Little Libraries, Big Change

Little Free Seed Library

With COVID-19 challenging global food security, this project (and others like it) are more important than ever. We have already seen that families want to be able to grow their own healthy food in the safety of their home. Food security panic peaked in the beginning months of the pandemic. Seed companies were experiencing unprecedented seed shortages, and families who relied on growing their own food found it difficult to access seed. These shortages not only affected gardeners in developing countries, but in the U.S. as well.

While seed companies have started to recover their inventory, the need for seed remains. Unemployment rates continue to rise in the U.S., and stay-at-home orders dramatically limit families’ ability to access fresh, nutritious food. For those most at risk of hunger and malnutrition, seed for home-based "resilience gardens" provides safe, essential nutrition.

It’s rare for us to partner so close to home, and we’re proud to be partnering locally as an addition to our international work — we believe local leaders are essential everywhere. This report introduces several new partners: Blue Ridge Women in Agriculture, Ashe County Library, and Watauga Seed Library in North Carolina.

Blue Ridge Women in Agriculture helps build an equitable, sustainable High Country local food system by supporting producers and cultivating community connections that educate, inspire, and increase the demand for local food.

Part of the Blue Ridge Seed Library Network, the Ashe County Library and Watauga Seed Library make free seed available to promote food security, build community resilience, and create a culture of sharing. They aspire to encourage and educate their community to grow healthy food by gardening, preserving seed adapted to the area, and gathering historical seed stories of Appalachia.

Together, they are meeting the needs of their communities at the grassroots level.

Watauga County is located in an exceptionally mountainous region of Western North Carolina and is home to roughly 51,000 residents. Watauga Seed Library, created by Debbie and Mike Bauer, provides residents with a contactless way to pick up seeds for home gardens by erecting Little Free Seed Libraries throughout the county. These libraries contain bundled, garden-sized SPI seed packets that include a variety of vegetable types. Operating on a self-serve basis, people are welcome to pick as many seeds as they need and are encouraged to leave any excess they might have from their own supply. This exchange keeps a variety of nutritious seeds for participants to choose from.

Ashe County is located in the very Northwest tip of North Carolina bordering the Tennessee state line. It is home to roughly 28,000 residents and the Ashe Seed Library. The Ashe Seed Library was founded in the fall of 2016, and is a collaborative partnership between the Ashe County Public Library, the Watauga County Public Library, and Blue Ridge Women in Agriculture. The idea for the seed library was born out of the region's long history of seed saving.

“For many years, growers have gathered at the High Country Seed Swap and Growers Exchange to share varieties and stories. Community members approached Blue Ridge Women in Agriculture and the Appalachian Regional Public Library about forming a Seed Library in Boone and West Jefferson in 2016. This effort easily fit within the area's Cooperative Extension office's programming to encourage gardeners of all skill levels to grow their own food and save seeds.”

In the Ashe Seed Library Committee, Participants can “check out” seeds from the library for their gardens. Information on seed saving is provided so that people can “return seed” after their harvest so that the library remains self-sustaining. When COVID-19 hit the area, seed library organizers noticed that less and less gardeners were bringing in seed from their gardens, but more new gardeners were reaching out for assistance. It was at this point that coordinators reached out to SPI, and we were happy to add our seed types to their library.

We at SPI are excited to do our part to ensure food security in these uncertain times, and we are looking forward to new partnerships, both in the U.S. and overseas. With access to quality seed resources, community engagement, and support for training and tools, gardeners are being positioned to build a strong network of self-reliant food production. Whether gardens are planted for supplementary nutrition and income or as a part of a new livelihood, they can form a foundation for greater health, economic growth, and resilience to crisis.

Charity Name
Seed Programs International
Photo Caption
Debbie and Mike with their Seed Library
Photo Credit
Seed Programs International