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East Lansing Public Library Hosts Seed Library To Encourage Gardening

Open library card filing box filled with packets of seeds. A sign on top reads, "Seed Library. Take Up To Five Packets To Plant, Grow And Enjoy!"
Amber Laude/ East Lansing Public Library
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There are heirloom flower, herb and vegetable seeds in the library.

The East Lansing Public Library has its own seed library for visitors to take home and grow. Each person, no matter their experience with gardening, can “check out” up to five packets of heirloom seeds.

Flower, herb and vegetable seeds are available. WKAR’s Sophia Saliby spoke with Amber Laude who runs the seed library for the ELPL about why they started it.

Interview Highlights

On Why They Don’t Require Visitors To Bring Back Seeds At The End Of The Growing Season

We started thinking about, well, what if we just offer the seeds to the community, open it up to everyone, including novice gardeners and parents who wanted to teach their kids how to plant sunflowers and, you know, people who may not be ready for saving seeds, but you know, really want the experience of planting and harvesting vegetables, or herbs, or flowers. If we kind of took away that barrier, could we include more people and be more accessible to the community as a whole?

On What Kinds Of Seeds Are In The Library

We have everything from, you know, Australian Yellowleaf lettuce to Genovese basil to green bush beans to Hokey Joe cilantro. And we have sunflowers, calendula seeds [and] marigolds. It's such a neat mixture of kind of familiar plants and maybe plants you may not have heard of before but may want to try in your garden.

On The Mission Of The Library

I think the purpose of our library is to get as many seeds in the hands of the community as we can. So, I think for anyone who's thinking about starting a garden, it doesn't matter where you live or whether you have land or not. We have plants here that you can plant in containers on your balcony or in an apartment building. You know, if you're a student and you want to try using fresh herbs, you can try planting them at home. Or we can offer you the opportunity to try something new in your garden that you have never tasted before.

Interview Transcript

Sophia Saliby: This is All Things Considered on WKAR. I’m Sophia Saliby.

At the East Lansing Public Library, you can check out more than just books, so how about seeds for tomatoes or squash?

The ELPL has its own seed library for visitors to take home and grow. Amber Laude runs it, and she joins me now. Thanks for being here.

Amber Laude: Thank you for having me.

Saliby: So, how does the seed library work if I'm wanting to check out a packet of seeds? Do I have to bring them back at the end of the growing season?

Laude: A lot of seed libraries operate by, they're able to sustain themselves by relying on people checking out seeds, and then saving them at the end of the season and bringing them back to help supply the library for the following year. And when we were researching how to start up this library, we really started to see that as almost like a barrier that might prevent someone from checking out seeds.

So, we started thinking about, well, what if we just offer the seeds to the community, open it up to everyone, including novice gardeners and parents who wanted to teach their kids how to plant sunflowers and, you know, people who may not be ready for saving seeds, but you know, really want the experience of planting and harvesting vegetables, or herbs, or flowers. If we kind of took away that barrier, could we include more people and be more accessible to the community as a whole?

That's when we really started thinking about well, what if we just put a suggested limit of five packets per patron, which is what we do, and open it up to everybody? And then we've been very fortunate to partner with some local area businesses, [and] some wonderful heirloom seed companies who are willing to donate their stock at the end of the season to us to then help us sustain the library year after year.

Saliby: You kind of spoke on this, but where did the inspiration come from to start the seed library?

Laude: We had been thinking about it for a very long time, actually, before we actually launched it. We launched it in 2019. Several public libraries had started launching their own versions of seed libraries.

And of course, with [Michigan State University] just down the street from us, there's such a history there of agriculture and a great interest in our community. You know, we have so many Master Gardeners in our community, and so we knew that it would be popular, and it just took us a bit of time to figure out how best to build this collection and get it ready for the public.

Saliby: What kinds of seeds are in the library?

Laude: Because we get so many donations from seed companies, a lot of the stock that we get is actually quite unique. So, we get some very unique varieties of vegetable, herb and flower seeds. They are heirloom seeds. So, for anyone who does like to save their seeds at the end of the growing season, they are able to be saved and reused the following year.

So, we have everything from, you know, Australian Yellowleaf lettuce to Genovese basil to green bush beans to Hokey Joe cilantro. And we have sunflowers, calendula seeds [and] marigolds. It's such a neat mixture of kind of familiar plants and maybe plants you may not have heard of before but may want to try in your garden.

Saliby: You've said the seeds in the collection are heirloom varieties. So, how does that differ from the seeds I might pick up in a garden store?

Laude: So, heirloom varieties are open-pollinated, so they're able to be passed down from generation to generation through open pollination. So, that means that they're pollinated naturally by birds, or insects, or the wind. They tend to also have better flavor. A lot of people say that they taste better, and they are more nutritious overall.

So as far as, you know, anyone who's very into gardening, I think, definitely prefers heirloom seeds overall, and they are also not quite as expensive as hybrid seeds. So, that's definitely a benefit as well.

Saliby: Do you have any gardening tips for our listeners as spring arrives?

Laude: I think the purpose of our library is to get as many seeds in the hands of the community as we can. So, I think for anyone who's thinking about starting a garden, it doesn't matter where you live or whether you have land or not. We have plants here that you can plant in containers on your balcony or in an apartment building. You know, if you're a student and you want to try using fresh herbs, you can try planting them at home.

Or we can offer you the opportunity to try something new in your garden that you have never tasted before or, you know, just try to introduce new vegetables into your diet and you know, have a healthier diet overall. So, I think my gardening advice is to try something new and to venture out and I think this year of all years, you know, it's kind of a chance to experiment and try something new.

Saliby: Amber Laude runs the seed library at the East Lansing Public Library. Thank you for joining me.

Laude: Thank you.

This conversation has been edited for clarity and conciseness.

Sophia Saliby is the local producer and host of All Things Considered, airing 4pm-7pm weekdays on 90.5 FM WKAR.
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