At Auburn University’s (AU) Ralph Brown Draughon Library, an inconspicuous cabinet tucked among shelves of books and scores of computers is planting seeds of agricultural knowledge in the community.
The Fall Line Seed Library is small, about the size of a filing cabinet, but its offerings are diverse — seeds to cultivate herbs, heirloom veggies and native plants.
“Seed saving and sharing is part of our cultural and agricultural tradition that’s being lost,” said Patricia Hartman, an AU science librarian who revamped the seed library three years ago. “Our goal is to maintain genetic diversity and keep those heirloom lines around.”
Seed library member and AU special collections librarian Greg Schmidt said the library-within-a-library’s tactics are simple: Loan seeds to gardeners in hope they’ll replenish the fruits — or seeds — of their labor post-harvest.
“The seed packets in our library, some of them say they were grown in Opelika or Dadeville, and those I can trust will probably do well in Auburn,” said Schmidt, an avid gardener. “Others don’t have that information, and a quick search online will often let me know what makes these seeds worthy or, in some cases, not worthy of attempting. I have a small garden, so I try to be selective.”
The free library checks out and collects seeds from its more than 300 members during seed swaps, local farmers markets and its main hub on the AU library’s second floor. A second seed library recently sprouted down the road at the Lewis Cooper Jr. Memorial Library in Opelika.
“It’s a great way for the community to learn more about gardening,” said Rosanna McGinnis, director of the Opelika library. “My goal was really to create an opportunity for community members to dabble in growing their own food. If you’re like me, I kill everything, so I didn’t want people to have to put a lot of money into trying something new.”
While mainstream varieties like brandywine tomatoes are available in the Fall Line Seed Library’s drawers, horticultural junkies like Roger Birkhead know to dig deeper. He and other gardeners have hit the jackpot with a plant that might as well bleed orange and blue — AU-76, a tomato developed in AU’s horticulture department.
“I’ve always gardened, even when I was a graduate student in Georgia,” said Birkhead, who has grown over 60 tomato varieties and is one of the library’s biggest seed donors. “I can certainly contribute to the library, and it’s a good way to interact with others through seed exchanges. That’s how I got things like AU-76 and sweet potato slips.”
Whether growing glass gem corn, tomatoes, blue collards or native clematis, Birkhead and his family enjoy learning where food comes from, even when a crop fails.
“Sometimes we try a variety that doesn’t work well for us, so we put our excess in the seed library,” Birkhead said. “Maybe someone else will have more luck.”
Considering the seed library’s proximity to books and abundant information, Hartman encourages rookie gardeners to ask for help when problems pop up. As for growers fearing library late fees? No issues here.
“There’s no fee for returning your seeds late,” Hartman said. “In fact, you’re not required to return them at all.”
Since store-bought packets often contain more seeds than a gardener needs, Hartman suggests members donate partial packs. It creates a risk-free opportunity for horticulturalists and small-time farmers to broaden their gardens and — given a fruitful harvest — help others.
“We realize it doesn’t always work out quite that way,” Hartman said. “Our gardens aren’t always as successful as we would like, but that’s the goal.”
For more information, follow the Fall Line Seed Library on Facebook or click here to contact Hartman.
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