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Back to February 2015 Newsletter

Seed Libraries: a book review

Seed Libraries - and other means of keeping seeds in the hands of the people, by Cindy Conner.
New Society Publishers. 2015. 192 pages.

When we heard there was going to be a new book about Seed Libraries, we were only too happy to see an advance copy for review. Cindy Conner's new book, published by New Society Publishers, goes far beyond the basics of organizing a public seed collection. It covers topics ranging from the important reasons for preserving seed varieties, to practical aspects of managing storage, labelling, budgets, photography, and even how to host a seed library launch party and ongoing seedy movie nights.

There are many kinds of seed libraries, and it's impossible to generalize them. Seeds of Diversity's own Seed Library was founded before the movement became popular.

Our Seed Library is closer to a back-up seed bank, serving as a safety net for our members' seeds and rare seeds offered by only a few seed companies, but its purpose is aimed toward making seed varieties more accessible to people.

... a must-read for anyone embarking on the task of setting up their own seed library, or those just interested in becoming more informed on the issue of genetic diversity in our food systems.

 Paul Hrycyk, Seed Library Coordinator, Seeds of Diversity

That is what the recent Seed Library movement is really all about. Banks are for security, but libraries are for freedom! (Get it? Seed Bank, Seed Library? It's the same analogy.)

Cindy Conner urges us to remember that saving seeds was once a necessity of growing food, and that since most gardeners and farmers have relinquished that duty to corporate seed companies, we have lost a fundamental skill. In her words, "we are put at the mercy of whoever is managing that convenience". She could have written Seeds of Diversity's mission statement.

But most of the book is good news. People are re-learning the practices of saving seeds. People are gathering, pooling their saved seeds and sharing them through exchanges, formal and informal. And among the formal venues that have appeared during recent years are seed libraries. It is hard to put a definition to the term, but seed libraries are a manifestation of seed saving in communities, with some central hub where seeds are stored and shared. Often that happens at public libraries, but Connor points out that community organizations, Master Gardeners groups, museums, and student associations have also created seed libraries that offer seeds to their members and audiences.

Conner leads us through the steps to success. First, a successful seed library must find a community and a venue. Perhaps a public library, perhaps a museum, perhaps a willing community organization. Then she outlines the necessities of seed care: germination tests, plant populations, storage requirements. We learn about organizational dynamics, mission statements, budgeting and fundraising, and even the value of good graphic design. All in the context of real examples of successful seed libraries (mostly in the U.S., but perfectly apt for Canadian seed libraries).

In short, the book is pragmatic as well as philosophical. Too many books of this kind ask us only to consider the ethics or big-picture aspects of seed collecting, but Conner strengthens her book by giving us practical, tested methods as well as the reasons for using them.

Whether you are running a seed library, thinking of starting one, or are just interested in the "means of keeping seeds in the hands of the people", Seed Libraries is a worthwhile addition to your book shelf.

Find out more about Seed Libraries or buy your copy at the New Society Publishers' website.

 

Back to February 2015 Newsletter

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