Libraries’ seed-lending program sow healthier communities
Story by Zinta Aistars
Think libraries, think books, think seeds.
As state and federal funding for libraries gets pinched, librarians are getting creative with programming, finding new ways to serve their communities that go beyond lending books. For two small libraries in Southwest Michigan, that means preserving and lending seeds.
A sampling of some of the seeds available through the J.C. Wheeler Library in Martin.
Last spring, a small group gathered in a conference room at J.C. Wheeler Library, in Martin, to talk about a new program as gardening season began: seed lending. Heading the meeting was Alice Kelsey, a library board member, and John Edgerton, a longtime gardener and business partner in Harvest of Joy Farm, a CSA (community-supported agriculture) farm in nearby Shelbyville. Gardeners, new and experienced, gathered around the table, laden with packets of heirloom vegetable seeds.
“Seed-lending programs are popping up at libraries across the country,” says Edgerton. “People are reclaiming their heritage. Faced with convenience, we tend to choose what’s quick and easy, but the slow-food movement and people getting back to organic food and farmers’ markets are renewing an interest in gardening.”
Here’s how it works: A library stocks seeds that produce herbs, flowers or vegetables, usually heirloom vegetables rather than the more common hybrids sold in most supermarkets. Typically the seeds have not been genetically modified. Library patrons check out the seeds much as they would a book to read. They plant, water, grow, harvest, eat and enjoy, and then they save seeds from those plants, dry them and bring them back to the library for the next gardener. “We had no idea about response,” says Kelsey. “Our first meeting was simply to see who would show up and what they would like from our seed-lending program.”
Experienced gardeners around the table asked knowledgeable questions on topics such as the genetics of seeds and the complexities of composting, while beginners asked questions about when to plant, how far apart to place the seeds and what to expect next. Edgerton and Kelsey thoughtfully answered all questions, and the summer ahead would include workshops to give gardeners guidance throughout the growing and harvesting seasons.
“We are offering three choices to gardeners,” Edgerton says. “Take a packet of seeds and start them on your own, return later for already planted seeds to transfer to your garden, or, return even later for plants already sprouted from seeds to transplant into your garden. What we want to do is maximize the success, to get people involved in gardening again. This isn’t really a new idea. There have been seed libraries in Europe for some time.”
Hopkins District Library is also offering a seed-lending program to its patrons. Library Director Natalie Bazan obtained many of her seeds for the program from her parents, who own a greenhouse business…
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