It’s a movement that’s banking on a different kind of withdrawal and deposit system to boost stocks in a very important resource for the future.
Collecting and swapping seeds that are found locally in an area or are heirloom (non-hybrid) and open-pollinated (true to the type and resembling the original plant), passed down from generation to generation, is a practice that has been undertaken by First Nations people and European farmers around the world for hundreds of years or more.
The practice aims to preserve flower, fruit and vegetable varieties that might otherwise be lost forever.
For more than 20 years, community seed libraries have been sprouting up in numerous pockets of the globe.
Maleny Seed Library has been operating for more than a year, working out of the local library and at a seed and harvest swap group.
“I believe everyone in the community should have access to free and locally gathered seed,” the group’s founder and coordinator Psaltis Cauley says.
“Growing food should be free or as cheap as possible.
“I put a call out to the Maleny community for support to get a seed library running and was overwhelmed.
“The local library seemed like the best place to run a seed library and they got on board straight away. Amanda (Kennedy), the Maleny Library supervisor, has been incredible.”
The idea for a wider coastal and hinterland seed library had been germinating for a while, driven largely by the Maleny volunteers.
After logistics were worked out, Sunshine Coast Council launched the seed library service for seasoned green thumbs, novice gardeners and young plant enthusiasts alike in February this year.
The idea soon took root. In fact, it has blossomed and grown to the point where the two-way seed exchange at Maleny and Kawana libraries has been extended well past the initial six-month trial.
New and existing library members can use the seeds to plant, grow and harvest their home-garden crops of heirloom fruit and vegetables such as tomatoes, as well as local plant varieties including flowers.
They then have the option of returning seeds from those plants or making donations from a different variety back to the library.
The two specific library branches act as coastal and hinterland distribution, collection and swap points. Also, importantly, they educate growers to help increase their success and drive our community towards seed sustainability.
Library programs and marketing officer Katrina Nielsen says the initiative has been “a massive success” – not surprising, given the rising cost of living and popularity of people growing food items at home.
“We’re really keen to see the seed library continue to grow into the future,” Ms Nielsen says.
“It is great to see so many people from our local community getting involved.”
Since the February launch, the libraries have given out just over 3000 seed packets, and have received more than 1000 donations, as well as another 1200 from Maleny Seed Library.
Ms Cauley says about 20 Maleny Seed Library volunteers support the libraries by packing seeds, with usually about 10-15 at any one session.
“They are amazing,” she adds.
“The seed library couldn’t function without their community spirit and commitment.”
Residents can donate seeds at any Sunshine Coast Libraries branch.
“Anything that people have growing at home, they can share some seeds with us,” Ms Nielsen says.
“There isn’t really a limit.
“We have had many different sorts.
“It’s been a wide variety.
“It is all definitely locally grown.”
Division 5 Councillor Winston Johnston has said that the seed library collection allows the community to swap, grow and work towards seed sustainability.
“The seed library provides a wonderful opportunity for everyone from young and old to new and experienced green thumbs to learn new skills and fall in love with gardening,” Cr Johnston says.
“Beyond providing an opportunity to sustainably grow your own edible garden, the Seed Library promotes connection to community and the natural environment.”
Ms Cauley says it has been wonderful that the council ran with the idea.
“Now it’s time for other communities to get on board and make it happen,” she says.
“Seed from the community for the community is the absolute best outcome I could have ever hoped for.”
For opening hours and library location details, visit library.sunshinecoast.qld.gov.au/Visit/Library-Locations.
How do I take part?
The seed library consists of two boxes of seeds for swapping, created by the Maleny Seed Library volunteer group.
One box is kept at Maleny Library in the hinterland; the other is housed at Kawana Library, covering the coastal region.
Customers can collect and/or donate seeds during library opening hours at these branches.
Seed boxes are shelved in Adult Non-fiction (Gardens and Plants) collections for easy access.
Sign up as a library member if you haven’t already. Library members are welcome to four seed packets per swap (once a month) to take home and grow. When your plant has grown and set seed, harvest some of these seeds to donate back to the seed library.
Use the labelled envelopes supplied to donate your seed.
Include as much information about your seeds as possible, such as:
- common name if known
- variety if known
- date collected
- place of collection (what suburb to identify the desired area to grow)
- conditions of growth (for example, if a stake was used, amount of sunlight and water)
- when to plant.
Place the packet into the separate donation box, which works on an honesty system, provided in
How do we benefit from seed libraries?
- cultivate, store and share seeds within their community
- usually maintain their collections through donations from members, but may also operate as pure charity operations intent on serving gardeners and farmers
- provide educational tools necessary to be a successful seed saver
- preserve agricultural biodiversity by focusing on rare, local and heirloom seed varieties
- help a community to retain its right to access a natural resource that should be available to all
- help crops and plants adapt to different climates and ecologies, ensure food security, and provide an alternative to genetically-modified crops.
Did you know?
The first formal seed library is believed to have opened in 1999 at California’s Berkeley Ecology Center in the United States and was aptly named the Bay Area Seed Interchange Library (BASIL). Various seed libraries have sprouted since then all over the world in hundreds of public libraries, community centres, community food pantries, environmental groups’ headquarters and botanical gardens. Packets of seeds for flowers, fruits, vegetables and edible plants are usually available, typically for free, to encourage new and seasoned gardeners and children to sow and grow at home.