The Seed Library inside Mustang Library in northern Scottsdale has been open and available to the public for a little over two months, but it was a pilot project that took library assistant Laura Couty two years to get approved and into the library.
“The library’s goal is to inspire, engage, educate, so we’re always trying to bring new and different things,” Couty said.
In partnership with Mesa-based nonprofit Garden Pool, Mustang’s Seed Library is stocked with over 1,900 edible plant and herb seeds, all tucked away in 24 different drawers labeled with the seed name.
Library card holders can come into the library, pick out three packets per month and check them out free of charge.
Since it opened in May, Couty said they’ve had nothing but “amazing responses” and that 1,200 packets have been checked out to date.
“It’s super well-received,” Couty said. “The patrons love it and that’s the most important thing to us.”
Couty saw seed libraries elsewhere, but when she approached her team, “they thought it was tedious, a lot of work,” she said.
But it wasn’t until Mustang Library branch manager Medina Zick joined the team in October that Couty was able to get the ball rolling.
Seed availability depends on seasonal growing conditions. Currently, seeds range from peppers and parsley to marigolds and moringa, the latter being one of the most popular seeds so far.
“We have some holes,” Couty said. “Spinach was one of them that’s empty. Moringa they just restocked. Roma tomatoes is also empty. They just filled it and they’re already empty and they’re going to start leaving us with extra so we can fill them.”
Couty said Mustang Library made a one-time payment of $1,500 to Garden Pool to cover the cost of the library card file cabinet, seeds, a seasonal chart and a lighted plant display.
“We had to work with our graphics department to create the logo and coordinate with Garden Pool to get stamps. Every single packet is stamped. It has our logo, it has their logo, it tells you the name [of the seed], it tells you the germination period, harvest period – all that stuff,” Couty said.
Library patrons do not need to return seeds as they would other library materials. But they pay it forward by saving the seeds of their harvest and donating them to Garden Pool.
Garden Pool – a nonprofit whose mission is to “continue to innovate, create, educate, and support better ways to grow food,” according to its website – seed libraries in two Mesa libraries, Tempe and Huntington Beach, California.
Mustang’s is the only seed library in Scottsdale.
Garden Pool’s Seed Library Director Taylor Beavers has seen increased interest in the nonprofit’s seed library from other libraries in and out of state.
“We had a different library from Scottsdale want to do it as well. We had [a library in] Oklahoma email me. It’s really fun,” Beavers said, adding:
“If a library can allocate a portion of their budget – and it’s a one-time thing because then we supply the seeds and they just have a volunteer there – it’s a great addition to bring more people into the library.”
Beavers said she was attracted to the nonprofit’s mission and its seed library project.
“When I describe what a seed library is to people, they love the idea because it’s free seeds for the community. And whether you’re a master gardener or a beginner growing something for the first time, you can try it and it’s wonderful,” she said.
Every Tuesday and Thursday morning, Beaver and fellow Garden Pool volunteers work on fulfilling seed orders from libraries that have run low on certain seeds and need refills.
Once a month, she and a group of about 20 volunteers host seed-packing parties at the libraries.
At the most recent packing party in June, she said, they completed around 3,600 seed packets.
Currently, Garden Pool has just over 90 varieties of seeds, but it wants to increase that to 100 by the end of the year.
The nonprofit’s other goals for 2019 include obtaining native and pollinator-friendly seeds, as well as increasing its vegetable and herb offerings.
Beavers said they’ve also tossed around the idea of having a “seed of the month,” providing a limited number of more expensive seeds, like asparagus.
“That would be wonderful because a lot of the varieties people want might be a little pricier, but if we could work something out where it was almost like an event for the month and then put it on social media, I think it would go really well,” she said.
In 2017, Garden Pool founder Dennis McClung said the nonprofit achieved its goal of providing free garden seed access to over 4 million residents in Arizona and California.
And last year, Garden Pool produced over 200,000 packs of seeds.
Beavers and Couty were attracted to Garden Pool because they both love plants and gardening.
Couty, specifically, tends a garden at her southern Scottsdale home, where she currently grows four different kinds of peppers, three kinds of tomatoes, eggplant, rosemary, mint and bok choy, among other vegetables and herbs.
Couty even checks out seeds for her garden from Mustang’s Seed Library.
“In fact, I have an empty pot at home today. I [thought], ‘What am I going to put in there?’ It’s probably going to be marigolds. I need the marigolds for my peppers,” she said.
Those interested in donating from their harvest can put their seeds in a labeled envelope and drop into the seed donation box at Mustang’s Seed Library for Garden Pool to pick up.