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The natural world. Looking pretty for 3.5b years.

Growing food and community at public libraries

Author: Guest Writer/Wednesday, February 6, 2013/Categories: Uncategorized

In the public mind, at least, public libraries have been on the wane for years. First mega-bookstores like Borders and Barnes and Noble began to displace the longstanding homes of free reading material. More recently, the rise of the Internet and the advent of the e-book have further marginalized Ye Olde Public Library.

But, at least in cities and towns that continue to fund and support them, libraries are finding new ways to serve constituents and build community. In Basalt, Colo., a group of avid gardeners recently joined hands with the local library to launch a seed-lending program.


A seed shelf at the Basalt library. The green circles, blue squares and black diamonds on the envelopes indicate the relative ease of seed-harvesting. Bob Ward photo.

Here’s how it works: Working with local gardeners and the Central Rocky Mountain Permaculture Institute, the library stocks envelopes of various vegetable and herb seeds known to succeed in the region’s arid conditions and short growing season. Local growers check out the seeds in the spring for planting, with the expectation of harvesting new seeds from the hardiest plants in the fall and returning them to the library. Borrowers also are expected to take a class in seed harvesting.

Over the years, the project should become a storehouse of seeds well-adapted to local conditions. Basalt’s program is new, but a dozen-plus examples exist around the country, including Manitou Springs on Colorado’s eastern slope. In New York’s Hudson Valley, a for-profit seed library has been operating and refining successful seeds for nine years. And similar projects continue to spring up.

Stephanie Syson, a leader of the Basalt effort, told The Aspen Times: “Seeds are life, and they’re public property.”

– Bob Ward

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