Written by Michael Wang
A new movement is beginning. Libraries are centers of reading, learning, and quiet contemplation, but they are expanding their spectrum of resources to provide not only books to the public but also gardening seeds. Across the nation, libraries have begun to offer the public the opportunity to start their own garden by facilitating “seed libraries”. Seed libraries are stations holding vast catalogs of gardening seeds. These libraries within a library provide the people a chance to borrow seeds to begin their own gardening projects. However, the ultimate goals go beyond the yard work of gardening. Seed libraries represent a new movement, focused around connecting a community through a brand new life style.
When you hear of a seed library, you might be expecting an enormous farm located on a wide roof, under the sky dome, covered with small gardens of fruits and vegetables. However, these seed libraries are nothing more than a desk, a shelf, and a clipboard. Their modest stature compliments their simple service. When you want to take a seed from the seed library, you need to first register for a free membership with the seed library, which should not take more than a couple of minutes at the desk. After the paperwork has been filled, you are allowed to shuffle through the large selection of seeds and pluck however many seeds you desire to use as long as you intend to use them. Then, you record your choice in the record books and head on home to begin your gardens. Starting your own garden is a difficult commitment, which is why the seed library also offers free tutorials hosted by the UCCE Master Gardeners of Orange County administered by the seed library program. Patience is of the essence, so please do not rush and try to enjoy what you are doing with your garden. Trials and failures are bound to be commonplace but keep on trying. Once you’ve successfully finished your first harvest, the seeds that you collect from your fruits and vegetables will be eagerly accepted by the seed library who will need seeds from past patrons in order to be self-sustaining. This process is entirely based upon community honesty, virtue, and general interest in gardening: principles and ideas that both Megan Penn, the Executive Director of Orange Homegrown, and Linda Cundiff, the Executive Director of Orange Public Library Foundation, have no doubt that the people will be able to uphold.
Megan and Linda are the founders of the seed library program in the Orange Public Library. They worked seamlessly together since late fall and were able to finish organizing and planning the entire program in record time by March 19, 2016. When I interviewed the two to ask about the difficulties each of them encountered with this project, to my surprise they both giggled and answered that the process was anything but difficult. The two of them attributed the ease of the work and the success of the library to their similar desires to create a better local community. For them, a seed library does not represent a charity but rather a new lifestyle for all people to participate in. For example, Linda told me about her hopes of seeing more young children in libraries, borrowing books to read and seeds to plant. She wants to help foster kids’ education through gardening. In the same sense, Megan wants to see not only children but also see adults begin a new lifestyle that is centered on living with nature. Megan and I talked about how this upcoming generation is so based around technology that many people have forgotten how to appreciate the warmth of the sun or the chill of the Santa Ana winds, little things like that. She and I both wanted people to drop their phones for a moment, and begin to explore nature and smell the roses. Luckily, numerous people share the same ideals, evident by the community’s reception of the seed library. In the short time that the program has existed, the Orange Public Library has had hundreds of members sign up for the seed library, and the number keeps rising daily. People come from all over Orange County to Orange to participate in the seed library program. Kids and adults from all types of backgrounds are coming to Orange to pick a fruit or vegetable seed that they have always wanted to grow. There’s a genuine interest in gardening that is being fostered by these seed libraries and promoting natural living.
Linda and Megan wanted to give everybody the opportunity to come to the library and start planting seeds and see life through a new eyes. Seed libraries in a way are a testament to what libraries are truly meant for: to be centers for communities grow. In our modern culture, people have lost sight of how important a library really is to the nation. New learning and new experiences can happen at libraries as evident by the success of the seed libraries, but we just need the drive to search for them. So hop by the Orange Public Library, register at the seed library and start growing food. Donate food and donate seeds. Join a growing community of gardeners!