- First seed swap attended by over 200 people
- Have been receiving regular donations from local seed savers
Gardener and community activist Anna Stange established The Blue Island Seed Lending Library in 2014 by in collaboration with The Friends of the Library. From the outset, Anna saw the seed library as an excellent means to educate about seed saving, connect gardeners and like-minded people and create a more sustainable local food system. Support from the Park District and the Library Administration helped the project to get off the ground and gain local recognition.
Community garden coordinator, Emma Miller, and me, at one of the community gardens that Anna has helped to establish
How it works
The seed library is based at Blue Island Public Library, where a table is set up in the main reading room, with several small cardboard boxes stuffed with seeds along with some information about gardening. Anyone is free to take seeds from the boxes and anyone can donate. There is minimal paperwork; just a sheet to sign up to their email list. This informal set-up is easy to manage and accessible for casual visitors. One of the librarians says she sees people using it every day.
They hold a seed swap once a year in autumn on the same day as a larger event, BBQ in the Park, organised by the Park District. The event has been great for connecting people from different backgrounds and ethnicities, who share a common interest in gardening. The swaps feature seed saving demonstrations, which have helped to encourage novices to give it a go. Anna has noticed that lots of people think that saving seed is complicated or difficult but when they see how it easy it is they take to the idea much quicker.
The seed swaps are also effective at boosting stock for the library. Any excess seeds of open-pollinated varieties are incorporated in to the library. Hybrid or treated seeds are removed and given away to community gardens so that they don’t become part of the seed library system. The goal of the library is to be entirely self-sufficient in seeds so that they don’t need to buy any or ask for donations.
Anna has worked hard to reach out to people and encourage them to try seed saving or to bring in their own saved seeds to the library. Even before she started the library, she helped to establish two community gardens, where she gave demonstrations on different aspects of gardening, including seed saving. Her hard work has paid off and the boxes in the library are full of envelopes of all shapes and sizes, speaking of the many homes from where they’ve come.
However Anna doesn’t want to run the seed library forever (she dreams of setting up a farm in the not too distant future) and she worries about finding someone with the right skills and interests in take over her role. The library staff can help on a day-to-day basis, but the project still needs someone out in the community talking to people and drawing them in to the network if its going to continue to develop.