The next time you visit your local library to check out a book, perhaps you’ll leave with some basil, butterfly weed, or sweet pea seeds in your pocket. Seed-lending programs, operating out of public libraries, are taking root.

The concept is simple: Seed libraries allow patrons to “check out” seeds and grow them on their own land. In exchange, the gardener or farmer is asked to donate seeds to the library at harvest time. These will be used by fellow library-goers in the next growing season. “Unlike a seed bank, the libraries are living collections that change every time a gardener returns seeds,” Organic Gardening writes. 

The Richmond Grows Seed Lending Library, housed in the Richmond Public Library near Berkeley, California, celebrated its one-year anniversary this month and has nearly 400 users. Carefully cataloged by type—herb, flower, or edible—and degree of growing difficulty, the seeds are a small but powerful force in bringing fresh food to all members the community, says Mother Earth News. The free program “provid[es] access to fresh, healthy food in communities where it may not otherwise be available and teach[es] everyone how much fun growing your own food can be.” 

In addition to the seed-lending libraries spreading up and down California—at Alameda Free Library and San Francisco Public Library’s Potrero branch, for example—they are beginning to sprout elsewhere, such as at the Fairfield Public Library’s Fairfield Woods branch in Connecticut, reports American Libraries.

To start a seed-lending library in your area, visit Richmond Grows for tips and resources.

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