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The City Journals

New ‘Seed Library’ provides incentive for residents to start and share 

their gardens

Mar 29, 2019 10:24AM ● By Jennifer J Johnson

“The Plot” community garden at the Salt Lake City Library will undoubtedly yield more harvest with the new ability to capture “local seeds” to plant, then harvest and replant. (Photo/Salt Lake City Public Library)

By Jennifer J. Johnson | [email protected]

Would there be any other outcome than “growth” for a gardening program?

For the past three years, Salt Lake City residents have been enjoying the benefits of “The Plot” community garden space at the Salt Lake Main Library.

With last month’s opening of the new Seed Library, city residents now have the opportunity to not only leverage the library’s community garden, but, quite literally, taste from another community gift — seeds. These are seeds to plant in The Plot itself, in their own gardens, or even in small containers on apartment patios.

On March 9, Salt Lake City Library, in conjunction with partner Wasatch Community Gardens, announced its new Seed Library and held a grand opening in conjunction with a screening of the film “Seed: The Untold Story.” This season’s Seed Library is open to patrons now until the end of June and, currently, is only available at the main library location.

The goal is to create a cycle of seed worship, wherein seeds are checked out, then planted and tended, then after the harvest, seeds are recollected and saved for one’s personal use, as well as shared back in plenty with library patrons. And, thus, new cycles begin.

Emma Wilson, who manages The Plot, wanted to find a way to integrate the library’s significant ecological education programs with the garden itself.

Wilson found a great collaborator in Giles Larsen from Wasatch Community Gardens (WCG). Larsen, the parks for produce manager for WCG, has been studying seed libraries for a while, having toured seed libraries in Southern California and studied in “seed schools.”

In fall of 2018, recalled Larsen, he and Wilson began talking. The incubation of the idea began, and the two began “hammering out the terms of the partnership during the winter,” he said.

“It was a really good fit,” Larsen added. “I already had the expertise, the training, and the teaching experience, and then the library has someone willing to spend the time to get the infrastructure up.”

Add to the mix a supportive library management (many of whom, Wilson informed, are gardeners) and a handy librarian to upgrade a vintage wooden card catalogue with casters to make the cart mobile, and suddenly, the Salt Lake City Library’s Seed Library is on its way.

Members of the Salt Lake City library system can head to the first floor of the library and ask about the seed library. There are some general categories for seeds, including common vegetables, herbs, flowers, wheats and grasses.

Unlike with most library products, where card-carrying members “check out” materials, view, then return them, the Seed Library represents a gift to library members. Patrons simply take as much seed as they think they will responsibly use, then are on their way to go plant.

Tomatoes, snap peas, snow peas, cucumbers, and a variety of beans can move from seed to table in a few months growing time. The library also offers seeds for herbs, including cilantro, oregano, coriander, and one of Wilson’s favorites, hyssop (a small, bushy aromatic plant of the mint family).

The Seed Library is not only a great idea for do-it-yourself (DIY) gardeners looking to save money and plant what other gardeners consider tried-and-true seed varieties, it is a blessing for conscientious gardeners seeking ways to help mentor other gardeners and further Salt Lake City’s food security or having the community grow its own food.

“What do I do with these seeds?” Wilson paraphrased the concerns of conscientious gardeners. “People need an outlet for distributing excess seed,” she added.

Wilson shares the joy expressed by a grateful patron who drove all the way from Tooele to donate wildflower seeds. Such seeds are important for not only beautifying yards and neighborhoods, but provide important succor for endangered pollinators, such as bees and monarch butterflies.

Wilson said the library’s program is “heavily inspired by casual seed sharers.” In specific, she credits Glendale’s Wasatch Commons. On a more formal scale, Wilson is inspired by the Richmond Grows Seed Lending Library, part of the public library for the city located in the East Bay region of the San Francisco Bay area.

Larsen echoed Wilson’s admiration for SeedSavers.Org, and indicated that the work of Native Seed Search — to preserve local seeds of indigenous peoples’ — highly influenced his seed creed.

Wilson and Larsen have visions of expanding the seed library, to not only other libraries in the Salt Lake library system, but to the Salt Lake County library system as well. Larsen indicated he is scouting the county system, where he tends county library gardens from Magna to Murray, to find champions along the lines of Wilson to expand the program throughout the valley.

Once this season’s seeds get put away for cold storage at the end of June, the Seed Library will re-emerge at the main library in the fall, with another introduction at the SLC VegFest, to be held on Library Square in September, Wilson said.

“I am really grateful that there has been so much support,” Wilson said.

Added Larsen, “I like the idea of doing it, without reliance on some bigger business model.”