Bookworms might start talking earthworms at Ocean Park Library on Saturday, when the first of four fall seed swaps takes place.
Since February 2015, the 17 Avenue institution has hosted a library within a library, albeit one void of books. It’s the Surrey Seed Library – a free, drop-in seed-exchange program that allows local residents to borrow, save and share seeds of 90 varieties of plants, from tomatoes and beans to flowers and herbs.
Seed library co-ordinator Matthew Kemshaw, of Victoria-based LifeCycles Project Society, said the response from seed-sharing participants has been overwhelmingly positive.
“People are really excited to see the library taking part in something that isn’t specifically related to books and to that kind of knowledge that libraries are traditionally known for. People are really encouraged to see a public institution like the library supporting community knowledge around what they see as being an important skill – the ability to grow your own food,” he said.
Surrey Seed Library is based on a model LifeCycles first planted in Victoria. Community volunteers help grow the program, while Ocean Park Library provides the space.
Seed library members can sign out up to six varieties of seed each year. If they have growing success, members are asked to save the seeds their plants produce and return them to the library, where they’re stored and shared again.
Kemshaw said seed library membership is free and open to anyone – including greenhorn growers. He said green-thumb volunteers who help run the program are keen to pass on their knowledge.
“We take great joy in providing seeds to first-time gardeners and helping people who haven’t been able to successfully grow their own plants before, to give them, not just seeds, but information on how to grow them.”
A seed library offers a place for a community to connect and share seeds that are best-suited for the local growing conditions – and preserve some heirloom or otherwise rare varieties. On a small scale, it also helps preserve the genetic diversity in the global seed collection.
Since farming has shifted to an industrialized model, the world’s seed supply has dwindled. Kemshaw noted 90 per cent of global seed diversity has already been lost, according to World Health Organization estimates.
“That diversity is really important to essentially creating a resilient food system. Diversity means we have a lot of different kinds of genetic material that’s adapted to different kinds of conditions. If we lose the diversity we also lose our ability to adapt and to be resilient,” he said.
Saturday’s seed swap at Surrey Seed Library will allow the community to borrow, save and share seeds from the community collection. At this time of year, most locally-grown vegetables and flowers have born seeds. Kemshaw and volunteers will be on hand to offer information on harvesting those seeds and preserving them for sharing.
“It’s an opportunity for people to drop in and ask questions and get information about how to save seed. We also have our whole seed collection at the library, so people can return seeds,” he said. “Even if they’re not a member they can bring seeds to share with the community.”
Ocean Park Library manager Iwona Mandera said through community events last year, the program engaged 500 people in conversations about planting, saving and sharing seeds. The seed library already has approximately 80 active members, along with eight active volunteers who are passionate about growing food in their backyards and eager to share their knowledge with others.
Four seed swaps are scheduled, each from 1-4 p.m. at Ocean Park Library (12854 17 Ave.): Sept. 17 and 25, and Oct. 15 and 23.
LifeCycles is also providing communities with seed library starter kits through its website borrowsaveshare.com to sow the program elsewhere in B.C.
Said Kemshaw: “It would be great to see other neighbourhoods taking some initiative to start their own seed libraries for their own communities.”