Seed Library Helps Plant the Seeds of Community Gardening

5/24/2014 7:00 AM
By Deborah Jeanne Sergeant New York Correspondent

Oswego Public Library is checking out more than books these days. In partnership with the Oswego Center for Sustainable Living, the library is also doling out vegetable seeds to help patrons learn about agriculture.

While the center operates two community gardens in Oswego, the Oswego Seed Library helps the garden get going each spring. Library patrons can donate seeds library personnel package in small coin envelopes and store in a former card catalogue. Patrons can also “borrow” seeds to plant in the community garden and “return” them after they remove seeds from their harvested produce.

Valerie Dawnstar began the Oswego Center for Sustainable Living as a virtual group online. The sale of excess produce from the garden funds the site. Dawnstar, a registered nurse, thought of a seed library as a way to bring the community together and help educate the public about agriculture.

“I discovered there’s a way of looking at our landscape that to me is really wholesome,” she said. “We need to take care of each other and one way is by sharing the seeds. It helps people become aware of where food comes from.”

While her father grew up on a farm, Dawnstar, an avid gardener, thinks few people really understand the work that goes into farming.

Begun in April 2011, the Oswego Community Garden on East Schuyler Street is two blocks long. A 6-by-10-foot lot is assigned to each person participating. NRG Energy owns the land on loan to the center. Allowing the land to be tilled also reduces NRG’s mowing expenses.

This is the first year for the Oswego Seed Library. All of the garden plots are full and there is a waiting list for next summer,

“One pepper has tons of seeds to make loads more plants than you’d ever need,” Dawnstar said.

The free program is first come, first serve. A number of tools have been donated by community members and some students from State University of New York in Oswego built a tool shed as a community project.

Dawnstar hopes that users of the seed library will try new varieties and vegetables they’ve never grown before.

The program has become so popular that another community garden is slated for next year. All of the plots for the current garden are full.

“We did that because we currently have a waiting list for people interested,” Dawnstar said.

The second garden will be on an old railroad bed that belongs to the city of Oswego.

The organization created raised beds using the city’s compost, which is made of yard clippings and chipped Christmas trees.

“We’re talking about a greenhouse on the west side to start some of our own seedlings,” Dawnstar said. Further education will help the program succeed more as many people participating in the community garden don’t understand what they’re doing, she said. “That’s one of the problems we have.”

Jessica Galvin, a technology instructor at Oswego Public Library, has also helped coordinate the seed library and promotes it via website, flyer and social media.

“Public libraries have expanded their place in communities,” Galvin said. “They are perfect organizations to promote and facilitate creative projects and community partnerships. With the growing concerns of where our foods come from, the Library Learning Center wishes to facilitate the accessibility of non-GMO, heirloom seeds to the community, while providing educational resources and support.”

She said other libraries interested in starting seed loan programs should “establish strong community connections. Reach out to organizations that have similar goals. This may be local garden clubs, co-ops or food banks. Creating collaborative partnerships is not only necessary, but can strengthen your project in ways you never imagined,” she said.

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