by Chuck Hoven
(Plain Press, April 2015) With the coming of spring, many area residents are beginning to think about what they will plant in their gardens this year. When looking for seeds to plant, residents may want to try checking out some seeds at The Seed Library at the Cleveland Public Library. Participating library branches include the Lorain Branch at 8216 Lorain Avenue; the Carnegie West Branch at 1900 Fulton Road; and the Science and Technology Department of the Main Library on the Third Floor of the Louis Stokes Wing at 325 Superior Avenue.
The Seed Library is joint effort of the Cleveland Seed Bank and the Cleveland Public Library. Two Ohio City neighborhood residents, Marilyn McHugh and Chris Kennedy, founded the Cleveland Seed Bank. Their goal is to create a network of local gardeners that save and share their seeds. By doing so they hope to develop a local source for seeds that are well adapted to Cleveland’s growing conditions.
Residents wishing to get seeds at the library can take out up to five packets of seeds each month. They simply fill out a card that indicates what seeds packets they are taking.
McHugh and Kennedy hold seed packaging parties where seeds saved from the previous years are neatly packaged and labeled by volunteers. Some of the labels contain information on how best to save seeds from the plants. Those borrowing the seeds are asked to save seeds from the best plant in order to grow them in their garden next year, to lend to a friend, or to participate in a “seed swap.” McHugh says they take the seeds they package to the Main Library downtown and they are then sent out to the participating branches through interlibrary mail. She says they try to send the seeds out when it is time for them to be planted.
The Cleveland Seed Bank has an online seed exchange that Kennedy likened to a Craig’s List for seeds. Gardeners and urban farmers can go to the site to make arrangements to exchange seeds with others. Thus far the site has over 300 participants exchanging seeds. Kennedy and McHugh hope to recruit another one hundred seed savers to participate in the network this year.
McHugh and Kennedy said that when they first started the Cleveland Seed Bank in 2013, a local group called the Cleveland Gift Camp organized a weekend event where they build websites for nonprofit groups. They participated in an intensive website building weekend and the result is the Cleveland Seed Bank website: www.clevelandseedbank.org. Individuals can sign up on the website to be part of the seed sharing network.
McHugh and Kennedy say the idea for the Seed Bank came from the couple’s experience working in India with the Hummingbird Project, a non profit they started that is “dedicated to building regenerative ecological systems and empowering individuals in resource poor locals.” In India they were confronted with farmers who had lost their seed supply overnight. They were concerned about the seed supply in Cleveland where they live and created the Cleveland Seed Bank as an initiative of the Hummingbird Project.
One of the concerns is keeping diverse strains of seeds alive as large seed companies have been dominating the seed industry and trying to create a monopoly on seed distribution. Kennedy says instead of getting mad and marching against Monsanto, the seed exchanges provide “an alternative model if you don’t like the seed system.”
McHugh and Kennedy also hold seed events and give talks to gardeners and other groups. McHugh says the workshops help seed savers to understand the proper isolation distance (separation from other plants to avoid cross-pollination) and population size (number of plants necessary to help ensure plants are not too closely inbred.)
Editor’s Note: For more information about the Cleveland Seed Bank or to participate in the seed exchange, visit the online website at: www.clevelandseedbank.org.