A New Seed Library is Coming to Town

15 Dec 2022, by Admin in Harvest Blog, Harvest VISTA, South King County Food Coalition

Anaistasia is serving in the AmeriCorps Harvest VISTA Program with South King County Food Coalition and Elk Run Farm in Washington as the Cultural Program Coordinator VISTA. Anaistasia discusses the ways in which South King County Food Coalition and Elk Run Farm are addressing systemic contributors to food insecurity in King County. They elaborate on the unique variety of hunger relief models from the current Coalition partners.

Welcome to the Seed Library!

The South King County Food Coalition was awarded $5,000 by PCC Community Market’s Community Grant Program to construct Seed Libraries for some of their member food banks. Thanks to this vital funding a Seed Library Pilot Project is now underway! This project is a natural extension of the SKCFC’s work to increase access to nourishing and culturally relevant foods. Which in essence, are any foods United Way of Olmsted County, MN has adopted a key phrase that, ‘…culturally- responsive food provision empowers individuals to maintain cultural integrity while accessing nutritional supports.”’ They work tirelessly to offer food clients recognize, enjoy, are comfortable preparing, and fits dietary or medical needs. Offering support for their community to grow some of those culturally relevant foods as another valuable tool for clients to feel empowered in their choices how to nourish themselves. 


SKCFC’s New Pilot Project

To pilot the project, their AmeriCorps Harvest VISTA member will put together a sample seed library, and Food Banks offered a selection of predetermined management styles best suited to their capacity. Each food bank will have the autonomy to choose what style works best for their setting and contexts:

  1. Special Event: 2-4 annual events 

  1. An annual volunteer event to collect and organizing seeds

  2. “Season Kickoff” seed swap before planting where all seeds will be distributed, tossed, or saved for next years seed swap

  1. Self-Serve Honor System: Tiny Library Style where seeds get checked into the library and patrons are expected to take only what they need

  2. Volunteer Run: Designated volunteer(s) who set up the library on predetermined dates relevant to the planting season

Organized by SKCFC’s current AmeriCorps Harvest VISTA member, the funds will be used to build a number of Seed Library Toolboxes. Each Toolbox equips interested food banks with supplies to host a Seed Library for their community to freely offer seeds, self-education support, and garden troubleshooting resources. Although non-descript on the outside latched in opaque storage totes, the Toolbox is chock full of seeds from every common edible plant family. Gardeners who wish to check out seeds will be required to read and sign an agreement to follow the rules of the Seed Library.

Some of the bounty possible from the seed library: Radishes, Brussels Sprouts, Chard, Beets, Carrots, Lima Beans, & Herbs from common suppliers. Heirloom Pinquito Bush Beans & Collard Greens seeds from the VISTAs personal seed collection (see above).


Why A Seed Library?

In the wake of COVID, many folks found themselves turning to their garden spaces. For survival, pandemic caution, or for fun the need for gardening supplies far outweighed the supplies available. Especially during the first year of the pandemic this was apparent. SKCFC’s VISTA recalls their short stint working for a local Garden Center in 2020. Let go because the owner suddenly could no longer afford to pay a seasonal hire following a robbery of $10,000+ in garden supplies. Soils, fertilizers, seeds, potted plants, etc were stolen right around the time that many other stores were regularly selling out of those items. To the VISTA, the garden center being the only target of the theft seemed like a really specific act of desperation.


Being able to grow, process, and cook with your own bounty is incredibly impactful on the sustainability of local food systems, ecosystems, and communities. Unfortunately, there are many barriers to participating in those activities. Financial poverty may prevent people from buying into a new hobby, but it is also important to consider the burden of time poverty and access to rest. For that reason, providing financial resources to cover seed costs is as important for SKCFC Seed Libraries to create a hub for reliable information that didn’t ask their community to spend MORE time trying to find the “right” information to get started. The need to garden is more than a new hobby, but one of the most humanizing activities to participate in. We need the food we’ve cultivated over eons, and the food we eat today wouldn’t exist without human intervention. Assisting food bank clients on their journey to grow their own food is a hopeful steppingstone to self-audience.


Resources for Every Gardener

To decide what to stock the seed library with, the VISTA plans to connect with each food bank community to capture their interest in growing some (or all!) of their own food. They believe that the seed library is merely a framework to organize a community supported resource, and the community should hold the reins and direct what is in their own seed library. To be responsive to SKCFC’s community needs, a Seed Donation Request Form is openly available to all food bank clients. The form collects valuable information so potential donors can make the decision to directly purchase the exact seeds their community wants to grow, or to see what seeds would be purchased if they were to donate a lump sum. An easy to navigate questionnaire will become a valuable communication tool. It is important the seed library stock is guided by the community it serves, otherwise it may be filled with seeds that never see the light of day again. It was important to the VISTA to offer a platform for future gardeners to share the impact or cultural significance of a particular food. As Fall shifts to Winter, the VISTA looks forward to launching this Request Form in tandem with a Fundraiser so anyone interested in gardening could find something to match their needs and taste.


Each Toolkit also contains a “Library Guide. ”Search through the seed boxes and you’ll find many varieties of fruits, vegetables, herbs, and flowers. They believe a wide variety of seed options will generate curiosity and interest in growing foods that are unfamiliar, hard to find in grocery stores, or too expensive to be purchased regularly. While good quality produce is important for nutrition and taste, herbs and aromatics are vital components of food culture too. Seeds for herbs and aromatics like shiso, sumac, or coriander are also included in the “roster.” To encourage pollination of food crops, seeds and information on attractive plots will be available. The Library Guide hosts a variety of helpful materials for would-be and avid gardeners alike. 


Some of the resources available in the Library Guide include:

  • Tip sheets for growing common vegetables & berries.

  • Free, low-cost and DIY suggestions for:

    • Starting seeds

    • Saving your own seeds

    • Small-space, container & in-ground gardening

    • Community Gardens

  • Research-based gardening advice from WSU Extension Master Gardeners & other reliable regionally specific resources

  • Composting & Soil Building

  • Integrated Pest Management strategies

  • Understanding the local climate and related growing strategies 


These resources are already freely available online, but the Seed Library pulls them together into one carefully curated and organized hub. Almost like a garden directory for free to low-barrier and self-guided education, with resources for someone who wants to try sprouting their first seed and those learning to adapt to their new environment.