Mendocino County library offers seed lending

  • Pat Sobrero is a lead seed librarian for the Seed Library at the Round Valley Public Library on Wednesday, September 4, 2013 in Covelo, California. (BETH SCHLANKER/ The Press Democrat)

Directly across from the non-fiction aisle in remote Round Valley's small but modern public library sits an old-fashioned card catalogue representing a growing trend: seed lending.

"We're the first in Mendocino County," said Pat Sobrero, the Covelo library technician who initiated the seed-lending library in June.

Seed saving and lending is an old tradition that is enjoying a resurgence that's made its way into public libraries.

Round Valley Seed Library


The first modern-day seed library in the United States is believed to be the Bay Area Seed Interchange Library, or BASIL, established in about 1999 at the Berkeley Ecology Center.

Now there are at least 170 such libraries in more than 35 states, said Rebecca Newburn, co-founder of the Richmond Grows Seed Lending Library, located in the Richmond Library since 2010. At least a dozen countries also are listed online as having seed lending libraries.

About two dozen are in Northern California with more to come. Seed libraries currently are being considered for Healdsburg and Ukiah, library officials confirmed. Both need volunteers, as in Covelo, to step forward to make the endeavor work.

They arise for a variety of reasons that include promoting biodiversity, local food and local independence and the desire to return seed sources to the public realm.

"By reclaiming the tradition of seed saving, we are taking seeds out of the hands of big corporations and putting them back into the hands of backyard gardeners" Sobrero said.

Not to be confused with seed banks, which are dedicated to preserving seeds, libraries freely share germplasm — tissue from which new plants can be grown, typically in the form of seeds — asking only that members collect and return seeds for others to use when they can.

A number of groups, such as Sebastopol-based West County Community Seed Exchange, periodically meet to share seeds but libraries like Covelo's make seeds readily available throughout the week.

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