The Good Ground Seed Library: Saving and Sharing in Hampton Bays

Seed libraries have been around for almost 20 years, and now we have another one here on the East End! The Good Ground Seed Library is located at the Hampton Bays Public Library and is a collaboration between the public library and the new nonprofit, the Ecological Culture Initiative (ECI), also based in Hampton Bays.

The library has been a dream of local farmer and ECI’s Agro-Ecology Director, Rachel Stephens, for many years. “Because I’m a wacko!” Rachel exclaimed, when asked what her motivation was. “I love sharing my homesteading skills, and growing a garden and saving seeds is an easy thing to get people to do.” ECI asked the public library to be a host and partner last November, and got an immediate yes.

“It is so critically important these days, with the water and environmental issues we deal with, to be part of projects like this one,” said library director Susan LaVista. Staff from the Hampton Bays Public Library participated in a Librarian’s Roundtable at this year’s annual Long Island Regional Seed Consortium (LIRSC) Seed Swap. Shelter Island, Bayport, and Patchogue have existing seed libraries, and Medford and Longwood are starting some.

“We want to help as much as possible,” she said. “We can get teens to do community service and help keep the seed library organized.” The Hampton Bays library already has a collection of ukuleles that they lend out, so they’re no strangers to nontraditional library programs.

The library received donations of heirloom, open-pollinated, non-GMO seeds from LIRSC, Annie’s Heirlooms, Seed Savers, Hudson Valley Seed Company, Fedco, Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, as well as from individuals and from Rachel’s homestead, Sweet Woodland Farm. “You don’t have to have a library card, you don’t even have to be a Hampton Bays resident,” Rachel explained. Anyone can take 5 packs of seed per month.  “If you plan it right, you can have a full season of seeds for free,” she said. The idea is to encourage folks to grow their own veggies in their own gardens. “It’s better for your health, as well as our ecosystem.”

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There are vegetable, flower, and native plant seeds. They held community programs with a local Girl Scout troop, teenagers, and adult volunteers to sort and separate the seeds into appropriate garden size packets. ECI printed packets that specify the type of seed and give directions on how to grow and harvest the crops. They’re planning a class in the fall on how to save seed. The hope is that community members who use seeds from the seed library will save their seeds and donate some back to the library. That way, the library will not need to outsource in coming seasons.

“With every generation, we’ll have a better adapted seed, more suited to our particular climate,” Rachel explained. The seeds are housed in an old card catalog donated by Long Island University Post and located across from the adult reference desk. There is room to grow; they hope to add more medicinal plants and edible natives in the future.

ECI is also running a multi-part organic gardening class this growing season through the local parks department. The seed library is the nonprofit’s inaugural program, but they are also hosting farm-to table dinners, screenings of the movie Seed: The Untold Story, and have plans to create a demonstration garden and information center, as well as an educational permaculture food forest.

At the grand opening of the library in early March, a good crowd attended, asked questions, and took seeds home. I couldn’t resist taking my monthly allotment and went home with Purple Prairie Clover, Bells of Ireland, Ring of Fire Sunflower, Bunny Tails, and Big Bluestem. I’m excited to plant them, save the seeds, and return them!