Vintage seed packets

Did you know that libraries can be a free source of seeds for the garden? Surprising, but true.

Today’s libraries do more than just loan books. Modern and innovative libraries, tasked with keeping up with the times and providing communities with what they need, are “loaning” seeds to grow vegetables, fruits and flowers.

Seed lending libraries are becoming so common there is an entire organization dedicated to creating, promoting and maintaining seed libraries known as The Seed Library Social Network, which began in 2011. On this site, you can search the seed libraries around the world, most of which are found through community public libraries or other social gathering locations.

Seed exchange
Image courtesy of Timberland Regional Library.

Not only are seeds being shared for low-cost food production among families, but seed libraries are helping to maintain the quickly disappearing genetic diversity of seeds that have all but been lost recently.

“The purpose of most seed libraries is to provide an alternative to genetically modified seeds, increase biodiversity and plant resilience, and reconnect local people with their food systems,” according to The Seed Library Social Network.

Confused about the concept of lending seeds? What about a due date? How do you  “return” seeds?

Here’s how it works.

Seed libraries have an inventory of seeds on hand, usually locally and regionally-adapted plants that do well in the area, and often heirloom varieties of seeds. Library patrons can “check out” seeds each season. The patrons then grow the plants, enjoying the bounty and nutrition of their labor throughout the season.

In exchange for seed lending, and in order to return their checked out items, seed library patrons are expected to let some plants “go-to-seed” and then bring back those seeds to the library to be checked out again.

Unfortunately, this feel good agenda which only helps families eat and protects plant diversity, has come under attack from state departments of agriculture lately, which are lumping community seed libraries into the regulations of commercial sales of seeds and trying to shut them down. Successful petitions have seen the Minnesota, Illinois and Nebraska legislatures exempt seed libraries from the commercial seed law already.

More than 300 nonprofit seed libraries are available in the United States. Many more are available worldwide.

Every program is different, but seed libraries tend to be very flexible and generous with their rules and regulations. Some do not require that you hold a library card for the library system. If your plants don’t produce seed during the growing season, due to a black thumb or environmental factors, some libraries accept donations of commercially grown seeds.  Donations from expert seed savers in the area are always welcome to propagate heirloom, open-pollinated varieties of seeds.

Feature image courtesy of Tim Caynes

By Kimberly Button

Kimberly Button is the author of The Everything Guide to a Healthy Home and the Editor-in-Chief of GetGreenBeWell , featuring modern, sane ideas for living a non-toxic life. A professional journalist for nearly two decades, Button has written for magazines such as Martha Stewart's Whole Living, American Airlines, AAA, Sierra, National Geographic Traveler, and Vegetarian Times. Visit for more information.