Duluth Public Library to offer free seedsThe library will lend seeds of heirloom fruit and vegetable plants so people can grow a portion of their own food.
By: Steve Kuchera, Duluth News Tribune
In what supporters said they believe to be the first such effort at a Minnesota library, the Duluth Public Library will lend seeds of heirloom fruit and vegetable plants so people can grow a portion of their own food. In return, the library will ask that gardeners save and return some of the resulting seeds to keep the library collection bank going.
The effort should encourage people to eat healthier, as well as foster the continuation of plants traditionally adapted to the Northland. The library will add seeds to the list of books, movies and CDs that patrons can check out.
The idea of starting a seed library was suggested by several people, Library Manager Carla Powers said.
“With this many people interested in a seed library and reading about them in other parts of the country it seemed like the time was right to do this,” she said. “Seed libraries have been popping up in more and more public libraries around the country.”
In addition to the library, the Institute for a Sustainable Future, the Duluth Community Garden Program, and St. Louis County Master Gardeners are working on the projects. The partners announced details of this plan at a news conference this morning.
Beginning next year, library patrons can borrow up to ten packets of seeds for varieties of tomatoes, peppers, beans, peas and the One Vegetable-One Community Vegetable of the Year. The initial plants were chosen for the ease in saving their seeds.
In addition, educational materials and classes will be available to help people become successful gardeners and seed savers. Borrowers will have up to nine months to return seeds. And other than a friendly reminder from the library, people will not be fined for not returning seeds.
All the library’s seeds will be for heirloom, open-pollinated plants best suited for the northern growing season. Heirloom plants have lineages not affected by hybridization, which reduces diversity in favor of consistency of a few select traits.
“We have seen a loss of diversity in the gene pool because of the mass marketing of certain kinds of seeds,” said Jamie Harvie, executive director of the Duluth-based Institute for a Sustainable Future. “A wide diversity of genes is essential for the resilience of our agricultural production. Increasingly communities and gardeners are recognizing that if we want to have hardy plants and seeds that are appropriate for local variations that we need to come together to save these seeds.”
Approximately 60 public library systems across the country maintain seed libraries. The Pima County, Arizona, Public Library opened theirs on Jan. 28, 2012.
“It has been tremendously successful; we’ve just opened up our eighth location,” said librarian Justine Hernandez. “And folks are able to reserve seeds online even if they are not at one of the physical locations.”
In August alone the Pima library system circulated more than 900 packets of seeds.
“I would venture to say that thousands of folks are using the seed library,” Hernandez said.
Pima began its seed library in response to an explosion in people’s interest in growing their own food.
“It was particularly inspired by a farmers market that coordinated by our local community food bank and the work they were doing to provide access to wholesome fresh food to people,” Hernandez said.
A 2011 study by the St. Louis County Health Board found that 28 percent of adults in St. Louis County are obese and 17 percent have limited access to healthy, affordable food. One of the goals of the Duluth seed library is to increase community members’ access to healthy food through gardening.
“That’s part of the reason we wanted to do this at the public library rather than through the community garden program or master gardeners,” Powers said. “The public library welcomes all people and we wanted to give everybody a chance to grow their own food and learn the techniques of seed saving.”