Community Seed Library Set to Return at the Cook Memorial Library

By on Monday, January 23rd, 2023 in More Top Stories Northeastern Oregon News

LA GRANDE – Public libraries already provide an invaluable service to their communities in the form of an accessible knowledge and literature repository. Some libraries, however, get a bit more creative and hands-on in how they support their communities. La Grande’s Cook Memorial Library is offering visitors a chance to test their green thumbs and is re-launching their annual seed library this weekend. 

For those unfamiliar, the seed library is, as the name implies, a large collection of publicly available seeds comprising vegetables, herbs and flowers. Initially organized roughly six years prior by staff member Rose Peacock after hearing of a similar project during a library conference, the intention is to provide easy access to a variety of seeds for community members and in turn preserve and catalog different plant species overtime. As explained by Peacock:

“We took it on as something that fit our mission. The point of it is to give access to seeds to people who might not want to purchase them. There’s also the idea of heirloom seeds and preserving access to ones that might get phased out otherwise from commercialization.”

Seeds are donated primarily by West Coast Seeds and Burpee along with various community donations. Once organized by type and sub-variation, the seeds are split into smaller packets complete with photocopies of all necessary growing directions and species information. Currently, the library holds 2,200 prepared packets, 1,100 of which will be initially available to the public upon opening. Some highlights include, but are certainly not limited to, decorative corn, Jewel Town kernels, West Coast Seed Company lettuce, large selections of onion and kale, and flower mix packets comprised of locally donated marigold and lavender seeds.

As Peacock mentioned prior, the library also contains a large amount of heirloom seeds. These are non-GMO legacy seeds that have been cultivated gradually and much more closely resemble their original iterations. Some heirloom seeds also include storied histories or have some form of significance in how they’re named.   

Once open, the seed library will be in the form of a large wooden display box at the front desk filled with available packets. No online catalog is available, but a basic seed ledger is kept in the library. Keeping with the mission of community support, a library card will not be required to use the seed library. Patrons can simply take the seed packets they need so long as they register their name and the number and type of packets they’re taking with the front desk. However, though 2,200 packets may seem like quite a bit, patrons will be limited to ten packets per person for the entire year. There are no reserved dates and times for seed pick up though, and patrons are free to take seeds whenever they need so long as they don’t exceed their season limit. For some enthusiastic gardeners, the ten packets can go quick according to Peacock, who explained:

“It’s so fun when people come in and they beeline for it. It’s why they’re here, they’ve never been to the library before, but they want the seeds, and that makes me really happy to bring new people into the building. It’s so fun to see the excitement that people have about that.”

Convenience aside, the seed library is still a community project, and the community are welcome to participate. Seeds can be donated at any time, though it’s asked that dirt be cleaned first and seeds be no more than two-to-three years old. Though the bulk of the library’s seeds are provided by the mentioned companies, it is hoped that new generation seeds produced by plants originally grown from library seeds will be better adapted to the local environment. As Peacock noted:

“There’s also the idea that, in theory, if people borrow seeds, grow them locally, save seeds from the best plants that they grow and bring them back to the seed library, eventually those seeds will become more adapted to our local climate then if you bought just a regular seed.”

The seed library will open this Saturday, January 28, (which also happens to be National Seed Swap Day) and will run through August. Once up and going, The Cook Memorial Library can help foster a community interest in gardening as much as they do reading. As Peacock reflected:

“It’s an opportunity to try new things. There’s a big push in some ways to garden more and get back in touch with some of those more traditional home crafts like canning. It’s so much easier to do when you can grow your own beans and enjoy that process. Gardening is such a wonderful way to take a break from the chaos of life.”