“The greatest service which can be rendered to any country is to add a useful plant to its culture…” –Thomas Jefferson; Memorandum of Services to My Country, after 2 September 1800
You may have heard a lot of talk lately about seed libraries. In February, NPR ran a story entitled “How to Save a Public Library: Make it a Seed Bank.” If we put aside the argument over whether or not public libraries need to be saved, this story actually highlighted an interesting movement that has been sweeping across the country and libraries are leading the way.
A seed lending library works on the simple principle that you can ‘lend’ out seeds to be grown by patrons who will then harvest new seeds and return them to the seed library to be lent out again.
Hosting a seed library can help you connect, create, and collaborate with your community, and especially with your teens.
Throughout the country we have been experiencing a large shift in thought when it comes to our food. Farmers markets are extremely popular as are natural food stores from the smaller local ones to larger corporate health food stores like Whole Foods. At the same time, the First Lady, Michelle Obama, has been promoting her Let’s Move! initiative which promotes healthy food and nutrition in addition to teaching children about gardening and where their food comes from. Everyone wants products that are locally grown, organic, and chemical free. All of these factors and more create an atmosphere of interest within your community that make it ripe for the types of programs a seed library can grow.
As of April there are more than 60 seed lending libraries across 23 states and it is obvious that the public library is in the best position to organize and run a seed library in any community.
So why not ride the wave? Look for those in your community that have an interest in promoting healthy living, gardening, seed saving, even conservation landscaping, and float the idea of a seed library to them.
The first step is to connect with your local resources. You community has the tools and resources to grow a strong and successful seed library program.
Find those within your community who are experts in this field. Contact the local university’s agricultural cooperative extension and their team of Master Gardeners. Master Gardener programs often run programming centered around community gardening. The Cooperative Extension of Rutgers University here in New Jersey, for example, focuses on youth education as one of their roles within the community. Bringing the Master Gardeners into your library will bring programming that fits perfectly with the seed library as well as the gardening theme.
Other resources in your community you can utilize might not be so obvious. For some time my library has been fortunate enough to partner with our local supermarket. We have had their staff nutritionist come to the library to run nutrition programs for our children and teen populations. Over the summer we plan to host several nutrition programs for adults as well. These programs are freely donated to us by the supermarket and have been a great way to promote healthy eating habits among our youth. The supermarket has also offered to donate any supplies they have to us for our future seed library and possible future library garden!
Connect with any local businesses that you can for supplies, donations, and most importantly, experts. Check out your local gardening centers or hardware supply stores, anywhere that may have supplies you’ll need for your seed library.
Create something amazing. Once you’ve figured out where your supplies are coming from, utilize your library community to create a great resource for everyone to share.
This is where you should get teens involved. The creation, organization, and upkeep of a seed library can be fairly simple but it does require people power. Teen volunteers can be in charge of seed sorting, creating packaging and instructional brochures, (logo contest anyone?), organization, and general maintenance of the library. Why not let them make it their own? Guide them of course, keep an eye on them and the collection, but let them experience running a library on their own. With the seed library being run by teen volunteers, librarians can be freed up to grow the program beyond simply lending seeds.
Can we say summer reading folks? This year’s theme; if you work at a library that uses the Collaborative Summer Reading program, is all about the earth; ‘Dig into Reading, ‘Beneath the Surface,’ and ‘Groundbreaking Reads.’ What better way to promote the summer reading theme than to bring in gardeners who can teach us all different ways to grow in our homes and community gardens?
Collaboration is the key to any successful library program but even more so for a program like this. To ensure community buy-in and continued support, the library needs to collaborate with its local experts and enthusiasts. Ask if local gardeners and farmers would be willing to do demonstrations at the library of things they know how to do best. I envision classes on container gardening (especially for more urban libraries) or composting; classes on seed saving of course, but also nutrition and healthy living. What about classes on the environment and conservation techniques for landscaping or reducing water usage? Our culture, our lives, revolve around food. The possibilities for programs around food, gardening, and growing are endless.
I know this seems overwhelming. You’re thinking, this is all great, but where do I start?
First, check out the Richmond Grows Seed Lending Library, they have become the experts in this emerging field and are ready to help! They have great step-by-step instructions, suggestions for how to begin, and even open access seed database software you can use if you want to get fancy.
I suggest starting small. Start with a simple seed lending library.
Get your teens involved, bring up the idea at the next TAB meeting. The teens will be into this idea, especially if it is a project they can really own and make into something important and lasting for their community.
Think your teens won’t get involved in anything that doesn’t appear on their iPhone screen? Check out these awesome gardening apps that you could incorporate to boost teen involvement.
Host a seed sorting party for the teens; have them create seed packets and logos. Have them organize, catalog, and run the library. This would be a great activity to start now, before the summer, so teens can utilize the extra hours they have in the summer time to help run the library.
From there you can expand. The possibilities really are endless; from gardening workshops to expanding your print collection, from library gardens to cooking competitions.
This is a dream big kind of moment, anything is possible.
For links to more great resources, check out my Pinterest board for all things Seed Libraries!