Seed Libraries Crop Up

Just as one seed can produce many seeds, one idea can change many lives. Free public libraries were revolutionary in their time because they provided access to books and knowledge that had not previously been available to a large segment of the population. A free seed lending library can also provide people with a chance to transform their lives and communities by providing access to fresh, healthy food that may not otherwise be available.

The East Palo Alto seed library is a lot like a traditional library in a number of ways. Patrons of the seed library need to sign up, learn how to “check-out” seeds, and of course the library is free! The big difference is that instead of checking out books or DVDs like a traditional library, patrons can check out seeds to grow in their gardens at home. Patrons can also sell a lot of what they grow at the local farmer’s market and add a level of sustainability to the project.

While this library is at the East Palo Alto Library in San Mateo County, California, it’s modeled after the seed library in Richmond, California, but with a couple of significant differences. The first is that the residents are not encouraged to save seeds or return any seeds. The library and their partnered organization, Collective Roots, are simply trying to provide access to fresh fruits and vegetables in an otherwise fairly barren food desert. The second is that the library box itself is made from recycled and found materials with the exception of the white boxes.

Many other libraries are starting to partner with local gardening organizations to create seed libraries. Contact your local library if you're interested in starting one yourself or to see if they already have one.

— posted by PC Sweeney of East Palo Alto Library, Ca.


  1. Yay! This is my community, we really want it to move up in the world and be a progressive place. For too long the community has suffered while every other bay area community prospered. East Palo Alto has been an island of poverty and crime surrounded by immense wealth. The difference being brought here is an emphasis on self-reliance, health and community involvement.

  2. I think this is a fantastic idea, not just for this community but in general. I’d like to see more seed libraries.

    This reminds me of many, many, many years ago when I used to grow carnivorous plants. The International Carnivorous Plant Society had (and possibly still has) a seed bank. Members could either trade seeds or, for a small fee, get seeds.

    At the time I also remember there being a very vigorous debate between those who felt it was important to preserve plants whose habitats had been destroyed and those who felt it was futile to preserve plants that could probably never be returned to the wild.

    I never understood the latter argument. Yes, it is terrible that in many cases we were preserving only a miniscule fraction of the biodiversity of certain areas. On the other hand preserving some was still better than preserving none at all.

  3. EPA seems like an odd choice for one of these.  It’s surrounded by cities that have excellent public libraries that are open and free to EPA residents.

    1. But they aren’t in walking distance. Many EPA residents don’t own a car. Many ride by bus or bike. The Palo Alto and Menlo Park libraries are ~2 miles from the EPA border. The EPA library is in the city core.

        1.  No clue. Some homes have 3-5 cars but then there might be 10+ people living in one home. Statistics are really hard to figure out because so many people here are likely “flying under the radar” for better or worse. Oh and the Palo Alto library sucks it closes too early in the evening, by the time I’m off work it is closed. The Menlo Park one is great, usually open til 9. I frequent it, but I am one of the lucky residents with a car.

  4. If you are interested in starting a library in your community, go the the “Create a library” page at You can also check out our “Sister Libraries” page to see if there is a library nearby you. 

  5. Great idea!  I love that the library is involved in the effort, and I think your community will benefit with the use of this service.  That said, I wonder how long it will be until the Monsanto legal team advises the library that they have to genetically scan each seed before it’s given out to a patron (you know, to make sure the seeds don’t carry any patented genes).
    Kudos for this excellent idea.

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