Whether you live in a city or a small town, many of us can feel disconnected from nature and our food supply. With pre-packaged, ready-to-eat foods on the rise, it’s easy to disassociate food from the act of growing vegetables from seeds and soil.

A growing number of libraries and community activists across the country are seeking to change that by opening community seed libraries for anyone to borrow flower and veggie seeds.

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A seed library is a community service that allows anyone to take seeds and raise their own flowers or vegetables to maturity before optionally harvesting the mature plant’s seeds to bring back to the library, for the cycle to start anew.

Rachael Ries, the Branch Manager for the Washougal Community Library in Washington, said that she had received requests for years from the community to open a seed library.

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“Washougal is on cusp between being a small city and being rural,” so Ries thought it was a great fit. “We have a lot of gardeners,” she explained.

Here are some of the steps Ries took to start her seed library – use these steps as ideas for starting your own!

1. Find A Place To Host A Seed Library

The process of starting a seed library, Ries said, started with talking to those who had already done it. She called librarians in Spokane who had already started programs in their communities.

“I spoke with two librarians who had very successful seed libraries,” she said.

If your local library isn’t able to have a seed library because of space, Ries suggests contacting a local nursery or even your city hall.

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2. Collect Seeds

Once you know where you’re going to set up your seed library, you can search online find businesses, gardening groups and local residents to donate seeds to your collection.

Ries got in touch with the Master Gardeners of Clark County, who were able to help her get the seeds needed to start the library’s collection.

“Having local partners is very important,” said Ries.

Ries also started a document listing the different seeds to keep track of what the library would have.

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3. Find A Place To Store Your Seeds

Next, you should gather the rest of the materials you’ll need for your seed library, like a place to store the seeds and envelopes or packets to keep the seeds in.

For storage, Ries decided to use a filing cabinet where she could place paper envelopes that contained the seeds she had collected.

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The envelopes also include labels for what seed is inside, and Ries decided to create simple how-to documents to help novice gardeners raise their plants.

4. Get The Word Out

Finally, once your seed library is coming together, Ries said it’s good to start getting the word out and promoting the project about a month before it opens.

The seed library at the Washougal Community Library is set to open on March 31. During its launch day, Ries said there will be a day of gardening classes and activities for children and beginners who are interested in learning about gardening.

The seed library won’t require a WCL library card, and anyone will be allowed to borrow six packets of seeds – three vegetables, and three flowers.

The seed library will include a sign-out sheet like when borrowers take books out from the library, so that Ries will be able to follow up with those who borrow seeds and see how their plants are growing.

Seed libraries are a way to bring your community closer to the food that they eat, and make it more accessible for anyone to grow their own fresh vegetables, herbs, and other plants.

Ries said she was hopeful that the partnerships made in the process of creating WCL’s seed library would last.

“I’d like the library to become a place for people to come even without experience in gardening,” said Ries. “I hope it will help to connect people.”

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