Not that long ago, most Americans were farmers that lived off of their own land, growing their own food. It was expected that you ate what you produced and if you didn’t have crops, you didn’t eat. Of course, you could always trade with your neighbors, but they were farmers just like you. Obviously, most people today have never relied on their own agricultural skills for survival. Many years and industrial developments have allowed us to expand beyond personally harvesting our dinners. Those who have become farmers can grow more crops more efficiently than our ancestors did, which means the majority of the nation can live off of that produce and do not have to farm themselves. This is a wonderful result for those of us who can barely keep flowers alive.
One unintended consequence of this has recently come to attention, loss of biodiversity. When people had to live off of the land, they farmed crops that were native to their specific locations and regions. While hundreds of people may be planting corn, they’re going to harvest many different varieties due to the particular seeds available, the environment, and their own personal farming techniques. The incredible range of factors produced unique plants all across the nation. With industrialization came standardization of crops. There is a loss of diversity now that fewer farmers are making food for more people. They simply cannot afford to produce every variety of plant and often narrow down to the most popular ones. Because of this, many strands of heirloom plants are being lost. What once was abundant in certain regions may soon be extinct.
In 2000, the Bay Area Seed Interchange Library (BASIL) was founded with the purpose of providing an exchange system of seeds that would help preserve biodiversity through the community. The idea is simple. Community members can go to BASIL and check out seeds for a large number of plants. They are expected to grow the seeds and then harvest new seeds from the resulting plants. They then return the new seeds for other people to check out. This way, more people can grow those plants. People are invited to donate seeds for plants that the library may not have yet. Not only does this promote a greener lifestyle where people can grow their own produce, but it also helps preserve local plants. If there is a particular strand of tomato native to a region, its seeds can be saved in a seed library which allows many people to use those seeds and continue harvesting that strand. It helps to keep those plants available when they might have died out in the presence of grocery stores selling just a few national types.
Aside from the ecological benefits, seed libraries have also been boosting community relations among people who are interested in growing their own plants. While this is not an entirely new concept, it shows that there is strong support for these seed libraries to continue. I think this is an example of an integrative form of creativity. Libraries and seed exchanges are not new ideas but the combination of the two is and it is extremely innovative. People already frequent libraries, adding seeds to them is simply providing another learning experience that also helps the community. More seed libraries have been popping up around the country and there is plans for one to be created near Loyola University Chicago. Give it a try. Save your local biodiversity, char with your neighbors, and enjoy a delicious home grown meal.