Library Associate Diana Hammerlund stands in front of the seed library in Los Osos. Photo by Theresa-Marie Wilson
Spring is right around the corner, and local libraries are busy updating their inventories with more than books. Both the Morro Bay and Los Osos branches of the County of San Luis Obispo Library System maintain stocks of seeds that the public can “check out” to plant in their gardens, flowerpots, and yards.
The process works pretty much the same as checking out your favorite book, or DVD; visit the library to select seeds that you would like to plant, and take some home for free.
“The seed library serves the gardening novice, as well as the gardening veteran,” said Kat Holland, library associate in Morro Bay. “It is a great resource for family activities and learning. It provides a way for us to be active and connect with the land, can motivate and inspire our sense of advocacy and stewardship, and help enhance our feelings of well being.”
The Los Osos branch makes use of the now defunct card catalogue system. Instead of flipping index cards in drawers to find the call number for a book, patrons choose among varieties of plants, trees and grasses. You can also see some of these plants growing in the drought-tolerant pollinator garden around the library. It was planted by the Los Osos Valley Garden Club.
“People like to look through the card catalog because it is kind of old fashioned,” said Antoinette Padgett, library associate in Los Osos. “We have seeds from various local sources, seed exchanges, and seed companies such as Seed Savers Exchange, Botanical Interests and All Things Organic. We strive to offer organic, open-pollinated, non-GMO seeds when available.”
At the close of 2021, the Los Osos branch had just received 100 packets to add to their collection of vegetables, flowers and over 25 varieties of California native plants that were gifted by the San Luis Obispo Botanical Garden.
The seed library in Morro Bay is, in fact, growing. On March 1, they expect to roll out a 16-drawer, artist painted seed catalog to replace the current small wooden boxes. When fully stocked, the library will hold about 500-600 seed packets with more than 80 varieties including 45 that are exclusive to Morro Bay.
“We have vegetables, fruits, 16 herbal varieties, flowers and natives,” Holland said. “Many are organic or heirlooms, including endangered and local heirlooms.”
Seed-sharing programs can expand access to crops and educate the public. Depending on the library in your area, gardeners are encouraged to save seeds and donate them back so others can access them. Padgett said that there is a rulebook to go with the process, so check before you save.
“Patrons who wish to save seeds from what they grow and return them to the library help to create a self-sustaining source of seeds,” said Padgett. “We have information available on how to save seeds for replanting, as well as growing information for the seeds we have.”
Readers that frequent other parts of the county can find seed libraries at the Arroyo Grande, Morro Bay, Nipomo, Shell Beach, Los Osos and Santa Margarita branches — availability varies among branches.
Seed librarians have also participated in community outreach events such as seed exchanges, educational fairs and festivals to promote SLO County seed libraries.
“Seed libraries enable people to grow and enjoy their own food,” Padgett said. “It provides an activity that the whole family can participate in together and it is a great learning experience for kids.”
Prior to the pandemic and the shutdowns that followed, the public was invited to attend Seed Stories three times a year to participate in discussions on various topics including how to pack seeds, how to prepare certain types of seeds for saving, and how to separate seeds from chaff as well as an opportunity to share what people were growing, their successes and failures.
Plans are in the works to hold related presentations, classes and seed exchanges in the very near future as pandemic regulations change. Keep and eye on the events calendar at slolibrary.org to find classes.
The Los Osos Library is located at 2075 Palisades Ave. The Morro Bay Library is located at 625 Harbor St.