Seed Libraries: Conserving Biodiversity, Building Community, Sharing Resources

By Claire Londagin
VCGN Network Outreach Assistant

Brandon Seed Library catalogue

In 2014, avid gardener and librarian at the Brandon Free Public Library, Molly Kennedy heard a story on NPR about seed libraries. As a child, Kennedy worked with her grandfather at his farm and  has been gardening ever since. The concept of a community space to save and share seed prompted her to do some research and explore existing seed libraries to figure out if it was possible to implement one in her community.

A seed library is a collection of open pollinated seed for members of the library to “check out” in the spring with the expectation that they will collect the seed from the healthiest and largest plant they grow, and return some seed to the library that fall. Seed libraries can benefit the community by providing free seeds to gardeners, saving and sharing plant genetics that are of good quality and grow well in the microclimate of the region, and teaching new self-reliant gardening skills. The variety of domesticated plants cultivated globally has decreased immensely since the early 1900’s. Saving and sharing seed promotes agricultural biodiversity and conserves plant varieties that may not be considered viable for commercial agricultural production and therefore are less likely to be sold by seed companies.

In order to start the Brandon Seed Library, the project had to get some start up capital. Kennedy applied for and received seed donations from High Mowing Organic Seed Company and the Seed Savers Exchange to start the seed library collection. The library also received seed donations from local avid gardeners and a Brandon farm. In addition to seeds the library was awarded a grant from the New England Grassroots Environment Fund for materials, labels, and garden-related programming. Kennedy found the community excited and ready to be involved in the project, and made partnerships with local small farms and gardeners to help with cataloging, doing outreach, and educating at events.

As of the end of 2016 the Brandon Seed Library has 50 members and holds several seed saving and gardening events in the spring and fall. The library has connected with educational institutions in the area. Elementary school teachers in Pittsford taught students seed saving principals through the school garden, and donated the saved seed to the Brandon Seed Library.

The seeds are housed in the old card catalog cabinet, it’s original purpose outdated in the digital age. Seed drawers are labeled with green, yellow, or red stickers signifying how easy it is to save seed from that cultivar. Members are encouraged to try saving all seeds but only returning what they are confident is viable and true to its parent plant. At the Brandon Seed Library returning seed in the fall is not required, none the less Kennedy reports the seed library gets significant return every fall. “What we have gotten back has increased every year exponentially.” She was inspired to start the library because she feels passionately about biodiversity and food literacy. Kennedy wants to “increase our local diversity and bring seed back to a local level.” She hopes the seed library will “bring awareness to people that seed equals food.” There are many seed libraries around our state, some even rent tools out as well as seed. Connect with your regional seed library, links below!

Want to start a seed library in your community? This Seed Libraries Website is a great resource to get started! Sharing resources with your community is a valuable aspect of community gardens. Do you want to build connections within your regional community of gardeners in order to share resources? Consider attending one of the Vermont Community Garden Network’s GrowIt! workshops this month! The theme is growing community, and every individual’s engagement will help us grow together. All six March dates, locations, and online registration can be found here: https://vcgn.org/what-we-do/growit/.

Claire Londigan is serving as VCGN’s Network Outreach Assistant this semester. Claire is a senior completing her last semester in the Sustainable Agriculture and Food Production program at Green Mountain College in Poultney, Vermont. Read more about Claire on our team page.