The Community Seed Library comes to fruition

Students and backyard gardeners start saving seeds.

Astrid and Lily Tilton of the Martha’s Vineyard Charter School take beans out of their dried pods to save. — Photo courtesy of Martha's Viney

The Martha’s Vineyard Community Seed Library, one of three of its kind in the state, was launched in October at the West Tisbury library, and is already drawing students and backyard gardeners. The seed library — a 24-drawer cabinet — is a collaborative project of Island Grown Schools, the Farm Institute, and the West Tisbury Public Free Library. Islanders — anyone planning on growing crops — can both contribute to and withdraw seeds from the cabinet. The first cabinet contributions were different varieties of peas, lettuce, and tomatoes.Once you withdraw, you are expected to bring back the seeds from your harvest to the library for the next gardener.

According to Noli Taylor, co-founder of the seed library and director of Island Grown Schools (IGS), the mission of the Martha’s Vineyard Community Seed Library is to “create a space for the community to celebrate seed diversity, reclaim the ancient practice of seed saving and sharing, and give back to the Island by creating a unique collection of seeds suited to our local environment.”

Recently, the regulations governing seed distribution in many states have put pressure on seed libraries. Seed enthusiasts and farmers alike are working toward freeing seed libraries from unnecessary government policies. Fortunately for the Island seed library, there are no regulations in Massachusetts that limit or prohibit the existence of seed libraries. Ms. Taylor hopes it will stay that way: she has served on the Board of Food and Agriculture for the State Department of Agricultural Resources, and has spoken with the General Counsel about Massachusetts state laws governing the free sharing of seeds.

The funding for the West Tisbury seed library came from the Betsy and Jesse Fink Foundation of Norwalk, Conn., Glenn Roberts and Anson Mills, and an anonymous donor. The “seed money” helped organize a seed summit and purchase seed cabinets and materials for seed processing, and is supporting numerous workshops. Ken Greene, the founder of the Hudson Valley Seed Library, was brought to the Vineyard early last year to help the process of organizing the seed library, and has acted as a mentor for the fledgling effort.

In addition, IGS recently launched the Farm Project, where students help facilitate many of the workshops and fundraisers for the seed library. “Seed saving has become an integral tool for connecting with students about food culture, life cycles, and community,” said Claire Lafave, IGS Farm Project coordinator, in a recent Saving Seeds newsletter.

Astrid Tilton, a junior at the Charter School, has been a part of the Farm Project since October. She has taught two seed-saving workshops at the West Tisbury library. Astrid has been enjoying the project. In an email to the Times, she said, “I love working with the seed library. When you’re holding a handful of seeds you can’t help but feel great about the world. Each one is full of hope.” She wrote that she now understands the importance of the project: “Seed saving gives power back to local communities. It’s so simple but incredibly powerful. It’s the difference between a lot of home gardeners and a local food movement or sustainable community.”

Looking into the future of the seed library, Noli Taylor said, “I hope the seed library will bring in more and more people in the community to learn how to save seeds, to engage in the free sharing of seeds with one another, and to work together to grow a collection of seeds that will grow well in our Island environment.”