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Seed library sprouts up at Rock County Library in Luverne

More than 1,000 seed packets donated to community effort to encourage gardening.

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Rock County Library Director Calla Jarvie stands next to the Seed Catalog inside the library 05 06 21. (Tim Middagh/The Globe)

LUVERNE — The Rock County Community Library in Luverne has found a unique way to repurpose its beautiful, but retired, card catalog.

On Earth Day, the library — along with local partners Prairie Ally and Project Food Forest — unveiled the Rock County Seed Library. The drawers of the catalog, once containing index card-sized information about library books, are now filled with more than 100 varieties of seed and available to anyone who is interested in planting them. Seed options include everything from vegetables and melons to herbs, flowers and grass seeds.

Rock County Library Director Calla Jarvie said she’d read about seed libraries in other locales, but none of the libraries in the Plum Creek Library System offered such a program. After talking with two South Dakota libraries who had previously established seed libraries, she decided to give it a try.

“Since COVID began, we’ve been slowly but surely cleaning up our basement,” Jarvie shared. “Every time we went down there, I would just see this gorgeous card catalog — it’s solid wood. We certainly didn’t want to get rid of it or sell it, and it just hit me, why not create a seed library?”

Given her knack for killing anything that’s supposed to grow in a garden, Jarvie turned to a pair of local experts for advice and assistance in getting the project rooted at the library.

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Prairie Ally’s Berty Stearns and Project Food Forest’s Erin Hamann helped find seed, with Hamann reaching out to several heirloom seed companies seeking donations.

“We got donations from Baker Creek Seed Company, Seedsavers Exchange and Sow Right,” Hamann said. “What’s really special about all of these seeds is they are heirloom — they are open pollinated, which means you can save seed from them to preserve the longevity of the seed library.

“A lot of these seeds are very old seeds that have been brought over from Europe in some cases,” she added.

Numerous seed packets were also provided by Prairie Ally, which received leftover seed from the local Bomgaars store last year.

“It was a fun surprise to see what we got,” Jarvie said. “It was quite a mix of a lot of different things.”

With a 40-drawer card catalog, Hamann and Stearns sorted through seeds and organized them in the drawers. Because some packets come with far more seeds than one family needs, many of the packets were opened and the seeds divided into smaller baggies by a Reading Corps volunteer and work study student from Luverne High School.

Jarvie said not all of the drawers are filled, which allows for expansion of the library’s offerings.

“We grouped things together like cabbage and kale (in one drawer), and pumpkins and gourds went together,” Jarvie said.

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As the seed library was coming together, Jarvie said the library offered a Take and Make gardening kit geared toward children but appropriate for people of all ages. Participants learned about how to plant starter seeds and transplant them in the ground, and were sent home with Pixie cups, a small bag of potting soil and seeds. At that time, there was a teaser that people could anticipate an announcement about a new library offering in the near future.

Since the seed catalog was unveiled on Earth Day, Jarvie said she and library staff are seeing people they don’t usually see in the library — people who are coming in to check out the seed library and perhaps take some home with them. At the same time, library patrons are excited to have yet another offering for community members.

“We’ve had daycares taking seeds to plant with their daycare kids, grandparents take seeds to plant with their grandchildren,” Jarvie said. “It’s really neat to see the interaction.

“We didn’t know how, exactly, it would go. It’s gone over very well — a really positive reception."

Jarvie said some local residents have even offered to donate some of their own seeds to the library.

While packets are labeled with all pertinent information for planting, Jarvie said people can take a picture or make a photocopy of the packet to go along with the seeds that were divided into smaller amounts.

Not all of the seeds have been divided, so Jarvie said their self-service seed library — located right near the library’s circulation desk near the entrance — includes supplies for people to sort out their own seeds.

“They don’t have to check in with any librarian and they can use (the seed library) whenever the library is open,” she said. “We ask them to take only what they can use.”

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As COVID-19 restrictions continue to ease, Jarvie said the seed library offers a prime opportunity for the library to host programming about gardening in the future.

With the interest already generated by the seed library in Luverne, Jarvie encourages other communities to develop their own.

“Anyone who’s interested should certainly run with it,” she said, noting that she’s willing to advise people on getting started. “Get your community gardeners on board. My partners here are so excited that community members want to grow some of their own produce — it’s just fantastic.

“It doesn’t have to be in a library — it can be in a community center or anywhere,” she added.

And if communities don’t establish their own seed library, Jarvie welcomes them to the Rock County Library in Luverne.

“It is open to everyone,” she said. “If someone in Nobles County happens to need seeds, we invite them to come and visit our seed library. It’s for the community, and our community reaches beyond the county borders.”

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Spinach, Carrots and Sorghum seeds in the seed catalog inside the Rock County Library 05 06 21.(Tim Middagh/The Globe)(Tim Middagh/The Globe)

Julie Buntjer became editor of The Globe in July 2021, after working as a beat reporter at the Worthington newspaper since December 2003. She has a bachelor's degree in agriculture journalism from South Dakota State University.
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