The Next Step for Seed Savers

Now that you’ve saved your heirloom seeds, it is time to start a seed library to share with other seed savers.

  • Known for their artist-designed seed packs, the Hudson Valley Seed Library has become an online seed library for the entire northeast as well as a full seed company.
    Photo courtesy of
  • Seed libraries are asking consumers to become cooperative producers. They are asking gardeners to take more responsibility for where their seeds come from and actively help create local seed independence.
    Photo courtesy of
  • Almost all seed libraries provide workshops to teach gardeners how to save seeds, ongoing trainings, and meetings to keep seed savers on track.
    Photo courtesy of

“If you have a garden and a library you have everything you need.”

Cicero penned this phrase many ages ago, but over the last decade his words have started to become a reality. In places as disparate as Alaska, Hawaii, New York, and New Mexico, a movement to build lending libraries of seeds has brought together librarians and gardeners, farmers and teachers in a diverse effort to preserve the genetic and cultural diversity of many of the plants on which we depend.

It’s hard to say when the community seed library movement began. Historically speaking, informal seed exchanges are nothing new. Seeds were shared between neighbors, within communities, across great distances, and over generations. Saving seeds was as practiced and understood as harvesting a tomato when it was ripe. Over time, as the landscape of seeds changed from the intimate to the industrial, growers became so used to purchasing seed that communities began to lose the diversity of their varieties, the skills needed to save seeds, and the motivation to share them.

Just 10 years ago, seed libraries were almost non-existent; today there are at least 50, with more sprouting up across the country. Much like the shrouded dawn of agriculture, it seems that the idea was seeded in many places at once, many similar efforts germinating at around the same time. Sometimes the idea traveled from place to place and at other times grew up independently. Luckily, saving and sharing seeds never disappeared entirely, but the age-old tradition has a new modern imperative. And more and more communities are using the age-old institution of the library to address it.

Seed Library: Not in the Dictionary

My journey from gardener to seed saver and librarian to seed farmer has led me to a deeper appreciation for everyone involved in the seed-library movement. Eight years ago, when I started the Hudson Valley Seed Library, one of the main questions I got was, “What’s a Seed Library?” At that time, there were no seed libraries on the east coast and I didn’t know of any public libraries lending out seeds. In trying to answer this question for myself and our patrons, and with the support of our library director and local garden guru Peg Lotvin, I searched for other kinds of community seed-saving efforts.

There were a few, scattered across the country. I joined Seed Savers Exchange, with its 30-year-old verdant yearbook model for connecting seed savers nationally; I corresponded with Native Seeds/ SEARCH with its unique cultural focus, and met Rowen White, with her inspiring thesis on community seed preservation. It was moving to see each of these different ways of addressing the loss of genetic diversity and increasingly corporate control of seeds. There were other models as well: seed banks, vaults, exchanges and swaps, but no one I reached out to had heard of a seed library. Well, almost no one. Serendipity had brought Sascha DeBrulto, intern at a local CSA.



Learn from Home!

Survival Skills, Garden Planning, Seed Saving, Food Preservation, Natural Health – Dozens of courses, 100+ workshops, and interactive Q&As.


Become a Preferred Subscriber and start enjoying the benefits today!

Fall in love with the flavor, versatility, and beauty of Mother Earth Gardener

Mother Earth GardenerDelight your taste buds, mind and eyes with beautiful photos and inspirational techniques on everything you need to know to grow, preserve and cook your own heirloom fruits and vegetables. You won’t want to miss the stories about plants passed down from generation to generation.

Don’t miss a single issue of Mother Earth Gardener. Published by the editors of MOTHER EARTH NEWS, Mother Earth Gardener provides decades of organic gardening experience from the most trusted voices in the field. Join today and save off the newsstand price! Get one year (4 issues) for only $24.95! (USA only)

Facebook Pinterest Instagram YouTube