- All varieties listed in online digital catalogue
- Library users can request seeds to their closest branch
- Over 5000 seed packets checked out in spring 2015
Organic farmer Betsy Goodman established Common Soil Seed Library in 2012 in collaboration with the Omaha Public Library, Nebraska. Betsy told me that she was inspired to set up the seed library when she realised that no-one in Nebraska was saving seeds.
The landscape across the state is dominated by uniform rows of corn and soya beans on large-scale industrial farms. Most of the crops being grown are genetically-modified varieties and as a result saving seeds is not only ineffectual, but illegal. By moving away from mixed farming, local farmers have dramatically reduced the biodiversity of the region and have made themselves entirely reliant on outside sources for their seed supply.
Betsy doesn’t blame local farmers for turning to industrial farming, as she understands the financial incentive is strong, but instead wants to take positive action to take control of her food supply. She wants the freedom to know the source of her food and to ensure that future generations will be able to do the same.
How it works
The Seed Library currently holds a collection of 124 varieties all of which are listed in the library’s digital archive. Users can order seeds online and collect them from any of the library’s 12 branches. Alternatively they can go directly to any of the 3 libraries where the collection is stored and browse and take out seeds directly from there. The library offers classes on seed saving throughout the year. They extended their programme to include other aspects of gardening including composting, growing herbs and permaculture when they realised that most of their users lacked basic gardening skills. The library staff are heavily involved in the running of the seed library – they are responsible for cataloguing, marketing, organising the workshop programme and answering enquiries. In addition, there are 3 seed library volunteers who help to organise the collection, run germination tests on old seeds and remove those that are out-of-date.
Most of the seeds are purchased directly from well-regarded seed companies including Johnnys, Fed Co and Seed Savers Exchange. The number of people returning locally saved seed is minimal. Betsy has saved seeds from about 20 varieties and returned them to the library. She has started to approach local organic farmers in her network to ask them to save seeds for specific varieties. She has had a good response from those she has approached but the numbers are still small.
The Common Soil Seed Library is a well-organised and well-structured project. It benefits hugely from the amount of resources that the public library is able to dedicate to it, most notably in staff time. The collection is well-maintained: old seeds are systematically tested and removed, so users can be confident that they will take home clean, viable seeds. However providing a free supply of high quality seeds doesn’t create a community of seed savers overnight. It is the first step in inspiring people to take notice of where their food comes from and to consider the option of growing food from seed. The hard work of inspiring more people to save their own seed is yet to be done.
Betsy has begun this work by approaching organic farmers and those already growing their own food. This targeted approach seems a good way to gradually increase the number of skilled seed savers. The progress will be slow but that’s the nature of the beast. Betsy’s main advice about starting a seed library, ‘Make sure you have funding for at least 10 years!’ makes a lot of sense.
More info – http://guides.omahalibrary.org/commonsoil – include seed library catalogue, workshop programme and seed saving resources