BENNINGTON — The library probably isn't the first place most people would go looking for seeds to plant, but at Bennington College it's the first place you should look.
In the fall, three students, as an independent study, established a seed library. It's free to use and the goal behind it is to fight food insecurity in Bennington.
Students Joana Santos, Lauren Brady and Sophie Parker-Goos developed the public seed-sharing library at Crossett Library through CAPA (Center for the Advancement of Public Action) and a faculty member.
"I find the magic of seeds incredibly fascinating — they grow themselves, they are reborn when they reach the end of their cycles," Santos said in an email. "I think that coming to that understanding as a community and working with that power can build a lot of energy around our food systems, ecology and our relationships with each other and that's why I'm so interested in free seed saving and sharing. I think everyplace should have a platform that allows for this to happen, whether it is through a library, organized meetings or with some sort of governmental support — seeds are very important for the health, independence and regenerative power of a community."
The project's goals are to "create a physical space and system to trade seeds" and "empower community members through education and promotion of food sovereignty," according to the college's website.
The initiative was promoted at the Bennington Farmers' Market in the fall, which will be continued in the spring, said Oceana Wilson, dean of the Crossett Library.
The seeds themselves, herb, vegetable, and flower, are housed in a large dresser beside a row of computers.
How it works: You sign the membership book on top of the dresser, choose whichever seeds you'd like to borrow, pour some seeds into a separate envelope located on top of the dresser, note how many you borrowed, then go and plant them. Once the plants are harvested, save some seeds and return them to the library.
The students received sponsorship from High Mowing Organic Seeds in Walcott, Seed Savers Exchange and Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds. The seed envelopes are made in Cambridge, N.Y. by Cambridge Pacific.
"You can save seeds for many traits — let's save for resilience, let's save for plants that we can easily take care of and are nutritious," Santos said. "Long term, maybe we'll have developed local varieties of food and ornamentals that thrive in the Bennington area and preserved some heirloom types that are getting lost. I think raising the question of where your seeds come from and what that means and developing relationships and collaborations between community members is already a pretty good impact."
Additionally, people are free to obtain a library borrowing card to check out gardening related books to help plant their seeds, Wilson said.
The library opened with 550 seed packets donated from the three sponsors. Since December, 43 seed packets have been borrowed and 34 have been donated.
Wilson said the students are discussing potential educational outreach opportunities with workshops and a speaker in the spring.
It officially opened on Dec. 2.
Some vegetable seeds include artichoke green globe, beans dragon's egg, beets cylindra, eggplant casper, birdhouse gourds and red bowl salad lettuce. Some of the herbs include anise, licorice basil, lemon bee balm, borage, florence fennel, and German chamomile.
"In the Spring, we get to sit together to share all of this and develop bonds around the table," Santos said. "I think that's where the real work starts, in a way, when you go much beyond creating a platform that is intended to serve a community and you actually make sure it works, you develop relationships around it, you listen to people and try to meet them where they are at. The potential makes me excited, is a bit unpredictable but hopefully we can make this work long term — that's what I'm looking forward to in the spring, starting that part of the work and seeing what happens."
Read more about the seed-sharing library at http://libraryguides.bennington.edu/seeds/welcome.
Reach staff writer Makayla-Courtney McGeeney at 802-490-6471 or @MC_McGeeney.