Seed-lending libraries are sprouting up across California, and with the recent opening of two seed-lending libraries in San Francisco, community members are bringing food safety, biodiversity protection and urban farming back into their own hands.
The first two branches of the San Francisco Seed Library, a project developed by Transition SF and the San Francisco Permaculture Guild, are open for lending at Hayes Valley Farm and as a pilot project at the Potrero branch of the San Francisco Public Library.
A group of people from Transition SF and the San Francisco Permaculture Guild volunteered their time and knowledge to prepare the Seed Library for its launch. Ania Moniuszko, Transition SF initiating group member, led this effort and collaborated closely with the San Francisco Public Library and the San Francisco Permaculture Guild.
“We wanted to create a community resource that will facilitate the free exchange of seeds along with the education on sowing, harvesting and saving the seeds,” Moniuszko says. “We believe that this will enable the community to preserve and share seeds that thrive in our climates.”
The process is simple: Residents choose from a list of vegetable seeds available in the Seed Library collection, borrow them and plant their seeds. After they’ve harvested their crops, they save the seeds from the heartiest and healthiest of their harvest and return the seeds to the same branch. Over time, each SF Seed Library branch will include a wide selection of seeds best suited to each microclimate because they have grown to full fruition, responding to the local soil, climate, and plant and animal diversity.
“It seemed like a natural fit for Potrero branch to pilot a seed-lending program at the library,” says Lia Hillman, Potrero branch manager of San Francisco Public Library. “Potrero Hill residents love gardening, and there are a number of burgeoning private and community gardens on the hill. The Seed Library offers the library the opportunity to promote urban, sustainable, organic gardening in our neighborhoods by disseminating seeds.”
San Francisco Public Library, through its Green Stacks initiative, aims at encouraging library users to live a more eco-friendly life. With the pilot seed-lending library project at its Potrero branch, users can borrow seeds, as well as check out books, tap into databases, talk to a librarian and find other information resources about urban gardening and native plants.
Seed saving has been the primary method of sustainable agriculture for thousands of years, yet in relative recent history, genetically modified seeds produced by some seed corporations (including those that carry a terminator gene to prevent propagation), threaten to contaminate the food supply with genetically engineered seeds, diminishing plant diversity, reducing the natural resilience of crops, and crushing the livelihood of farmers around the world.
“The cultural practice of selecting and saving seeds demonstrates how we can catch and store energy,” says Kevin Bayuk, permaculture-design instructor and board member of the San Francisco Permaculture Guild. “Though small, each seed is a dense package of incredible potential abundance of delicious local food, community connection and an astonishing amount of additional seeds to save. Sharing that abundance through libraries is a way for us to practice redistributing natural surplus resulting in greater biodiversity, easier gardening and most importantly, fun in learning and connecting.”