The Snake River Seed Library (SRSL) is part of a growing movement to put seeds back into the hands of gardeners and small farmers. These dedicated individuals have historically stewarded our agricultural biodiversity, keeping millions of unique varieties of plants alive for centuries by saving and replanting seed from them year after year.
As the seed industry becomes more consolidated, varieties are lost as profit-driven corporations make proprietary (patented and owned) hybrids and GMO seeds rather than preserving open-pollinated, heirloom varieties. We at Snake River Seed Library have an interest in keeping these heirloom treasures alive, both for the security a biodiverse food supply offers as well as for the stories behind them that are a part of our valley’s culture.
Seed Saving Wisdom
As our seed diversity shrinks, so does our cultural wisdom about seed saving. Educating folks about how to grow and save good, pure seeds is a primary cornerstone of seed libraries, including ours. By learning the skills necessary to save seeds, people become empowered to be lifelong stewards of our seed heritage, and to share their knowledge with others. Seed saving is a wondrous, miraculous, mentally-stimulating activity that will delight even the most cynical heart as a gardener watches bees at work and an abundance of seeds pile up where just one was planted. We believe in seeds, in their power to inspire, to nourish, and to heal, and we’re excited to share our knowledge with you!
A library, not a bank
Unlike a seed bank, which stores seeds in ideal climactic conditions indefinitely, a seed library preserves seeds by sharing them among gardeners who grow them out year after year, enjoying their unique colors and flavors and textures and adding to their cultural histories. As we grow out varieties year after year in our gardens, they become adapted to our unique place on earth, which means we get to participate in creating better seeds for our area, while enjoying delicious food and beautiful flowers for ourselves!
Library seeds and seeds for sale
As a library member, you get access to the library’s entire catalog of seeds, but you’re expected to return seed off the seeds you choose. For those who would rather not deal with returning seeds but would still like to grow rad, locally-adapted seeds in our gardens, we sell the seeds of one of our partner farms, Earthly Delights Farm. The catalog features seeds available through the library and seeds available for purchase.
Economy of abundance
The growing and sharing of seeds creates an economy of abundance alongside our monetary economy, which is kept artificially scarce so it remains valuable. A plant has a different agenda. The more seeds it produces, the better chance of survival it has. A plant will create dozens or hundreds of seeds out of the one seed it grew from, meaning ever more seeds to share with friends and neighbors. In this way, our common wealth can just grow and grow!
We believe people should be paid well for doing good work, and that is a goal of SRSL. Though volunteer-driven projects have merit, for something to be sustainable over the long run, in our experience it requires at least a few folks who can pay their bills from the project to keep it going. The membership fee will help to pay wages to the folks cataloging and organizing the library and working with all the members. In addition, we will search out additional ways of fundraising to pay wages as well as pay for all the necessary office and business expenses of the library. In an ideal world, a seed library would be part of the public library system (it is in some cities!), where it enjoys an acknowledgement of its cultural importance and its operations are funded through taxpayer money. In the absence of that position here in Boise, SRSL strives to make itself financially sustainable alongside its cultural and ecological sustainability.
Snake River Seed Library—FAQs
- What do I get as a member?
A. As a member, you get access to our entire library of seeds, as many varieties as you want each season. In addition, you get lots of information and support about how to save good, pure, healthy seeds from your garden so you can have some for yourself and return some to the library for your fellow members. You also become a part of a rad community of gardeners working to create an abundant and secure local seed supply!
- What are my responsibilities as a member?
A. Firstly, to learn how to save good seed off the crops you get from the seed library (we will give you lots of resources to do this!). Then, to return seeds from as many of your library crops as possible to the library at the end of the season. Thirdly, to expand the library’s selection by growing and saving seeds from new varieties and donating them to the library. Lastly, though genetically modified vegetable varieties are still relatively rare for the home gardener, we ask members to commit to a no GMO policy as this is critical to protecting seed diversity.
- How much seed do I get?
A. As a member, you can order as many different varieties as you want from the library collection. However, you are expected to return seed off what you take, so don’t get overzealous, at least your first year! You’ll get a set amount of seeds, depending on the variety, but generally it will be as much as or slightly less than what you would get in a packet of seeds from the store.
- How much seed am I expected to return?
A. You should return more seed than you originally got, so the library selection keeps growing! Don’t worry—seeds are ABUNDANT! One seed will produce hundreds of seeds, so you won’t have any problems returning what you checked out and then some. Some seed libraries ask for 20x the amount of seed you took out. (Ex, you get 10 Roma tomato seeds, you would return 200—that’s roughly the seeds from 3-4 tomato fruits, and you’d have all the rest of the tomatoes to eat for yourself, after you’ve saved some seeds for next year, of course!). This creates a cushion in case your crop or other members’ crops fail—somebody is keeping the seed supply alive by returning more than they borrow. This pay-it-forward system grows a delicious culture of abundance!
- I don’t know how to save seeds. Can I still be a member?
A. YES!!!! Part of your membership is learning how to save seeds. You can select varieties for your first year that are easy to get seeds from, and move on to harder crops as you gain confidence! One of the primary goals of this project is to grow more seed savers. We will give you all the information you need to do it well.
- What do *EASY, MEDIUM, and DIFFICULT* mean? A. These terms refer to the relative ease or difficulty of reliably saving pure, viable seed for this particular crop, and not how easy or difficult it is to grow the actual crop. Easy to save seeds go to seed, you can collect the seed, plant it next year and expect to grow a plant just like the parent plant you collected seed from. A medium to save seed may require you provide some distance between the plant you are wishing to save seed from and another plant in the same family with which it may cross, or some other simple technique to keep the seed pure . A difficult to save seed may require hand pollination, caging, a two year growth period, or some other precise method- not difficult to do, but very precise to the particular plant. Any seed saver can learn all the techniques necessary to save seed from any crop found in the library, we encourage all members to take advantage of our free classes, experienced gardeners as well as novices. We will also do our best to explain in the catalog why a certain crop has been designated as medium or difficult.
- How much does a membership cost?
A. $35 for a year, or $25 if you donate and/or return seeds to the library
- Why charge a membership fee? What does my money go to?
A. Your membership fee helps to pay for things like copies, labels, a website, and general office supplies, as well as a wage to the people organizing, cataloging, and distributing the seeds for the library, making it sustainable for the long term.
- How do I get my seeds?
A. The library will be largely organized and operated through our website, where you can peruse varieties separated into categories and select the ones you want at any time during the year. They will be mailed to your house. Additionally, for those in the Boise area, there will be several open library days in the spring months for you to come and check out seeds in person.
- How do I return my seeds?
A. You can mail your seeds back to the library, or bring them to our annual Seed Gala for members, which will occur in November of each year.
- How do I donate seeds to the library?
A. WE WOULD LOVE DONATIONS OF YOUR FAVORITE SEEDS! Simply fill out the information on the form on the website and send it with your seeds so we have all the juicy details about your beloved crop, and we’ll get it into circulation, to be collectively stewarded by our community of gardeners and seed savers!
- How do you do quality control on the seeds in the library?
A. An important and complicated subject. Though we have no guarantees about the quality of the seeds you receive, there are several quality assurance measures taken. First, all members receive ample education about how to save high-quality seeds, and inexperienced seed-savers are encouraged to start with easy-to-save varieties before moving onto more complicated ones. The library stockers are farmers and gardeners, and so recognize seeds by genus and also by maturity. And perhaps most importantly, this project is inspiring in its trust of individuals to become stewards of seeds, creating a community that can proudly rely on each other to caretake this important piece of our local food system.
- Do I have to live in Boise to be a member?
A. No you don’t. Though one focus of our efforts is on creating a locally-adapted seed supply for the Treasure Valley, membership is open and encouraged for folks from anywhere. Many areas around us have very similar climates and growing conditions, and so would make excellent sister cities for growing and trading good seeds.
- I don’t want to deal with having to return seeds to the library. Can I just buy them and be done with it?
A. You are expected to return seeds off the crops you check out from the library.We sell a wide variety of seed packets in retail locations throughout the Treasure Valley and select Idaho locations as Snake River Seed Copperative. You can purchase seeds with no obligation to return directly from them.
- Who’s behind this project?
A. This project began as a collaboration between two Boise farmers with a passion for seeds–Carrie Jones of Draggin’ Wing Farm and Casey O’Leary of Earthly Delights Farm. The library is housed and organized by Carrie at Draggin’ Wing Farm in Boise, and Casey teaches the seed saving classes and produces the seed saving informational materials. Both women want to see the library grow into a substantial safehaven for a large variety of heirloom and locally-adapted seed varieties.