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Popular seed-sharing program at Edmonton Public Library comes to an end

Edmonton’s free seed library has closed, a victim of its own success. 

“The interest was there; it was huge, lots of demand for the seeds,” Jessica Niemi, associate manager at the Stanley A. Milner Public Library, told CBC’s Edmonton AM.

“Ultimately, we found the demand was so high that the library just couldn’t keep up.”

A community program, the seed library pilot was launched in 2022 as a partnership between Edmonton Public Library and other local organizations.

The idea was to connect the community with free seeds. 

The problem was that the library wasn’t able to replenish seeds fast enough to meet demands, Niemi said. 

A drawer of seeds, catorgized alphabetically.
The project was designed to connect gardeners with local seed-saving experts. (David Bajer/CBC)

The seed library aimed to address issues of food insecurity by encouraging people to grow their own vegetables, herbs, flowers or shrubs. Seeds were labelled and stored alphabetically in the drawers of a card catalogue.

It was free to all users. People could check out the seeds through their library membership to be grown at home. 

In return, the library asked borrowers to harvest seeds from their plants to replenish the community stock. Collected seeds were to be stored in sealed container in a cool, dry and dark place.

Niemi said the library was finding it hard to replenish its stock, and the borrowing process was confusing customers. 

Edmonton AM7:01Seed library can’t keep up

A seed library in downtown Edmonton shut down after finding there were too many customers and not enough seeds

“There were a lot of disappointed people coming in to our city library and finding it was empty,” Niemi said. 

When it came to the end of the pilot’s first year, Niemi said the library re-evaluated the program.

With many other organizations offering their own versions of the seed library, it was decided that EPL should act as a connector with local experts instead. 

“When we set out to build this pilot, the goals of it were really related to growing awareness of seed diversity, climate resilience, things like horticulture and public literacy related to food,” Niemi said. 

“It didn’t actually meet the goals, unfortunately.”

About accessibility 

Wendy Sauvé, one of the organizers of Seedy Sunday in Edmonton, said she is disappointed the program has ended.

“We knew it was very popular. The need for seed sharing was very high,” she said.

Sauvé said other existing programs don’t replace the library’s efforts. Seedy Sunday is a single-day event. Another organization, Seeds of Diversity, is not set up to be a community seed save-and-share program, she said.

Master gardener and urban farmer Dustin Bajer said he wanted to see the seed library continue. 

He was part of the committee that launched the program last year. 

“It was sort of a good problem to have,” he said. “I think over time we probably could have built up some education around seed saving.”

A man standing beside a tree
Master gardener and urban farmer Dustin Bajer said he wanted to see the seed library continue. (Submitted by Dustin Bajer)

Bajer said the library is the ideal space for seed saving, because it has rebranded itself into a community hub for resources.

He said it’s all about accessibility, adding that institutions like libraries are ideal for a seed-saving program.   

“I think if anything it’s demonstrated the need and desire for it,” he said. 

Other libraries, such as those in Calgary, St. Albert and Camrose, have successfully implemented seed libraries into their regular services. 

Sauvé said she is hoping EPL will reach out to the group again and discuss other ways to continue the seed library. 

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