Twenty years after transitioning to digital records, Dalhousie University’s MacRae Library has dusted off its wooden card catalogues to house its latest collection: seeds.
MacRae’s seed lending library, located at the heart of Dalhousie’s agricultural campus in Bible Hill, Nova Scotia (formerly the Nova Scotia Agricultural College), consists of about 875 packets of heirloom and organic seeds. As seed library coordinator Jolene Reid explains, users can thumb through and take home the packets for their own gardens. In return, borrowers are asked to donate a portion of their eventual seed haul to the library. “It’s a self-sustaining collection. Seeds returned to us will become our inventory for the next growing season,” Ms. Reid says.
The library offers students and local community members access to more than 86 varieties of edibles, ornamentals and herbs. Each packet, labelled according to the level of skill required for seed saving, contains enough seed to grow 10 to 15 viable plants. Among the collection’s gems Ms. Reid notes a pink-flowered Painted Lady scarlet runner bean; a Lancashire Lad climbing pea, with its striking blue pea pods; and a thousand-year-old tobacco plant, said to have been discovered in an earthenware pot in the Great Lakes.
Although a few other Canadian universities host seed collections on behalf of other organizations (Kwantlen Polytechnic University library and University of Toronto’s faculty of information, for example), Dalhousie’s collection claims to be the only seed library in the country funded entirely by a postsecondary institution. When Ms. Reid pitched the idea to MacRae’s administration more than a year ago, the librarian envisioned offering a collection and relevant programming as a vital resource for the community at large. “Folks have been saving seeds for thousands of years; it’s as old as agriculture. But the last few generations, it’s a skill set that’s kind of disappearing,” she says.
Ms. Reid counts 62 new borrowers since the collection’s launch in March, with more than half of these from outside the university. So far 340 packets, about 5,000 seeds, have circulated – this despite the fact that the ground was still frozen solid well into spring, says Ms. Reid.