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Left, Ewald branch coordinator John Clexton, left, and Deborah Lynch, Ewald's assistant head of circulation, invite the community check out the many varieties of seeds in the newest library service, Grosse Pointe Grows. Right, different colored envelopes denote the level of knowledge needed to produce healthy plants. Grosse Pointe joins about 250 other libraries across the country offering a seed check-out program. There are at least six other Michigan libraries registered in the program. photo by Ann L. Fouty.

May 15, 2014
The library and gardeners have at least two things in common. They like to share.

When the two groups are mixed together, new ideas germinate and excitement grows.

In the inaugural year of Grosse Pointe Grows Seed Lending Library offers heritage seeds to gardeners — 100 garden vegetable varieties, 16 herbs and 17 different flowers' seeds. In a six-drawer cabinet across from the Ewald branch circulation counter, packets hold "a pinch" or six to 12 seeds. With a library card, patrons can check out up to six packets of heritage seeds monthly. These fruits, vegetables, herbs or flowers seeds are to be planted. From the biggest and best plants, seeds are to be harvested and returned to the library.

"The feedback has been amazing," said Mary-Kay Reno, manning Ewald's circulation desk. "People are saying they are so impressed and can't wait to try this out. We have been getting nothing but rave reviews."

"I have noticed wide-eyed interest when I talk to library patrons about our new seed saving catalog," said Mary-Lynn Martin, reference librarian. "With the late spring we are having, (it) is affording us extra time to plan and select our favorite heirloom seeds."

"I am a library patron," Ann Eatherly said, "and saw the lovely seed chest at Ewald. (I) found out that the library is giving away seeds and selected packets of seeds for my garden. I picked lettuce, squash and sunflower seeds."

Down state

Deborah Lynch, Ewald's assistant head of circulation, brought the idea to Grosse Pointe from a 2013 Upper Peninsula vacation. A conversation with Lisa Cromwell, a "bubbly" librarian at the Munising Library, convinced Lynch a seed check-out program could work here.

"It was a good idea for many reasons," Lynch said. "One thing, the seed adapts to the area. Growing your own food saves money. You can grow a lot in a small area."

"People are fed up with chemicals and large farms," added Ewald's branch coordinator John Clexton.

"It's pushing down the quality," Lynch said of the large commercial farm enterprises. "People are concerned with contamination. Growing your own food tastes better."

"The underlining statement is a fresh tomato from the garden wins it for me," Clexton said.

Lynch noted before getting to local tables food travels, on average, 1,500 miles, sapping nutrients from the food.

Once the idea of a seed library was approved by staff and a budget established, Lynch found Annie's Heirloom Seeds of Beaver Island, a Michigan-based company selling heirloom and non-hybrid seeds.

"They are easy to work with," she said. In addition to spending about $150 on seeds, the company gave them about the equivalent amount.

"Gardeners are generous," Clexton interjected.

Lynch said, at the turn of the 20th century there were thousands of seed varieties, but the number has quickly dwindled.

"The knowledge (of plant varieties) is lost and the significant biodiversity (is lost)," she said.

With a well-developed genetic structure, heirloom seeds can be harvested and reused. Hybrid seeds cannot be repeatedly used because they won't produce true in future generations, according to Texas A&M AgriLife Extension's website.

Lynch divided the seeds into three categories. Those in green envelopes or with green dots on white envelopes are easy to grow, such as lettuce and tomatoes. Seeds in blue envelopes or white envelopes with blue dots are in the medium category.

"It's still easy, but you need to put some thought into it," she said.

The final category, and the hardest, are in the yellow envelopes or those seeds in white envelopes with yellow dots and include cabbage and cucumbers because they are cross pollinators. (She changed from colored envelopes to white because she was concerned the color from the paper might affect the seeds.) Each seed package has the basic planting information.

"You should take a few workshops and be careful. You need to know what you are doing," prior to planting seeds from a more difficult category, said Lynch, who is a gardener in Grosse Pointe Woods.

Workshops are yet to be scheduled, say the two, and note this newest service is a "work in progress."

Check out seed packets and a book on gardening, plant the seeds and watch them grow. The next step is harvesting from the healthiest plant. Keep some for yourself and return some in labeled envelopes or containers. Preserving and returning seeds is not mandatory.

"There is no obligation to bring (seeds) back," Lynch said. If the seeds are not saved correctly, the library does not want them. Seed saving methods is one workshop the library is considering offering.

To assist gardeners, Lynch and Clexton remind patrons libraries have a selection of books on gardening and Central Library has added gardening tools to its tool-lending library.

"It's done to complement this program," Lynch said.

"Gardeners love to learn from each other. We are teaching a lost art," Clexton said.

Lynch agreed. She said she learns by listening to other gardeners and so her expertise grows as will the Grosse Pointe Grows Seed Lending Library.

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