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Santa Fe Master Gardeners mini-seed libraries great success

SANTA FE – Saving and sharing seeds is a traditional way to produce locally adapted seeds that ensure resilience in a changing climate.


Woman in black with purple face mask
Santa Fe Master Gardener Bonnie Martin prepares a tub of seed packets to restock a mini-seed library. Approximately 5,000 seed packets were distributed to Santa Fe County gardeners during three weekends. (Courtesy photo)
Two women with face mask handing off a box
Santa Fe Master Gardeners Bonnie Martin and Susie Sonflieth refill a mini seed library with new stock. Seed libraries allow people to check out seeds to plant in the spring and then return some of the seeds from the plants in the fall. (Courtesy photo)

This spring, seed libraries have provided a resource for gardeners wanting to plant when retail sources have had difficulty keeping up with the demand for seeds.

Concerns about food availability, increased awareness regarding eating locally grown produce, and more free time for people staying at home since the COVID-19 outbreak have created an increased demand for seeds and a need for seed-sharing through seed libraries.

Santa Fe Master Gardeners were astounded by the response of the mini seed libraries they placed at five locations in Santa Fe after state health orders required closure of the city library.

“Approximately 5,000 packets of seeds were picked up by people during the course of just three weekends, April 29 through May 10,” said Christine Salem, co-chair with Susie Sonflieth of the Santa Fe Seed Stewards project. “Last year, about 1,000 packets were distributed from the display we had at Santa Fe’s Southside Library.”

The structure of a seed library allows people to get seeds to plant in the spring, and then share the seeds from their plants in the fall.

“We were prepared for the grand opening of the seed library at Southside Library when the city closed the library because of the coronavirus outbreak,” Salem said. “We didn’t know what we were going to do. Our seeds were locked up in the library.”

After participating in Zoom meetings with hundreds of other seed libraries around the country, the local group decided to shift to a mini-library method of distribution.

“We also realized there was a need for more seeds because of the shortage at online retail outlets,” Sonflieth said. “Thanks to donations from many different sources, we increased our seed packets by 4,500.”

The Master Gardeners received seeds from a wide range of organizations, including Agua Fria Nursery in Santa Fe, Canoncito Seed Bank, Native Seed Search in Arizona, Seed Savers Exchange, Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, and Hudson Valley Seed.

“We divided the seed into smaller amounts for the seed library,” Salem said. “We asked the people using the library to only take five packets so more people could participate.”

The seed library is just one aspect of the Santa Fe Seed Stewards project, which is one of many projects of the local chapter of New Mexico State University’s Extension Master Gardener Program.

“It is one way we are encouraging the community to rediscover their connection to seeds and where our food comes from,” Salem said.

Before the COVID-19 outbreak, the Master Gardeners provided educational events at the Southside Library during peak planting and harvesting time.

The seed steward project also includes a public event, Seed School Weekend, that provides information on collecting and saving seeds. The three-day event in October includes the screening of the movie “Seed: The Untold Story,” education sessions covering botany, genetics, breeding and seed saving, threshing and cleaning, and a field trip to collect and clean native seeds.

The curriculum for the Seed School is in part from the Rocky Mountain Seed Alliance in Buhl, Idaho.

“At this time, we are not sure if the Seed School Weekend will be a live event or virtual,” Salem said. “We are looking at our options.”