The Pima County Public Library will soon be offering more than books and various other forms of media for the public to borrow: Four branches in Pima County will soon have a physical "seed library," where anyone with a library card can take seeds and, after harvesting, return seeds for others to use.
"It seemed like the community was ripe for it," said Justine Hernandez, a librarian at the Flowing Wells Branch Library who borrowed the idea from other West Coast libraries. "There had been a real proliferation of this type of (appreciation for fresh produce); the number of farmers' markets especially was growing."
Before coming to Flowing Wells, Hernandez worked at the El Rio Branch, and she described the experience of wandering through the Santa Cruz River Farmers' Market and talking to local vendors. "I chatted up this one vendor who had just finished going to 'Seed School,' which is put on by Native Seeds/SEARCH." (For more information on that school, go to www.nativeseeds.org/index.php/events/seed-school.)
The Pima County Public Library will have a variety of seeds available, all heirloom varieties and open-pollinated, meaning that every seed can produce offspring that will include seeds that can be returned for others to use.
"The idea is that you borrow seeds from the library; grow your plant; let some of (the fruits and vegetables) go to seed; harvest those seeds; and then return them," she said.
Hernandez wrote to seed organizations across the nation and asked for donations. Most of the initial seeds will come from organizations like Native Seeds/SEARCH, BBB Seed, Botanical Interests and Seed Savers Exchange.
"The library is as strong as its partnerships," said Hernandez, who sees the seed library as an anchor for other food-related programs like gardening and food-saving classes. "I think that's always been the library's mission—to make information and resources available to everyone, (regardless of) economic backgrounds and education."
The pilot program will take place at four of the 27 Pima County Public Library branches: Hernandez's Flowing Wells branch, as well as the Joel D. Valdez Main Library, the Quincie Douglas Branch and the Himmel Branch.
No fines or return dates will be associated with the seed library. Refurbished card catalogs will serve as the physical locations for borrowing and returning seeds.
"Eventually, we want to have people (for example) look and see that we have sweet peas and reserve the seed, and if they live out by Bear Canyon, we will have them sent out to Bear Canyon," Hernandez said. Working in a system that is designed for books will be tricky, she said, but the library will develop an online system for the program.
"We're pretty lucky here in Arizona that we can grow almost anything," Hernandez said. Creating a resilient seed collection is the mission of the program, which is set to launch in January.
"It's not only about having good-tasting food, but creating a sustainable ecology, creating land stewardship, and teaching kids about what it means to take care of the soil, and what it means to be responsible to your environment."