January/February 2017 – Vol. 29 No. 4

Richmond Grows Seed Lending Library

Posted: Thursday, September 1st, 2011

by Eric Lewis

An interview with Rebecca Newburn, teacher of sixth graders at Hall Middle School in Larkspur, CA, and creator of the Richmond Grows Seed Lending Library.

Lewis: What gave you the idea for this?

Newburn: BASIL (Bay Area Seed Interchange Library) in the Berkeley Ecology Center is a seed library that has been around for 12 years. I loved the idea of a seed lending library and wanted to make the seed saving education a more integral part of the program and have it more available to the general public. Hosting the Richmond Grows Seed Lending Library in the Richmond Public Library felt like a perfect fit since both serve to benefit the public and have access to resources and education as cornerstones.

Lewis: How has this impacted your community?

Newburn: A few hundred people have “borrowed” thousands of seeds from the library. The basic idea is that people take seeds, plant them and let some of them go to seed. They return the next generation of seeds. We provide free education on how to return quality seeds to the library so that others can borrow them.

We’re providing free seeds and education, which is allowing people to share resource and save money. In the process of saving seeds, we are creating seeds that are adapted to our climates and soils, which will be increasing more important in an era of erratic weather and climate change. Humans have been saving seeds for 10-12,000 years. Yet in the last 100 years, most people have stopped farming and even those people who still garden rarely save any of their own seeds. As a result, we have lost a huge amount of biodiversity.

By engaging our community in seed saving, we are reconnecting with full-cycle gardening by allowing plants to flower, which provides habitat for beneficial insects and seeds for future generations.

The library also serves as a hub where people into gardening can share ideas and resources.

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Lewis: What are the education connections for the classroom?

Newburn: Seed saving is a meaningful way to connect the biology and environmental science curricula to students’ lives. The lending library is organized by plant families. Plants in the same family have similar seed saving requirements to reduce unwanted hybridization. Seed saving is an excellent way to teach about genetics. Students can apply the information in their daily lives in their own gardens or the school gardens and become part of a 12,000-year-old cycle. My vision is that over time some students who learn about seed saving will start to breed their own vegetables and create new varieties and begin to regenerate some biodiversity that has been lost in the last 100 years.

In our school garden we are doing seed saving and have signs explaining how different species are saved properly. (These signs will be available for download on our website, which unfortunately is being a bit wonky.)

Lewis: Do you think that this can be replicated in other communities?

Newburn: Yes, we’ve created the seed lending library as a replicable model. People can go to our “Create a Library” page on RichmondGrows.org and see the process of how we got started and download all of our organization and seed saving material. (Material is now available in English, Spanish and Mandarin.) Since our library opened in June 2010, over 13 other libraries have opened based on our model. Even my sixth graders at Hall Middle School are putting one in our school library in Larkspur.

We’ve connected to other seed lending libraries on our website; check out our “Sister Libraries” under our “Contact” page.

Lewis: What is your vision for the future?

Newburn: My vision is that seed libraries will be a part of school libraries and that seed saving will be an integral part of our curriculum and our school gardens. My hope is that students will appreciate the beauty of nature and it’s diversity and bounty. There is something special about being to plant a lettuce plant and get hundreds of seeds in return. Those seeds will be shared with their friends and families and in the sharing, we will start to re-create heirloom varieties because they will be passed down from generation to generation (or class to class) that have significance to us and our communities.

Lewis: What is your favorite seed from your collection?

Newburn: My favorite seed is the Oregon Spring tomato. My friend Gudrun gave it to me. She’s been growing it in her garden for a few years and it’s a big tomato that ripens early in our foggy summers. It makes me happy to have the Oregon Spring in my garden because it reminds me of my friend… and it’s delicious.

Lewis: What is the biggest surprise from this whole process?

Newburn: How quickly the idea has gone fungal.

Lewis: How can people find out more about this whole process?

Newburn: People can learn more about our libraries and seeds at our website, RichmondGrows.org.  We’ve got great resources on our site, including videos on Beans and Peas and Lettuce and Sunflowers.  For folks that can’t access YouTube, the videos are also on Vimeo: Beans and Peas and Lettuce and Sunflowers. More videos are being created now.  Also, we’re constantly updating our Flickr page. Feel free to use our photos.

Thanks so much for your time, Rebecca.  I’m looking forward to seeing how this project continues to flourish and grow!

Eris Lewis is high school area science support in the San Francisco Unified School District LEAD office and is CSTA region 2 director.


Written by Eric Lewis

Eric Lewis

Eris Lewis is high school area science support in the San Francisco Unified School District LEAD office.

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