Getting the read on seed library for Santa Fe

October 9, 2018

In addition to guilty-pleasure romance novels and sci-fi classics, patrons of the Santa Fe Public Library will be able to check out seeds to grow produce like heirloom tomatoes and red chiles as a proposed new project moves forward.

This spring, city librarians plan to implement a program that would establish a community-created seed collection, offer lessons on sustainable gardening and raise awareness on the state’s rich agricultural history. Organizers will host two public meetings — one on Thursday and another Oct. 17 — to gather ideas on how to launch the project.

“The idea is to give our community access to seeds — to grow things and learn how to grow things if they don’t already know how,” said Brita Sauer, library services director at the Main Library on Washington Avenue.

Sauer said she spearheaded a similar seed library in Albuquerque in recent years. Before she moved to Santa Fe earlier this year, Sauer said, the seed library was checking out an estimated 4,000 packets of seeds annually — four times the amount checked out in its first year.

In Santa Fe, she said, a seed library could be equally — if not more — successful.

“There’s an older agricultural tradition up here, I think,” Sauer said. “… People in Santa Fe are invested in their food supply.”

Tom Dominguez, an agricultural agent for the Santa Fe County Extension Service and coordinator of the Santa Fe Master Gardener Association, is optimistic about the project.

“I think we are one of the leading counties or areas for local food, local farming, local agriculture,” he said. “I think [the seed library] is in great demand. I think it would be well utilized.”

Sauer is drawn to the project, she said, because of her own love for gardening and raising local foods. For her, the most important part of the seed collection would be its impact on those involved. “The most precious thing to me in terms of the project down in Albuquerque — and I hope will be here — is just the sense of community that is formed,” Sauer said.

While a library is an important community resource, she said, a seed library goes a step further: “It’s different because the community is creating the collection.”

The intent: Participants will bring seeds home, grow plants from them and then donate harvested seeds to the library to expand the collection.

Though, donations would not be required. Eventually, Sauer said, the library would host “community seed-packing nights,” in which participants would gather seed donations, clean them and prep them for the collection’s checkout system.

In Albuquerque, Sauer said, most of the seeds checked out were for peppers, chiles, squash and other “more summer garden type things.”

The seeds donated back to the library were mainly cilantro, a wide variety of sunflowers and lettuce. Though she expects Santa Fe’s seed library to produce similar herbs, plants and flowers, “It’s a different climate than Albuquerque, so there could be differences represented,” she said.

Participation, Sauer said, would strengthen the local seed stock and food supply, as well as stir conversations “about where our food comes from, the challenges to our food supply and the roles we play in that big picture.”

One goal, Sauer said, is to teach consumers how to avoid cross-pollination and other “compromising techniques.”

Dominguez said more and more people are moving toward local foods, which he said are generally more ethically produced, organic and fresh.

“Growing local and consuming local is a big deal — not just here in New Mexico, but all over the world,” he said. “For people to learn more about that and access that is a great thing.”

Sauer said the seed library could launch as early as March. It’s still uncertain whether the library system will have a seed collection at all three locations or if it will create a pop-up-style collection that could move from one place to the next.

“That’s what we’d like to know from the community: how’d they’d like to use a seed library and what they’d like to see represented in the collection,” she said.

Sauer — who calls gardening “seed therapy” — said she hopes the seed library will inspire Santa Feans. “Seeds are cool, bottom line,” she said. “They’re beautiful, and there’s a lot of pleasure seeing the life cycle of a plant.”

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