Something new recently sprouted up at the Cowichan branch of the Vancouver Island Regional Library (VIRL) in Duncan. Near the entrance, a display boasts packets of local seeds, among books and information on gardening. It’s called a seed library, and the program aims to build community while sharing local gardening knowledge and resources.
The seed library has been very popular, with at least 100 seed packets distributed in the first week, says Dalia Levy, the branch’s customer service librarian. “Most people can’t believe that the seeds are free — that all that is required is a library card.”
The community response has been very exciting, and “our patrons are definitely clamoring for more,” she says.
Levy launched the seed library in partnership with Cowichan Farm & Food Hub, Village Vancouver and Dinter Nursery, who contributed seeds to the program. Library patrons can also bring their own seeds to donate. They must be clean, labeled and less than two years old. Library visitors can sign out up to three packets of seeds per visit.
Levy, a self-proclaimed gardening and food security advocate, launched her first seed library while working at the Nanaimo Harbourfront branch in 2021. That first program “was very much a pandemic project, encouraging folks to grow food as a way to engage with nature. It’s a good self isolating activity, and also a great way to develop community connections without being in person.”
And that community interest in growing food, sparked by the pandemic, has stayed strong. “It now is really linked to food security, and grocery prices and inflation,” says Levy. “And so it’s kind of all connected.”
Similar programs have proliferated across the library system. The first VIRL seed library opened in Port Alberni in 2015. Now, more than a dozen branches have seed libraries.
Levy started her role at the Cowichan branch about six months ago. She noted that the community already has a seed library, located in the Cowichan Farm & Food Hub at 2431 Beverly St. in Duncan. But she also saw an opportunity to bring seed sharing to more people by bringing it into the library.
For Levy, bringing gardening resources into the library is a natural fit. “Food security on Vancouver Island is a huge issue,” she says, noting that the vast majority of the food we eat is not grown here. “Anything I can do to connect people with nature, and where their food comes from, and [empower] people to be more self-sufficient in a climate emergency is really essential for myself as a public librarian.”
She encourages community members to come check out the seed library and resources, and to bring something back to the garden at home. “This is a great activity for children. It’s family friendly. We have lots of gardening books and resource guides to continue the learning beyond just gathering some seeds,” she says.
VIRL also hosts monthly virtual presentations to learn more about local plants and gardening. In June, local Master Gardener Jane Kerr will explain how plants are named, and why it matters. The conversations can be joined live on Zoom, and recordings of past events are also available.
Editor’s note, May 15, 2023: A previous version of this article said that VIRL’s first seed library opened in Nanaimo in 2021. In fact, the first one opened in Port Alberni in 2015.