, and of course about learning.


Next week I'm talking with Tara Laidlaw of Barnstable about a seed library in Barnstable. I've also heard talk of seed libraries starting up in Wellfleet and Truro, and there's one already up and running at the Brooks Free Library in Harwich. Does your community have a seed library? Any advice for communities just getting started?

Update 2.5.15: The Vineyard now has a seed library up and running at the West Tisbury Public Library. They hosted a seed swap and germination workshop in late January.

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All text, photographs, and other original material copyright 2008-2010 by Elspeth Hay unless otherwise noted.