Madame Beespeaker recently travelled to Victoria BC to do some reconnaisance work on seed libraries. The central library in Victoria hosts a seed library open twice a month. Folks that want to "borrow" seeds must take a workshop to learn how the program works. I was excited to see the program up and running, so when I entered the library I was delighted to see a table with three smiling young people at and a big old tub of seeds to share. "Do you call yourselves seed librarians?" I asked. "Well, no, we prefer seed 'custodians,'" one gentleman replied. "We're starting with open pollinated and self-pollinating seeds," one woman explained. They've been donated by local farmers, including several mason jars full of all kinds of intriguing bean varieties. At an orientation session, potential seed library members learn what is expected of them and sign an agreement, committing them to saving and sharing seeds from their successful crops. During seed library hours, members can come in and sign out packets of seeds. They only need to take as many as they have room to grow. Gardeners can take home tips on the specific varieties of beans they are growing provided on the information sheets compiled by volunteers from The Lifecycles Project Society who have created this project in partnership with The Victoria Public Library. Members can sign out up to six varieties of seed at one time and they need to record their observation on plant observation forms for each variety. The Victoria Seed library rotates to several branches with the opening times on the library website.
Their colourful brochure contains a quote from Navdanya, food security activist Vanadan Shiva's seed sovereignty organization: "Seed is the storage place of culture." These new seed libraries are a fascinating way to share gardening literacy and culture in the growing movement to reclaim the victory garden spirit. I asked one volunteer how she got interested in becoming a seed library custodian. "I felt like I wanted something to fill my weekends with and I found out about this program on an online volunteer board," she said. She clearly enjoys sharing her enthusiasm with seeds with Victoria's gardening community, which has a strong reputation for local food security activism. When I went to a local garden store to buy seeds, many of the varieties had already been sold out in mid March.
In the fall, when members have successfully saved seeds, they are expected to bring some back in a container and transfer them to seed library envelopes. They will file their completed plant observation forms and note any new seeds they contribute. New seeds must be open pollinated and/or self fertile, for example tomato, lettuce, peas, beans, onions, herbs and flowers). Anything that needs to be caged to prevent undesirable outcrossing is verboten: ie carrots, and cucurbits. These are plants that require advanced seed saving skills to prevent unpalatable fruits that waste the gardener's time and space.
What do you imagine a seed library could look like? Village Vancouver has started creating seed libraries here in Vancouver and I will be working with the Moberly Arts and Cultural Centre to form our own version. I can't wait to create a seed librarian costume!!!!!