Featured photo: Luce Hartsock stands next to the seed library in the Glenwood Branch. (photo by Juliet Coen)
Luce Hartsock has a lot of marigolds.
As they flip through the paper packets lined up inside of the decades-old filing cabinet at the Glenwood Library, they pass almost an entire section containing only marigold seeds. The next row over boasts all zinnia seeds.
“I have so many marigold seeds to put in here,” they say as they look at the small collection that’s been growing since 2018.
Hartsock is an associate with the Greensboro Public Library who is in charge of adult programs for the Glenwood Branch. Since 2018, they’ve been lovingly trying to grow the seed library that currently is housed in the top two drawers of a four-foot-tall metal filing cabinet that they suspect once held microfiche.
The concept behind the seed library is simple. Like one would check out a book, patrons are encouraged to come and peruse the selection of seeds, take what they want and cultivate their own plants at home. Once they have succeeded in growing something and they want to give back to the library, they can bring their own seeds to share.
“It was just my idea for a library program to get people excited about growing things,” Hartsock says. “I know Glenwood as a neighborhood has a lot of community gardens in the area. I know a lot of folks in recent years have gotten more interested in growing house plants and stuff, so it was just an idea to make plants and sharing the resource of plants more accessible to people.”
The project started in 2018 with a plant share, Hartsock says, when a few local growers brought in some houseplant cuttings, vegetables from their gardens and yard perennials like irises. A local farm donated several vegetable starts like kale and tomatoes. After the success of the plant share, Hartsock says they started keeping seeds in a small box for people to come and take. That eventually grew into a four-drawer catalogue, which then became the larger cabinet where the seed library is housed today.
The goal, Hartsock says, is to encourage people to grow things and to create plants that are adapted to the area.
“I think it would be really awesome to get more people involved in helping bring back seed from the community because it helps create plants that are adapted to the environment,” they say. “When there’s things like climate change or different changes in weather, communities are able to create tomatoes that are adjusted to the conditions of Greensboro, NC, which I think is really incredible.”
They also think that teaching self-sufficiency is valuable in a time with rising inflation and supply chain issues.
“I think that there’s something really wonderful about people learning their own power and their own abilities for self-sufficiency or just creation,” they say. “It’s sometimes hard to convince adults that they can do something, and they can have fun, too.”
In the years since the pandemic, the idea of mutual aid and the sharing of resources has taken off as well. Last year, a community fridge opened in the Warnersville neighborhood of Greensboro for people to drop off fresh food for anyone to take. The seed library follows that kind of model so it’s a bit different from a traditional library in which people bring the items back.
“I think there’s a type of shock that happens,” Hartsock says. “Like even at the 2018 plant share, people were like, ‘This plant is for me? For free?’ I think that we do so many things that are expected to be transactional and involve money and like everything is for sale.”
Hartsock points to a nearby table where they have put out pots of chive starters for free for patrons to take.
“Like we’ve got plants sitting out today for people to take home for free,” they say. “And people get so confused when I tell them that.”
But watching and getting to know the community of growers in the area, Hartsock has learned that there’s not only an abundance of plants and seeds, but also an abundance of knowledge and passion for gardening.
“Gardeners are just so generous and so excited to share whatever plant they were able to take up out of their yard to share with other people,” they say.
Plus, once you successfully grow one plant, it’s easy to collect seeds for next season or to share.
“I think that’s one of the wonderful things about saving seeds is that one plant can generate a whole bunch of seeds to share with so many people and make so many more plants,” Hartsock says.
And sometimes, even if you fail to harvest the plant you can still get seeds.
“Even if I’m not great at growing cilantro because it gets so hot in North Carolina so fast, I can really grow some coriander and bring that in for people,” Hartsock says.
Right now, the library has a lot of flower seeds and some vegetable seeds donated by the Guilford County Cooperative Extension that would be good to plant next year. For the future, they envision having so many seeds that entire shelves could be taken up by just peppers or leafy greens. But for now, Hartsock says they want to see more people utilize the resource because the seeds go bad if they stay in the cabinet for too long.
“A lot of the seeds in the library right now are getting to the point where we need people to take them home,” they say. “So it’s great when people take them home because it means that they’ll go get grown which is their job. It would be the same if we had books on the shelf. We want them to get checked out; we want them to go home with people.”
To access the seed library, visit the Glenwood Library Branch at 1901 W Florida St. in Greensboro. To donate seeds or to learn more about the program, email Luce Hartsock at [email protected].
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