An old card catalog cabinet on its way to the scrap heap presented an opportunity for MEA member Deborah Lynch to start a fresh new program at Grosse Pointe Public Library, where she works as assistant circulation manager at the Ewald Branch.
Lynch seized on the cabinet, considered obsolete since the advent of computerized library catalogs, and infused it with new life – literally – as a seed library called “Grosse Pointe Grows.”
A few years ago, Lynch and her husband visited a public library in Munising where patrons could “check out” packets of flower and vegetable seeds. At the same time, administrators at the Grosse Pointe library were asking employees for new program ideas, Lynch said.
“I saw it, I got the idea, the librarian said it was very popular, and I thought – This is so cool,” Lynch said. “It’s been a learning experience.”
The idea of seed lending libraries has gained momentum in recent years as a way to encourage community gardening and protect seed biodiversity, Lynch said. More than 500 seed libraries now exist worldwide, up from about 300 four years ago.
Commercialization of seeds narrows the varieties down to the most marketable ones, Lynch said. For that reason, she focuses on circulating heirloom varieties to play a role in maintaining food crop biodiversity that helps species withstand threats such as diseases, climate change, and pests.
Lynch also wants to encourage gardening as a hobby to strengthen families and the community.
“Gardening is excellent for us emotionally and physically,” she said. “Maybe we’re not going to grow all of our foods, but crops like tomatoes and beans are easy to grow and add to the supper table.”
In some seed libraries, patrons check out seeds, grow crops, and harvest seeds from the plants at the end of the growing season to return them to the library. However, to control seed quality, the “Grosse Pointe Grows” program for now buys seeds from catalogs and distributes them.
Because seed packets sold through catalogs contain more than the average gardener needs, Lynch repackages the products in envelopes she makes herself from discarded paper and books. She adds labels and bar codes, and sorts them into drawers in the card catalog for checkout.
Lynch spent months refurbishing the 30-drawer card catalog to match the library’s décor – stripping and sanding it and adding a new formica top to match marble countertops elsewhere in the building. Last year, more than 3,066 packets of seeds were checked out from the branch.
“It’s a very popular program” Lynch said.
Maryanne McKenna is a longtime Grosse Pointe gardener who loves being able to pick up high-quality seeds from the library, including peas, peppers, and tomatoes.
“Deb is always there with any answer she can give to your questions,” McKenna said. “I tell everyone I know about it, and they’re so impressed we have a program like this. It’s just wonderful.”