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Hooray for Seed Libraries!

Thanks to Millbrook Library Director, Courtney Tsahalis for this shot of the seed drawer in their new Library of Local kiosk.

Dirty Gaia’s been busy! We packed up individual bundles of the carefully sourced and measured ingredients that form the bulding blocks of a seed library and sent them off to 14 libraries in the Mid-Hudson Library System. Have you ever tried equitably dividing an ounce of French Breakfast radish seeds by a factor of 14? Let’s just say the seeds are very (very) small and you’ll need a sensitive scale and, in our case, a few passes with a calculator while attempting to recall the fundamentals of division.

This year our seed smorgasbord included the aforementioned radishes as well as pickling cucumbers, bush and pole beans, slicing and cherry tomatoes, snap peas and zucchini, chard, basil and arugula, and pollinator-friendly echinacea and sunflowers. And then the support staff of measuring spoons, seed packets, individual labels for those packets, and an illustrated booklet showing how each seed is sown and grown. Our partner in the effort, Library of Local, commissioned mini-kiosks, made by sculptor Johnny Poux, for each library. They hold the seeds as well as books related to sustainable gardening and food cultivation.

Dirty Gaia and LOL started the seed-library-within-a-library program last year with a pilot group of four libraries, in Hudson, Rhinecliff, Kingston and Tannersville. Their generous feedback inspired us to spread the idea to a larger group for 2022.  All this seedy business reminded us of the rippling effects a seed library—which can be set up anywhere, from a living room to a yoga studio—can have on a community.

What’s Not to Love?

Seed libraries are a source of free seed, that part’s obvious. With a little labor, sun and water they’re a source of free food, too, a key element of sustainability and resilience. But just as importantly, a seed library is a beautiful way to create community through mutual interests, education, and the sheer rejoicing that comes with a bumper crop of whatever’s been planted.

The LOL kiosk at Clinton Community Library—the seeds are in the blue drawer.

Seeds Grow Community

The ultimate goal of a seed library is to have gardeners return at the end of the growing season with tales of their bumper crops and seeds saved from a portion of them. Those seeds go back into the seed library’s inventory for the following season and the process continues, year after year, allowing the library and its collection to grow organically. Personal tales of who donated what and how different seeds performed become part of the community’s conversation and gardening history. The sharing afforded and encouraged by seed-saving can’t be overestimated. New friendships and generations of flowers, herbs and produce are among the rewards.

…And Promote Celebrations

One way to continue engagement through the seasons is to hold events supporting growing and seed-saving. Threshfests (can we coin that word?), where everyone brings their dried pods and seedheads and harvest them seeds together, are always popular. A wet threshing of tomatoes and cucumbers, with guest appearances by onions and chilis, becomes a salsa party with the leftovers thrown into a fresh dip. Tortilla chips are all the extras needed.

…While Being Modest About Their Super Powers

If you think about them even for a second, seeds are astounding. A teeny tiny lettuce seed, a fraction of the size of a grain of rice, can create a gorgeous head of lettuce and, if left to mature, enough seeds to grow rows upon rows of those heads the next season. A single tomato seed, no weightier than a fragment of ash, will produce a bounty of rich tomatoes, the essence of summer. Seeds are unassuming packets of exponential potential, and when treated with the care they deserve, unboundingly generous. Seeds and humans rely upon one another, and if we keep up our end, they reward us abundantly. A seed library fosters this essential relationship with the joy of the community it creates. — Margot Dougherty

Here’s a list of LOL/Dirty Gaia-Sponsored Seed Libraries:

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