Seed Libraries – Preserving the Past for the Future
With a seed library, genuine independence from the industrial food system is within reach.
August 24, 2020

glass mason jars with seed sachet inside photo by Eco Warrior Princess on Unsplash

Being in control of how and where your food is grown is becoming more of a practical notion for many people. The idea of producing the food one eats is gaining traction among a greater number of people.  While this is a great move in the direction of food sovereignty, unless we save our own seeds, we are not truly free. With a seed library, genuine independence from the industrial food system is within reach.

The term “seed library” may be new, but if you’re imagining a library with seeds instead of books, on a very basic level, a seed library is exactly what you think it is.  A seed library is a place where locally grown seeds are collected and stored so that they can be available to others in the community.

So much can be shared through a seed library.  The increased genetic diversity and local adaptations in the seeds are invaluable.  Gardens in the community will have seeds that mean something to its members, because the seeds have a story and a history.  When new species and varieties are introduced, a legacy can be created.  No one will have to rely on corporations outside their community to provide seeds nor be subject to a company’s whims of which seeds are available.  The seed library can also serve as a place to share  seeds of wisdom, cultural growing practices, and even cooking tips.

When community members “borrow” seeds, they grow them with the intention of saving some of the resulting seeds to bring back to the seed library for others to enjoy.  Of course, there are no fines for overdue seeds and you can’t really return the seeds you “borrowed”, but it should be clear now how it works.  Some seed libraries are completely free, while others charge a nominal fee to participate.  This means that more community members can access seeds to grow their own vegetables, herbs, and flowers without prohibitive cost or the risk of financial loss.  The promise of success is just a bonus especially for novice gardeners.

A vegetable garden, no matter how large or small, is the best way to provide you and your family fresh, healthy food to eat.  While you may not be able to grow everything you want, tending your garden will insure that you have something nutritious to eat.  For the price of a few packs of seeds, your household can eat fresh produce during the warmer months of the year and with myriad preservation methods, the tastes of spring and summer need not be a memory as the leaves start to change and winter settles in.  With a seed library, folks could save even more money by removing the price of seeds from the annual budget.  The cost of seeds may not move you, but $20 or $30 can be enough to dissuade someone from taking a gamble on the unpredictable nature of gardening.  The Covid-19 pandemic caused chaos in the seed business in the US earlier in 2020, and people with their own seeds had an advantage.  While the market did recover, there are still supply shortages, shipping delays, and higher prices from many seed companies and plant producers.  Seed libraries can serve as  a lifeline for those who can’t buy seeds but want to start growing their own food.  In future crises, personal or global, let people turn to the community seed library for help.

Do you have a favorite bean?  Did your grandparents grow a particular watermelon whose flavor still can’t be beat?  Is there a regional specialty that you miss when you’re far away?  The foods we hold dear are a reflection of the experiences we’ve had throughout our lives.  While we have mostly referred to seed libraries as a way to feed, they are also a way to heal.  Seeds to grow medicinal plants in addition to ornamentals that have cultural and/or religious significance can be housed in your seed library, too.  Each and every seed has a story connected to certain people, places, and events in our past.  These stories are part of our culture, individually and collectively, and the seed library can assist in keeping our culture alive.  Fannie Lou Hamer said, “Never forget where we came from and always praise the bridges that carried us over.”  Sharing seeds and the stories that come with them is a simple, yet profound way to pass on culture to younger generations and newcomers.  

Before you run off and try to create a seed library, check out Seed Libraries to see if one already exists where you live.  If you’re not so lucky, Richmond Grows has detailed how to create a seed library.  The general steps are:

  1. Get Your Peeps Together
  2. Locate Your Space
  3. Acquire Library Materials
  4. Create Signage for Your Library
  5. Create Your Brochures
  6. Launch Your Seed Library
  7. Host Orientations to the Library

By following their guidelines, there is no reason your community, however you define it, can’t have its own seed library.  Please don’t think that you need to have an entire town’s support to get one going.  Just having one within your family, your neighborhood, or your church is a small step towards food security, food sovereignty, and preserving and maintaining the food, medicine, and other plants of one’s heritage and culture.


Seed Libraries: What They Are & How To Start One by Mia Breitkopf

Seed Libraries

Richmond Grows Seed Lending Library

Black Church Food Security Network’s April 2020 DIY Building Community Resilience Series

Seed Ambassadors Project Seed Saving Guide 

2020 Black, Indigenous, and People of Color led – How To Videos, Gardening Projects, Educational Resources usp=sharing

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