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Starting a Circular Seed Economy at Your Library

by Gabrielle Griffis on 2023-02-28T09:52:21-05:00 | 0 Comments

By: Corey Farrenkopf,  Librarian at Eastham Public Library

Like many libraries, the Eastham Public Library has a seed library that offers free seeds to all patrons (limit of 5 packets per visit though!). It’s a great way to provide access to everyone who may not be able to afford seeds or might not have access to fresh and nutritious produce. It’s a way to get your community to think about health and where their food comes from and possibly even teach some sustainability and self reliance along the way. 

One of the comments I’ve heard when I’ve mentioned seed libraries at different conferences or roundtable meetings is…where do we start…how do we get the seeds???

Well, there’s lots of options, but first I want to talk about the idea of a circular seed economy at your library. The basic premise is that we give seeds to whomever needs them in the community, they plant the seeds, grow the fruit/veggies, and let a few of their plants go to seed. Then they harvest those seeds and bring them back to the library so others can have some for next year’s harvest, completing the circle. Ideally, if done right, you will have to purchase/search for donations less and less with every year as your community builds up its knowledge and seed saving abilities.

To kick off our inaugural seed library year, we hosted a Seed Saving Workshop with Edible Landscapes of Cape Cod. Dave Scandurra, one of the owners/operators of Edible Landscapes, taught a variety of wet and dry seed saving methods along with the different tools one can use and different methods for drying and storage. He fielded specific questions ranging from humidity concerns to seasonal timing to plant illnesses and excoriating varieties of seed. Dave is based on Cape Cod, but there are many other gardeners/landscapers/permaculturists/landscape designers/farmers who have these skills and will be more than happy to share them. If you don’t have any connections, put some feelers out into the community and see what turns up (the Master Gardeners program is always a good place to start). 

Each year, we host an annual seed swap to get the community excited for the growing season and to provide a place for patrons to swap seeds. We make sure our seed library is stocked and ready to share before the swap, but we also make sure we have plenty of little manilla envelopes for people to divide up their seeds with and distribute at the program. We have a number of active nonprofits in the area concerned with organic gardening, food forests, and sustainable agriculture. I always reach out to them to spread the word and see if anyone can join us for the night. It always helps to have a few experts around to help teach new growers. The only real rule we have at the swap is that every seed packet/envelope needs to be clearly labeled…otherwise, you might think you’re planting kale and end up with turnips!

So…where do I get these seeds to start our seed library?


There are many nonprofits and seed companies around the US that are happy to donate seeds to a good cause. Here are a few of my favorites:

  • High Mowing Organic Seeds, who charge only the shipping for a large number of seed packets if you are a nonprofit/tax exempt entity. 

  • Sow Right Seeds, who will send you a curated collection of seeds if you are a non-profit/tax exempt entity and align with their organization goals.  

  • Seed Savers Exchange, who will, for a small fee, also send you a bunch of exciting seeds to stock in your library.

Beyond these three, there are a number of other seed related organizations that run similar programs throughout the country. Look into your regional retailers and nonprofits and see what options are available for you and your specific set up. We also reach out to a number of our local garden supply shops and ask if they have any of last season's seeds they are willing to donate. Many seed packets have sell-by dates on them that expire at the end of a growing season, but that doesn’t mean the seed is no longer viable. The germination rate might be lower, but plenty will still sprout and would be cool additions to your seed library. Always reach out to these businesses if you can. The worst they can say is no and you move on to your next donation option!

I’d like to end with a brief story about the Eastham Turnip. In 2009, a local Eastham farmer named Art Nickerson passed away. For a time, he was the only farmer left on the peninsula growing and selling Eastham Turnips, which our town was/is famous for (they love the sandy soil!). Because he kept up with traditional growing and seed saving methods, the heirloom variety didn’t die out. Art shared his turnip seeds with a few farmers locally…and now they share their seed with our library, ensuring that this wonderful, historic variety doesn’t disappear. This is one of the final reasons to consider starting a seed library for your community. So many heirloom varieties of fruits and vegetables have been lost to time. If it wasn’t for Art Nickerson, the Eastham Turnip would be a thing of the past…and that’s wicked sad. 

So, see if your community is up for a little seed sharing, you never know what you might save!

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