Seed libraries are opening around CaliforniaWhen a CSU Monterey Bay student’s capstone project is completed, local residents will be able to grow their own food, with help from an unlikely source.

Heather Cunningham is working to set up a seed library at the Monterey Public Library as part of the graduation requirements for her degree in Environmental Studies.

Cunningham points out that the idea is taking root across the country, with about 30 in operation, mostly in public libraries in California.

The concept is simple: patrons “check out” seeds, take them home to grow nutritious food for their families, harvest new seeds and return them so the library can lend them out to others.

Heather CunninghamThe seed library movement is an excellent opportunity for grassroots action to reduce use of non-renewable resources associated with food items, Cunningham said. “A seed library can contribute to the celebration of local plant biodiversity, local wholesome produce and a culture of sharing while fostering community resilience and self-reliance," she said.

She organized two planning meetings in October, and will present an official proposal to the Monterey Public Library director if there is enough community interest.

“I think by the annual Cutting Day on March 16, a seed exchange will be available for public use in the library,” Cunningham said with confidence. She added that nothing is official until a proposal is approved by Kim Burton, director of the Monterey Public Library.

Her plan calls for the initial seed inventory to be provided by local individuals, organizations – including CSUMB’s Return of the Natives restoration program – and perhaps local seed companies and farms.

So far, the planning has focused on seeds that produce vegetables, but native plants may be included. Donors will be asked to identify the location where the seeds were grown and the type of plant. They will be invited to include growing notes and a picture of the plant. The seeds will be put into small envelopes that will be organized and displayed in shoe boxes, dresser drawers or other pieces of repurposed furniture such as old library card catalogs

Why does the project appeal to her? Among other reasons she cited was her desire to prepare for new jobs that will require environmentally friendly practices and enhance the natural resources she values.

“I want to learn how to effectively work with a community to get projects off the ground and happening," she said. "This project is a perfect opportunity to experience that process."

Learn more about the Environmental Studies program at CSUMB.

Photo: Heather Cunningham