Growing West Side

  • Seed Library is part of a grassroots organisation that also runs a Farmers Market, gardening classes and other events
  • Open twice a week and always staffed by Seed Library volunteers
  • Successful at reaching families with small children

Brief history

The Seed Library was launched at the beginning of 2014 by a group of neighbours from the West Side neighbourhood of St Paul, Minnesota. They were already working together on a number of projects in their community, under the banner of Growing West Side, when the library was formed. Other initiatives include: a Farmers Market, a community orchard, and a collaborative gardening project called Beans on the Boulevard. The different strands of their programme have grown together and have helped the group to build awareness and support in their neighbourhood.

How it works

The Seed Library is based at Riverview Public Library in a quiet leafy neighbourhood of St Paul. It is open twice a week on Wednesday and Saturday afternoons throughout the growing season. Seed Library volunteers are on hand to answer questions, hand out resources, and help visitors to choose varieties whenever the library is open. Growing West Side also run a kids gardening club at the same time as the library on Wednesday afternoons so this helps to capture a family audience.

In the first year, the seeds were donated by local plant nurseries and hardware stores, and more recently they have come from the Seed Savers Exchange Community Resource Programme. All of the seeds are open-pollinated and they try and maintain a wide selection of popular vegetable and flower varieties, especially those that are easy to grow. Milkthistle is particularly popular as it provides a habitat for a seasonal population of Monarch Butterflies.

They run a programme of workshops at the library to support new and experienced gardeners. The workshops teach Seed Saving Techniques as well as general gardening skills such as Starting Seeds Indoors and Preparing the Garden for Planting.


One of the seed stocks donated to the library along with a description of its characteristics 


The Seed Library states its aim as ‘to promote self-reliance and healthy food choices in order to strengthen the community’. Building a stronger community lies at the heart of what they do.

One of the lead volunteers, Maureen Hark, is a life-long gardener and seed saver, and her enthusiasm and expertise have undoubtedly guided the project in the right direction. She helped to get the library off the ground, runs most of the gardening activities and continues to inspire people to get involved. However all of the volunteers play an important role. They are passionate about the project and enjoy being involved. The way the library has been put together shows care and attention to detail: the storage unit is hand-painted; the seeds are all neatly labelled; the resources folder is well-stocked and includes materials in Spanish and Hmong.


The seed library: homemade carrot sticks keep the seeds secure 

Whilst the numbers are still relatively small (the library reached about 125 families in 2015), the quality of the engagement is high. Families and others are drawn in to conversations with the volunteers and find out about other activities run by Growing West Side and how they can be involved. They are encouraged to visit the Farmers Market or to take home a bean growing kit. It is these conversations and the other opportunities that the project provides to get neighbours talking to one another that makes the library a success.

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