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Friday, June 20, 2014

Growers Give Seeds To Libraries

One of the goals of the seed lending library movement is to preserve antique fruit, vegetables and flowers, otherwise known as heirlooms. (Andrea Shea/WBUR)

One of the goals of the seed lending library movement is to preserve antique fruit, vegetables and flowers, otherwise known as heirlooms. (Andrea Shea/WBUR)

Lending libraries are for so much more than books these days: tools, fishing poles, telescopes, even baking pans.

Now, they’re available for gardeners, too — seed lending libraries are cropping up around the country.

From the Here & Now Contributors Network, WBUR’s Andrea Shea reports.




And this weekend is a good time to plant root vegetables in much of the country, according to the farmers almanac. And if you're looking for something unique to plant, you might try a seed library where you can get access to seeds that may be hard to find elsewhere. There are about 200 seed libraries around the country. From the HERE AND NOW Contributors Network, WBUR's Andrea Shea has more.

ENID BOASBERG: This is a good soup bean. Provider - it's a bush bean. They have bush and poll.

ANDREA SHEA, BYLINE: More than a year ago librarian Enid Boasberg began collecting seeds in the basement of the Concord Massachusetts Free Library. She keeps them cool and dry in a card catalog filled with labeled packets.

BOASBERG: These are all different kinds of tomatoes. Csikos Botermo, Dr. Caroline, Dakota Gold, Golden King of Siberia, Green zebra.

SHEA: Now the library gives those seeds away. So far, about 70 people have taken some this year.

BOASBERG: We call it a loan, although we don't really expect - we would get seed back. And we don't charge overdue fines and we understand crop failure.

SHEA: The library asks the borrowers to save and return the next generation of seeds from the plants they've grown.

BOASBERG: Back in the day, everyone saved seed - gardeners saved seed and certainly farmers and save seed.

SHEA: One of the goals of the seed lending library is to preserve heirloom fruit - vegetables and flowers.

BOASBERG: You look at seed catalog from 100 years ago, and you see things that don't just exist anymore.

SHEA: Heirloom seeds of the kind your grandmother or great grandmother may have used, they're different from newer seed varieties that can't produce viable plants. Those are the ones the large seed companies sell. Another goal of the seed library is to promote biodiversity by offering an array of plant varieties that thrive here in this region.

BOASBERG: What is this? Let's see Anasazi beans. Ancient Anasazi beans. And then here's the farmer-donated seed that was mostly from Leslie Thomas.

SHEA: Seed contributor Leslie Thomas owns Sweet Autumn Farms in nearby Carlisle, Massachusetts. She and her partner grow organic heirloom veggies, fruit and edible flowers to supply area restaurants. Thomas donates seeds for one particular black bean she originally got from a farmer in Vermont.

LESLIE THOMAS: This is the bean that I eat every year. I grow enough to keep me over the winter. And I also save enough to give to the library and to friends who are interested.

SHEA: For Thomas and other growers, giving seeds to libraries is something of an insurance policy.

DEBBIE BIER: When you have family seeds from your farm that you've been keeping going for a long time, it's a good idea to put them into more than one set of hands. Because sometimes you can absolutely see your seed fail. And you may not have enough speed to continue the lineage.

SHEA: That Debbie Bier. She's on the steering committee for the Seed Library. She also tends the period accurate kitchen garden at Henry David Thoreau's farm in Concorde.

BIER: All of the varieties we grow in this kitchen garden have to be 1878 or earlier. You know, we have our beans that are just emerging. We have some leaks. We have beets, lettuce. Without the efforts of seed savers all of these years, these plants that are 1878 and earlier wouldn't really be here. They would have been lost and thousands of varieties have been lost - but at least we have these varieties still.

SHEA: Bier says all seeds have stories. Many of them come from immigrants because seeds travel.

BIER: People who came to this country brought their treasures. They brought their jewels which were their seeds.

SHEA: Take the story of the Sasha tomato, which the preservationist discovered in Siberia in 1989.

BIER: They met Sasha. And Sasha said I have a tomato for you. I will go home and I'll bring it back. He had to walk eight hours to his home - rested the next day, and then he walked eight hours back. This seed was brought back to this country. It became an instant hit. And then the story came that Sasha had been robbed and beaten. Gardeners around the world started donating money. And they gave his family a year's support.

SHEA: Concorde seed librarian, Enid Boasberg says seed donations sometimes come with personal stories attached. She reads one from a Concorde resident about a bean that was almost lost in a flood.

BOASBERG: The beans were brought from the town, Villa Camponeschi - a town in a mountain valley 76 miles northeast of Rome in Abruzzo by Amelia Opica (ph) early in the 20th century. They were propagated by families...

SHEA: Seed libraries have been sprouting around the country. Boasberg says they're all working to preserve our vast edible heritage. And she has her own seed story about the Polish Lady Tomato - that plant comes from an elderly woman who brought the seeds with her when she came to the U.S. She shared those old country seeds with her neighbors. Now Boasberg is passing them onto hers. For HERE AND NOW, I'm Andrea Shea. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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