Library starting seed program

Featuring rare heirloom seeds
Fri, 03/17/2017 - 10:30am

An heirloom seed program is being started at the Island Free Library next week. The program is the brainchild of Library Director Kristin Baumann, in concert with Shannon McCabe, who works for a company called Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds based in Missouri.

“The Island ‘Free Seed’ Library will be launching next week with the arrival of the Baker Creek seeds,” Baumann told The Block Island Times. “The seeds will be available at the library and they will be free. We will be working with the public gardeners, teaching them how to collect seeds from the plants they grow. Growing food from heirloom seeds, eating that food and then cultivating seeds to grow again the following year is a very healthy cycle for everyone — the planet and people.” 

According to, a “seed library is a place where members of the public can get seeds for free, or for a nominal fee, and is run for the public benefit. Seed saving is something humans have done for over 10,000 years.”

The heirloom seeds will be placed in a wooden file box at the library for people to check out. An heirloom seed comes from a plant that has been carefully cultivated, and passed from one generation to the next, because it is considered valuable. 

“We have had a terrific response to this program and believe many people will be growing organic heirloom seeds,” said Baumann. “We have been contacted by the Block Island Gardeners, who are interested in the seed library and ready to contribute to its success.”

Baumann said that she had “been brainstorming a seed library for years. The Ocean View Foundation aired “Open Sesame” a few years ago at the library; a film about seeds, farming and food. It educated me to the terrible situation we are in as a country regarding farming and health. I realized that a seed library on the island could really change things for islanders simply because of our distance from the mainland. We will not get cross-pollination with bad seeds, and our water and soil are relatively clean. Working with Shannon was like putting the puzzle pieces together. She is a valuable home grown resource.”

In an informational Facebook video on Feb. 28, McCabe said Baker Creek “loves heirloom” seeds, and “believes in the importance of sharing seeds.” McCabe said, “There has been a big boom in seed libraries cropping up across the country. I think there are over 200 registered seed libraries in the country.” 

“There are multiple purposes for seed libraries,” said McCabe. “Some are started just to get local communities access to seeds, and promote gardening. Others are started to promote diversity in the local crop selection, or to make a seed bank of local varieties of seeds that have been adapted over time to the local climate.”

McCabe noted that one of the reasons that seed libraries are started is “to prevent the loss of genetic diversity in the local seed bank, and preserve local varieties.” She said one of the primary reasons for creating a seed library is to keep rare “seeds alive and well.”

“The whole thing about a seed library is the sharing of seeds,” said McCabe. “One great way to get a stockpile started is to hold a seed swap to kick off your seed library.” McCabe pointed out that a seed’s shelf life can be variable, but “most seeds are viable for at least a few years.”

“I am hopeful that this seed launch will foster community gardening on the island, a great use for some of our conserved land,” said Baumann. “Perhaps we can till some land and grow food right here at the library.”

The next Seed Library meeting is Tuesday, March 21 at 4p.m. at the library. Baumann noted that, “There will be seeds for the taking, and instructional information from Shannon about plotting out a garden and starting seeds.”