Seed Libraries

Reader Contribution by Cindy Conner
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Seed libraries are fast becoming a way for gardeners to be involved in the most basic part of the production of their food. If you want control of your food supply, start with the seeds. A seed library has been established at J. Sargeant Reynolds Community College (JSRCC) in Goochland, VA where I taught for more than a decade. During the time I was there, my classes became the Sustainable Agriculture Program. It is now possible to earn a Career Studies Certificate in Sustainable Agriculture at JSRCC. Because the program was there and the students made good use of the library, now that library is stocked with the best collection of sustainable agriculture and permaculture books of anywhere I know. These resources are available to everyone, not just students. The seed library, which has its home there, is a natural progression, but I had nothing to do with it. My daughter, Betsy Trice, teaches those classes now and was the force behind making it a reality.

Betsy got the idea from reading the article “Sowing Revolution” in the January 2012 issue of Acres USA. The authors of the article are Bill McDorman and Stephen Thomas of Native Seeds/Search. She followed up on the resources from the article, particularly the one from the seed library in Richmond, CA.  Getting the library up and running is only part of what needs to be done. It is one of those “use it or lose it” situations. The seeds are there, but it can only continue if people take seeds, grow them out, and bring some back. When they do this, they will be helping to develop strains of whatever they grew to become specific to their region and that’s exactly what needs to be done. We need to do all we can to bring back local flavor to communities, and this seems like a pretty good method.

If you don’t have time to delve into seed saving right now, I hope you will buy your seeds from companies who have signed the Safe Seed Pledge to not knowingly sell any genetically engineered seeds. You can find a list of these companies at the Council for Responsible Genetics. You might find seed companies in your region on that list that you didn’t know existed. In 2005 Monsanto bought the seed company Seminis, which was a huge supplier of vegetable seeds to many smaller companies. That was a real heads-up for anyone who was involved with seeds. You can see a video here of a Monsanto spokesman telling how they can now “leverage all the technology that Monsanto has developed for its corn and soybeans row crops” and bring it to their work with vegetables. The Seminis website has a list of varieties if you want to know what they are. In 2000 I read Altered Harvest by Jack Doyle and became acutely aware of how much diversity is lost when our seeds are in the hands of increasingly fewer and fewer companies. They can drop varieties or change them to suit their company’s pocketbook. We freely forfeit our right to these seeds by not paying attention. Learn more about seeds and seed libraries at Homeplace Earth.

Is there a seed library in your neighborhood? If not, you could start one. It takes a lot of dedication to get one off and running, so maybe you could begin with a seed swap. Organize one and take names and contact information from those who show up. Between that swap and the next one, you could have potluck gatherings for like-minded folks to get together. Seed libraries require people to return seeds, which can be quite intimidating for new gardeners. Seed swaps give them free seeds with no obligation to give some back. In my bee club, new members are paired up with mentors. Having a mentor would be encouragement to correctly save seeds. Whether it’s a seed library or a seed swap you get started, the important thing is that you start.

Learn more about Cindy Conner and what she’s up to at