Growing Self-Sufficiency: Extension Volunteers Support Seed Libraries in North Carolina

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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.

Did you know that 13.5 million American households were food insecure in 2021? This means that at some time during the year, the household was unable to acquire enough food to meet the needs of all members because of insufficient money or other resources (ERS-USDA). Across the country, Extension volunteers teach local communities how to grow their own food and become more self-sufficient. 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 or community center, a seed library is a resource where seeds are shared with community members. Seed libraries are open to the public and the seeds are free. 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. 

There are many seed libraries in North Carolina, including the Community Seed Bank in Gaston County. 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 Library.

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.

Starting 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.

Read more about the Community Seed Banks in Gaston County . 

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