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EMG Volunteers Grow Resilience With Seed Libraries

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Master Gardener volunteers offer free seed packets at the traveling seed bank at the Mount Holly Farmers Market.

Extension Master Gardener℠ volunteers in Gaston County host seed libraries at local farmers markets. Image by Heather Dake, Extension Master Gardener volunteer.

Across the country, Extension Master Gardener volunteers expand access to fresh produce and increase community resilience by teaching local individuals and families how to grow their own food. One way NC State Extension Master Gardener℠ volunteers are doing this is by starting and supporting seed libraries throughout North Carolina.

Typically found at a library, community center, or other public space, a seed library is a resource where seeds are available for free to community members. Gardeners, students, teachers, and anyone interested in gardening can checkout seeds to grow plants for an existing garden or start a new garden. At the end of the growing season, they are encouraged to collect seeds from crops they successfully grew and donate them back to the seed library for others to checkout. 

The Community Seed Bank in Gaston County is one of any seed libraries in North Carolina. Extension Master Gardener volunteer Caroline Ingram, founder of the Community Seed Bank, recently told us about this initiative and how it began as a partnership between Extension Master Gardener volunteers in Gaston County and Gaston County Public Libraries.

Both partners wanted to ensure access to vegetable, flower, and herb seeds and inspire community members to garden throughout the year. As a result, the Community Seed Bank opened in August 2022 at the Garrison Branch of the Gaston County Public Library and has since expanded to all 10 branches. There are also two traveling seed banks that Extension Master Gardener volunteers host at local farmers markets to help spread the word and share seeds with the community.

Seed bank

Community Seed Bank at the Garrison Branch of the Gaston County Public Library. Image by Caroline Ingram, Extension Master Gardener volunteer.

Launching a seed library may seem daunting, but it can start with small steps taken by a few interested individuals. The Community Seed Bank in Gaston County started with donations from Master Gardener volunteers, Bently Seeds, and community members. They also purchased some seeds to make sure there was enough variety and ordered small envelope to neatly package the seeds and keep them organize. The seeds offered change throughout the year to match the growing season, ensuring gardeners the best chances of success. 

So far, more than 20,000 seeds have been distributed, including a wide range of heirloom and non-GMO fruit, vegetable, and herb seeds. Extension Master Gardener volunteers are committed to supporting the seed bank as a way of promoting sustainable living and empowering the community to take control of their food sources. 

If you live in Gaston County, visit your local library to learn about seed availability. If you have questions about the Community Seed Bank, gardening in Gaston County, or the Extension Master Gardener program in Gaston County, contact N.C. Cooperative Extension horticulture agent Julie Flowers at 704.922.2104.

Residents of other North Carolina counties can contact their local N.C. Cooperative Extension Center to learn if a seed library has been established in their community, get answers to gardening questions, and learn about becoming an Extension Master Gardener volunteer.

Infographic with statistics for the NC State Extension Master Gardener program.

The NC State Extension Master Gardener℠ program is a statewide network of volunteers and Extension educators working in N.C. Cooperative Extension county centers and on NC State campus. Through education and outreach, we connect people with the benefits of gardening and empower North Carolinians to cultivate healthy plants, landscapes, ecosystems, and communities. 

Explore stories from our 2023 Annual Report, which celebrates our work to help North Carolinians improve their lives and grow our state.

Join, support, or connect with Extension Master Gardener volunteers in your community.