Library associates Vanessa Conley and Sahonara Gonzalez sort donated seed packets for the Dallas Public Library's Seed Library. Photos courtesy of city of Dallas.
May 7, 2018
Public libraries have been planting seeds in the minds of patrons for centuries - namely with books, magazines and other media. Now the Dallas Public Library is sowing real seeds, thanks to its Seed Library.
Two years ago, inspired by the urban gardening trend, library staff turned an old card catalog into a cabinet for storing a variety of seeds. Now the seed collection on the sixth floor of the J. Erik Jonsson Central Library in downtown Dallas has grown too large for staff to inventory, says library associate Sahonara Gonzalez. Seed donations have poured in just as fast as library patrons have checked them out in a constant bustle of activity around the library’s urban ag program that just keeps growing.
“Currently we have a variety of vegetable, fruits and herbs. These include tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, squash, melons, watermelons, carrots, basil, oregano, dill, and more,” Gonzalez says. “At one point we inventoried the seeds but we decided to stop because it was too time consuming and we did not have enough staff to keep it up.”
Most importantly, the seeds are free - no library card is required. The seed donations have come mostly from seed companies, with a portion coming from gardeners who’ve saved seed from last season’s crops and packaged it up for sowing later. Through the seed offering, Gonzalez says the library is adapting its programs to meet the changing needs of the city’s residents as the local food movement and the urban agriculture trend have gained a foothold in the area.
Classes are held in conjuntion with the Seed Library.
“The seed library was started to provide the resources, seeds and classes needed for those interested in trying their hand at gardening and building community among the local gardening community. By encouraging seed saving, we also hoped to build a sustainable collection of seeds perfectly adapted to our local climate and continuing this custom, which was once widely practiced,” Gonzalez says.
“The seed library was started to provide the resources, seeds and classes needed for those interested in trying their hand at gardening and building community among the local gardening community. By encouraging seed saving, we also hoped to build a sustainable collection of seeds perfectly adapted to our local climate and continuing this custom, which was once widely practiced.”
The Dallas Public Library Seed Library is a repurposed card catalog with a collection of circulating open pollinated and heirloom seeds. They are organized by common name and then by variety. Folks are welcome to take packages for their gardening needs, free of charge and have no obligation to save seeds. If they do decide to save seeds, donations can be dropped off on the sixth floor with variety name, date of donation, place grown and grower, says Gonzalez.
“Everyone who is interested in gardening or seed saving, novice or expert – all are welcome to use this resource. Even folks who do not live in the city of Dallas are welcome to take seeds and no one is required to have a library card to check seeds out.”
The collection includes not only vegetable seed but flower and herb seeds too. Gonzalez says library staff tries to avoid adding potentially poisonous varieties of flowers to the collection, but what goes into the library is largely influenced by what people donate.
The big draw for new gardeners is the free seed, but the science of seed saving and adaptation of common crops to our local climate is a passion among hardcore growers. For saving and returning seed to the library, participants must follow a basic protocol that outlines such things as which plants to save seed from and how to label seed packets for others to use.
For saving and returning seed to the library, participants must follow a basic protocol that outlines such things as which plants to save seed from and how to label seed packets for others to use.
Members of the Dallas County Master Gardeners, Texas A&M Agri-Life Extension, the city of Dallas Office of Environmental Quality and Grow North Texas lend their expertise in the technical aspects of growing crops and saving seeds, and they help with on-site classes that cover a range of basic and advanced gardening topics.
“The seed library team helps the library hold classes and workshops for our patrons who are interested in gardening and providing the resources necessary for our patrons to start their gardening adventure. Participation in classes has been great; on average I would say we get about 15 attendees in our classes and events. From young to old, novice to expert gardener, men and women of all backgrounds make up our wonderful groups of participants,” Gonzalez says.
Because anyone who’d like to try gardening for the first time faces a huge learning curve when deciding what to plant and how to grow it, the seed program offers newbies both guidance from an experienced gardener and a chance to grow a few crop varieties themselves without risking a large investment.
Gonzalez says that a thriving gardening community engaged in growing a diversity of local crops and sharing seeds is essential for a city to be more sustainable. It’s also a means to preserve open-pollinated crop varieties that might otherwise fall out of fashion over time and be lost forever.
The seed library came about in 2016 when former staff member Catherine Gilman pursued the idea. As soon as the seed library was in place, seeds from seed companies and local gardeners mounted up quickly.
“So far, we haven’t had to pay for seeds. All of them have been donations,” Gonzalez says. “The only thing that the group has had to pay for has been packaging materials like little manila envelopes for seed packaging.”
Because public response has been so favorable, Gonzalez says Dallas Public Library is in the works to expand its seed library and gardening programs to reach even more patrons throughout the city.
“This year we debuted a mini seed station out at the Martin Luther King Library Branch. It has seeds appropriate for the season and informational materials. This location was chosen because of supportive staff and the Seedling Farm located next to it,” Gonzalez says. “We are hoping to expand the seed library in the future. We would like to make the seeds available to more branches by cataloging our supply and distributing through our internal mailing system or creating more mini seed stations at the branches. We are also applying for mini grants provided by our Friends of the Library group to provide starting kits – small hand tools, soil and containers – to our patrons, building a demonstration plot in the library, and providing more classes and workshops.”
City of Dallas Seed Library
About: The Dallas Public Library downtown features a changing inventory of seeds available free. A Dallas library card is not required to use the seed library. The service is open to all, including residents outside city of Dallas.
Donations: Seed donations are also accepted. Please inquire about procedure for donating seeds.
Where: J. Erik Jonsson Central Library, 1515 Young St, Sixth Floor, Dallas
Contact: 214-670-1468 or firstname.lastname@example.org