Wed, April 01

Seed Library taking root in Cottonwood

Seeds are being stored and cataloged at the Cottonwood Library as Supervisor Mary Griffith on Wednesday shows how much has been compiled to date. VVN/Vyto Starinskas

Seeds are being stored and cataloged at the Cottonwood Library as Supervisor Mary Griffith on Wednesday shows how much has been compiled to date. VVN/Vyto Starinskas

COTTONWOOD -- It is a small holding at the moment. The Verde Valley Seed Library is housed on a rolling cart, packages of seeds, locally and individually wrapped to be checked out, grown and returned just like the fiction and non-fiction elsewhere.

It may seem like a small endeavor today, but the enthusiasm is vigorous and the promise is enormous. The grand opening will be held September 12.

Hundreds of seed libraries are springing up throughout the United States. It may be a reaction to a fear of genetically-modified food perceived to threaten future options. It may be a response to the locally-grown movement.

Or it may be a reaction to fruits and vegetables on grocery shelves that have simply lost their flavor.

Interest in the quality and health of food and health is affecting a wide number of industries including fast food, the farmer's markets, grocery shelves and more.

And more and more people are digging their patch of soil to see what it can grow, ensure their food security and adaptability.

In May, the first International Seed Library Conference was held in Tucson. Many states and eight foreign countries were represented at the three-day event. Richard Sidy, president of Gardens for Humanity, and Janice Montgomery, co-chair of the freshly branded Verde Valley Seed Library, attended and came back excited about starting a program here.

"We have a rich heritage of farming and agriculture in the Verde Valley," says Kathie Knapp, who co-chairs the new library with Montgomery.

"I was working in Duluth, Minnesota for a couple years and became involved in the proposed seed library there.

"And Jan Montgomery has been working and teaching gardening for 30 years."

Both are Master Gardeners.

Seed libraries are sprouting across the country, to revive the over 10,000-year-old tradition of saving and sharing successful seeds.

The Verde Valley Seed Library is sponsored by The Verde Thumbs Gardeners, a program of Gardens for Humanity, and supported by the Cottonwood Public Library, which has welcomed the Seed Library within their facility.

The Verde Thumbs Gardeners have been holding a 'seed swap' over the last three years, so gardeners can share vegetable seeds that do well in this area.

"We are getting so much support," says Knapp. "We have a committee and we have volunteers to man the seed library the dates it is opened.

"We are meeting once a week to get the seeds organized. We have to duplicate growing information for some of the seeds that are not labeled.

"We want to make sure everyone has a good chance to grow these seeds. The Verde Thumbs Gardeners meet once a month, but has a 300-name mailing list."

The Cottonwood Public Library Director Vanessa Ward has provided space a room to work and is ordering books on seed saving and gardening.

In fact, when the two women who launched the seed library took their idea to the Cottonwood City Council asked for funds to to help catalogue the effort's varieties and buy supplies, money was practically thrown at them. The two organizers asked for $300 to buy a dedicated computer to catalogue the holdings, like a card catalogue. Mayor Diane Joens suggested $500, which the council approved, and from the audience, William Eaton of the Old town Center for the Arts added another $250.

"We both have been fascinated by the idea of a seed library and have been talking with Pima County Seed Library. That seed library and Native Seed SEARCH have really supported us in getting this done."

Knapp and Montgomery went to The Great American Seedup in Phoenix in May and brought back a lot of seeds, all open pollinated, many heirloom and organic. A number of those seeds also came from Native Seed SEARCH in Tucson.

Native Seed/SEARCH was originally founded in 1981 to work on a food security project to help the Tohono O'odham Nation to establish gardens for their sustainable food needs. Tribal elders told them, "What we are really looking for are the seeds for the foods our grandparents used to grow."

Bill McDorman and Belle Starr have collected and saved seeds in Cornville for years and were neighbors of Belle and Bill. In 2011, they were named were co-directors of Native Seed SEARCH where they established the first seed school. Today Bill and Belle have taken a seed school on the road to evangelize seed saving in the Rocky Mountain Region.

According to Knapp, "People are starting to become more involved because the big seed companies are being bought out by the chemical companies and it is becoming harder to get our own seeds to produce our own food. Once they are hybridized, people will have to buy seeds every year to replicate the same product. By saving our seeds, they become more acclimated to our area, become more prolific and of a higher quality."

They are getting us more of the seeds they have grown and are using in their program and have been very supportive.

Locally grown, grows better and sweeter

"Each generation, a seed is grown in an area; it adapts better and better. I have heirloom tomatoes plants," Knapp explains,"that have been grown for five generations locally and those seed have produced one plant today with over 100-tomatoes on it. They adapt to the climate, the elevation, the rainfall. Each time they are saved and sent back to the library, the next people who check them out will get seeds adapted to this area. The idea is to save the best fruit and seeds from the plant".

Montgomery is going to be teaching classes in seed saving; not basic gardening, but specifically seed saving. "It doesn't do any good to hand out seeds free from the seed library," says Knapp, "if people don't know the best ways to save the seeds and return them to the library."

"The bottom line is training," Knapp explains, "so that people know how to save seeds. They need to know the different varieties and how to save them. Some seeds like squash or cucumbers cross-pollinate because they are pollinated by bees.

"So people have to know how to save the seeds from the plants they are growing, before the bees get to them. We call it "squash sex"; we are helping the squash by pollinating them, so that you have a true seed from that mother plant."

"All the seed packets we are preparing, thousands of packets of seeds, that have been donated, will have stickers. "Green" stickers means its 'easy', "red" stickers means the seed needs advanced attention. So people get the idea that this seed can be cross-pollinated and when we need to be a little more careful with it."

"Janice and I went to the The Great American Seedup in Phoenix and got two large bags of seed, many heirloom, all open pollinated.

"And we have repackaged those in smaller amounts for the seed library and volunteers have gone to the big box stores in the valley and gotten seeds. When a packets says, packaged for 2015, they have to throw them away.

"So we have been waiting in line and have let them know, 'don't throw them away, give them to us, because a seed can be viable for 10 years.'

We even have some Anasazi beans found in a clay pot in the Grand Canyon and they are still growing."

Seed saving classes will be held regularly beginning August 15 with a class at the Library Meeting Room from 10:30 till 12:30.

Another Class will be held at the Cottonwood Recreation Center August 29.

Registration is limited and people may sign up by calling 928 634-7559. 

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