The Southwest Seed Library, Durango’s only community seed-storing program, is currently looking for a home for its more than 70 varieties.
Started in January 2014, the library was the brainchild of Monea Monroe, who has lived in Durango for more than 20 years. Begun as a community volunteer and donation endeavor, the library eventually worked its way into the Discovery Museum.
However, when the museum shut down last spring, community members looking to swap plant seeds were temporality out of luck. The Powerhouse Science Center reopened last summer, but Monroe said the museum was not interested in continuing the partnership.
Now, the displaced seeds are in the home of Rachel Bennett, a library coordinator. For the past few months, Bennett has hosted seed swaps, donation-based events and potlucks at her home.
“We’re actively searching for homes,” Bennett said. “One of our goals this summer is to find a new home for the seed case, hopefully, a centralized location for easy public access. Eventually, we’d like to have more than one around town.”
Bennett said a “seed library” is different than a “seed bank.” Rather than being stored to preserve genetics, seeds in a library are regularly rotated out into gardens to promote genetic diversity and viability.
“It also acclimatizes seeds that come from out of the area,” Monroe added. “Once they are planted here, they get more adapted to our climate.”
Growing in popularity around the country, local seed libraries now number into the hundreds as community members attempt to steer food production back to the local level.
“I didn’t know a lot about seeds and wasn’t connected to them,” Monroe said of the time before she spearheaded the library. “But, then, I realized how important it is to have a local food source and not rely on outside sources – just because we live far away from a lot of places.”
Essentially, anyone interested donates seed varieties to the library, which properly stores them in cases. Then, when growing season comes around, the library holds swaps. People can take, give or just hang out.
“One seed can grow into such a huge bounty, if you do it right, and teach people,” Monroe said. “So we’re trying to bring together a community. Not just in gardening, but in sharing of food and traditions.”
Heidi Rohwer, an owner at Rohwer’s Farm in Cortez, said she donates to the library because it’s important for the community to have access to unique varieties of foods.
“Each year in Colorado, (weather) is so unique, you really can’t guess it,” she said. “So having different variety really helps. Because if you have one crop, there’s the chance of something going wrong with that particular crop, and then you’re out.”
Rohwer said she grows up to eight varieties of onions, nine of potatoes and 14 of eggplant. Not only does that help with crop yields, it also provides more options for customers.
“It’s fun, because at the market, people aren’t used to the varieties,” she said. “In the store, they don’t label varieties.”
She said 93 percent of genetic crop diversity within our country in the last 50 years has declined, and the seed library is a way of preserving that diversity.
Monroe also said that Bennett, who recently joined as coordinator of the seed library, has breathed new life into the program. The western North Carolina native has improved the library’s education program, coordinated with other seed libraries in the region and led the effort to be accepted in a national seed-saving program.
“It just felt very natural once I moved out here almost four years ago to further explore the regional food system,” said the agro-ecology graduate. “I’m very focused around local food system development, so why not start at the very beginning for food security and diversity?”
To contact the Southwest Seed Library, email firstname.lastname@example.org