Growing Libraries

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Courtesy of Hudson Valley Seed Library /

In the investigative documentary Food, Inc. viewers learn that corporate agriculture harasses and intimidates farmers who try to save patented soybean seeds. This makes it difficult for local growers to develop their own crops, which requires that seeds from the strongest plants are saved year to year. As if in response, a small number of public libraries around the country are beginning to do for seeds what they have long done for books.

Free vegetable seeds are now shelved at the public library in Richmond, California, where patrons can check out tomato and lettuce seeds alongside the latest Stieg Larsson novel. Come harvest time, participants are encouraged to practice the centuries-old art of saving seeds and return a few to the library’s shelves. It’s a naturally sustainable system because, explains Amanda Kimble-Evans in Organic Gardening(Sept.-Oct. 2011), as “each grower saves seeds from the most productive, healthiest plants, the varieties become more adapted to the specific bioregion with each generation.”

Seed-lending programs have taken root in at least four other public libraries in California and Connecticut, writes Greg Landgraf in American Libraries (April 6, 2011). The bookworms also host seed-saving workshops for those of us who aren’t yet master gardeners.

Have something to say? Send a letter to This article first appeared in the September-October 2011 issue of Utne Reader.

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