Monroe County seed libraries take root 

click to enlarge The Irondequoit Public Library recently opened a seed library where patrons can get free seeds for their gardens. - PHOTO PROVIDED BY IRONDEQUOIT PUBLIC LIBRARY
  • Photo provided by Irondequoit Public Library
  • The Irondequoit Public Library recently opened a seed library where patrons can get free seeds for their gardens.
At the Irondequoit library, patrons can check out books, audio recording equipment, sewing machines, and now, seeds for their gardens.

The library has become the latest in Monroe County to offer a free, public seed sharing program.

“The idea is people take a small number of seeds home, they plant them in their community garden or their garden in their backyard,” said Greg Benoit, director of Irondequoit Public Library. “And then at the end of the planting season, we're encouraging people to return some of the seeds from their harvest to be used by people in subsequent years.”

Irondequoit’s seed library is currently stocked with staple vegetables such as buttercrunch lettuce, cherry tomatoes, cosmic purple carrots, and spinach, as well as ornamental plants including varieties of zinnia, lavender, and giant sunflower. Some of the seeds are hybrids while others are heirlooms, varieties that have desirable characteristics that remain stable from generation to generation. The now extinct but still famed Irondequoit melon was developed locally as an heirloom fruit at a time before hybrid crosses were common.

The library is asking people who "borrow” the heirlooms to save some seeds from what they grow and return them to the library so people can grow them next year. Benoit said staff hope to eventually stock the seed library with donated seeds.

While most people are perhaps more likely to think of a garden store than a library when looking for seeds, Benoit said the horticultural repository fits in well with the library’s community-building and lending models. He added that it complements the institution’s educational programs and its lab where people can use equipment to make, produce, or mend things, which the seed library stands next to.
click to enlarge Among the vegetables stocked in the Irondequoit seed library is cosmic purple carrots, which is an heirloom variety. - AJ'S PHOTO ART / ADOBE STOCK
  • AJ's Photo Art / Adobe Stock
  • Among the vegetables stocked in the Irondequoit seed library is cosmic purple carrots, which is an heirloom variety.
Libraries across the country have launched seed sharing programs in recent years, a trend large enough that last April, Eater.com published an article titled “How Public Libraries Are Seeding America’s Gardens.” The seed programs give the libraries new ways to serve their communities while helping to address rising grocery prices and food insecurity, the article said.

The Irondequoit seed library is one of four in Monroe County libraries. The Webster Public Library’s, which started in spring 2015, is said to be the oldest. The city’s Monroe Branch Library and Scottsville Free Library also have seed sharing programs.

“I’m hoping it gives that feeling of community where you can start with something and bring it back to share with other people,” said Doreen Dailey, assistant director and adult services librarian at the Webster Public Library.

The Webster library accepts seed donations from its patrons, but largely gets its stock from distributors. Its seed library is a card catalog loaded with a wide array of packets containing fruits or vegetables ranging from corn to radicchio to several types of leafy greens. There’s also squash, pumpkins, melons, and herbs, as well as ornamental flowers.

The Scottsville Free Library began its seed program in 2018. Each year it makes available organic, non-GMO flower, vegetable, herb, and fruit seeds, some of which are heirloom varieties. The seed library has been very popular and each year a few gardeners return seeds for people to take, said Elizabeth Andreae, director of the Scottsville library. The flowers and herbs tend to be most popular.

“It’s a great opportunity for folks to try something new,” Andreae said.

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